Educational Series #7

I am a huge advocate of prison education. Over the last 5 years I have earned a number of certificates, diplomas, and more – all from behind bars. Even now, I am pursuing my degree (English & Sociology) through Ohio University. I won’t give you a full account here – this post is about the technical elements of college behind bars – but I will point you in the right direction. The full list of my educational accomplishments from behind bars can be found at and

First, what the Bureau of Prisons says about college behind bars. According to the FCI-Petersburg Inmate Admission and Orientation Handbook, “General educational courses are primarily completed through correspondence courses. However, inmates must pay for their own tuition, books, and materials for all post secondary courses. Prior approval for all courses must be received by Education Department staff.”

Second, the truth of the matter. College from behind bars is tough not to only enroll in, but to succeed. The first step is to find a school. This can be very challenging considering that the library will probably not include any information on the subject. Hopefully when my book, Education Behind Bars, comes out, the task will become that much easier for those interested.

After finding the school that the prisoner wants to attend, the prisoner will have to approach the College Coordinator in their prison’s Education Department. He will have to give this person some basic information about himself and the school he wishes to attend. Ideally, the College Coordinator will be a decent one and will inform the prisoner of the rules and regulations. This will depend on the luck of the draw.

The next step is filling out the package authorization forms. These forms direct the mail room to allow correspondence course materials to enter. This means that the student must have funding in place and also know which course(s) they want to take. These forms include the addresses of the school and the prisoner-student, and the contents of the package (e.g. textbook(s) title(s), folders, study guides, etc.).

At this point, the student orders the course from the school and pays them. Once the package arrives the student will be called up to the Education Department to receive the materials. After this the student is ready to go.

All correspondence courses are based upon a textbook and a study guide. This means that the student will need to follow the instructions in the study guide and complete the assigned reading. All coursework will be written. So, if the student is taking a mathematics course, they will submit their work on paper and/or worksheets. If the course is an English course, then the student will submit a paper for each lesson.

Eventually the student will come to a midterm and/or a final. For these, the student will fill out the proper forms again. Though, this time the exam will go directly to, and stay with, the College Coordinator who will proctor the examination. When the student is ready, they will sit in a room with the College Coordinator and complete the exam. By proctoring the examinations, the academic integrity is maintained.

It should be noted that some courses are portfolio courses. If this is the case, the student will not take a written exam. Instead, the student will just submit a paper or a number of papers. This option is usually only available for English or other humanities courses. It should be noted that these courses can be difficult. After all, it’s much easier to answer a question correctly than to write a whole paper correctly.

The student then repeats this process for each course that they take.