You Can Do It!: Learning to Succeed Behind Bars

You Can Do It!: Learning to Succeed Behind Bars

By Sean Shively

These four words came from the movie Water Boy with Adam Sandier. In the movie, he played a character whose name was Bobby Boucher. His friend, Townie, played by Rob Schneider, had faith in Bobby and that he could succeed at playing football. He would always say to Bobby, “You can do it!”

I have been a G.E.D. prisoner tutor in the Department of Corrections for the last five months. I have also had the honor to work for Ms. Chamberlin, the G.E.D. teacher at my dorm. She has great compassion for instilling in her students a desire to succeed and to further their education even after they receive their G.E.D. Ms. Chamberlin has a keen insight into what it takes to be a prison teacher; she is an inspiration and a role model.

I want to share some things I’ve learned as a prisoner tutor and college student at the prison. My comments are for prisoner students and other tutors in the prison system. My college education has opened many doors for me to have a social life outside these walls and fences. I truly believe that education is the cornerstone for stopping recidivism in our prison system. I don’t know how often I’ve heard some of the guys I tutor say, “I don’t need a G.E.D.” or “School is a waste of my time.” Every time I hear them say this, I feel like saying, “If we get an education while we are in prison, we could get a decent job, and then we would not have to break the law to support our families.” It is not about the time cuts for completing these classes. It is about staying out forever! We are allowed to break these chains that bind us; all we have to do is educate ourselves! That sounds like a win-win situation to me.

To succeed as a student, you have to focus. I know it is hard sometimes because we are worried about our loved ones that we have left behind. But we must “keep our eyes on the prize.” The prize is our education, enabling us to return to society as productive members. You must focus all your energy on accomplishing this goal when you come to class. Do not let others distract you from achieving your education.

Also, as a student, you must humble yourself. Do not be afraid to ask questions if you do not understand something you are studying. To me, there is no such thing as a stupid question. It is sometimes hard to ask another inmate for help, but you must overcome this fear because your tutors are here for you. As a tutor, I never put myself above anyone else. I put on the same khakis as my fellow students do. If they do not hesitate to ask me a question, I can help them with the areas in which they struggle. This two-way street of communication I try to establish with my peers has also been beneficial to me. I have learned how to be a better prisoner tutor and learn something new daily from those I tutor.

Perseverance is needed to succeed as a student because you will sometimes be faced with thoughts of wanting to give up. If you receive low scores or struggle in certain areas, you must continue to strive daily. The most important thing to remember is: don’t give up! Set your goals in small, realistic, achievable steps so you will see them being fulfilled. This will give you the desire to reach your next goal. Before you know it, you will get your G.E.D. or complete the college degree you are pursuing.

I genuinely feel that dedication is the most crucial key to succeeding in your education in our environment. You must get up and go even when you do not feel like attending school. I have seen a lot of students trying to figure out how to get out of being in school rather than being dedicated and getting the education they need. As a student, you must develop a one-track mind. You must have a mindset that tells you that you will succeed and that nothing will stand in your way. Your education must become the most crucial goal, and you must do whatever it takes to get it. Remember, this education will not only free you from incarceration early, but it will also give you the tools you need to remain outside these walls and fences forever. If you want this, you must dedicate yourself to laying this cornerstone in your life. This will give you a solid foundation to care for yourself and your loved ones without committing to a criminal lifestyle.

I will be leaving in a couple of months, and I wanted to say thank you to Ms. Chamberlin for giving me this job as a prisoner tutor. I took this job at first to help my peers get their time cuts, but I learned something along the way. It is not about helping these guys get out early; it is about assisting them to stay out! You would not believe the joy and happiness I feel every time one of the guys I have tutored earn their G.E.D. No words describe how proud I am of all the guys I’ve helped. I have faith in every one of the guys I tutor and anyone else who wants to take a step toward staying out of prison. If you want to stay out of prison, keep your noses in the books and remember Townie saying, “YOU CAN DO IT!”

Sean Shively was a commercial framer in the Indianapolis metropolitan area. He has received several college certificates from Purdue University while in prison, where he works as a prisoner tutor.