By Christopher Zoukis
I spent this morning consulting with a fellow prisoner — a recent GED graduate — at FCI Petersburg, a medium security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia. The consultation concerned the man enrolling in a college correspondence program. The problem was that he had gone to the FCI Petersburg Education Department’s leisure library looking for some type of book or resource guide on college correspondence programs for incarcerated students, but left empty handed. The only relevant text available was the second edition of the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada by Jon Marc Taylor, Ph.D., a book published several years ago, which has since been updated and published again by Prison Legal News in 2009.* Image courtesy amazon.com
Luckily for my prospective student friend, I happen to be the author of the text Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win Strategy for Maximum Security (Sunbury Press, 2012). It’s a prison education reference text that profiles various correspondence programs which inmates can enroll in. The problem is the FCI Petersburg Education Department will not stock a copy of this text. I’ve made a number of inquiries with the current FCI Petersburg Education Department Assistant Supervisor, but I never gain any traction. My Inmate-to-Staff emails are never answered — and have never been since the email system was installed several years ago — and I neither receive any approvals nor denials. Does this mean that higher education is dead at FCI Petersburg?
Since I’m now used to students needing the information contained in my book, information not made available to them by the FCI Petersburg Education Department staff, I always keep an extra copy of my text in my cell. The would-be student and I had a very productive morning. I explained to him about how the application process works, accreditation, the correspondence course modality, and we even settled upon a few schools which he was going to write to for more information (i.e., Upper Iowa University, Adams State College, and Ohio University). We ended our consultation with me writing out a sample letter which he could send to each school. As I walked away, he had pen in hand and was writing copies of the sample letter to send to each school.