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Judith Moreno
Professor Hamlett
English 102
13 October 2015
Finding Freedom Behind Bars
Imagine a world in which you could not read or write and your lack of
education interfered with your ability to obtain a well-paying career, yet
alone a minimum wage job, and your only means to get by was to result to a
life of crime such as burglary, drug dealing, and gang association. The
Bureau of Justice Statistics states that The United States held an estimated
1,561,500 prisoners in state and federal custody at the end of 2014
(Carson) and according to Harriet Gagliano 60% of prison inmates cannot
read above the sixth grade level (qtd. in Esperian). With the help of a wellstructured education system within our correctional facilities we will have the
ability to reduce recidivism, promote social skills, while allowing inmates to
cope with the stress of being incarcerated.
Education plays an important in who and what we are as beings in
society. In order to excel and create a successful life for ourselves, whether it
is raising a healthy family or starting a business, we must have some kind of
formal education. Such life goals are difficult enough now imagine them
without the ability to read and write. We need these basic skills to
communicate with one another and prosper. No one knows the struggle of
facing such barriers better than Malcolm X himself. While serving a prison

sentence Malcolm came to the realization that he had to turn his life around.
Being a product of the streets he had become involved with pimping, selling
drugs and robbery. Malcolm expressed his frustration in his essay Coming to
an Awareness of Language about him not being able to express what he
wanted to convey in his letters due to the lack of his formal education skills.
Malcolm also clever and bright admitted the average hustler and criminal
was too educated to write a letter (X) but he was anything but average.
Malcolm decided he would take matters into his own hands and decided to
become his own tutor and mentor. His journey of becoming one of the most
influential African Americans in the United States all started while behind
bars with the help of a simple notepad, pencil, and dictionary. The realization
that he wanted to be more than just a young black male fluent in Ebonics
gave him the motive and drive. Malcolm wanted to be taken seriously as an
articulate activist and in order to do so he made a change.
A well-structured education system within United States correctional
facilities can have the ability to reduce recidivism drastically. Without any
kind of formal education to aid parolees in obtaining a job, many if not all,
are unemployed and will often turn to the same antics that landed them in
prison in the first place. Lori Hall, author of Correctional Education and
Recidivism: Toward a Tool for Reduction, emphasizes that correctional
education reduces recidivism drastically. Hall in turn links a direct correlation
in the ability of the newly released inmates to find employment (Hall). There
are currently many programs in place to help current inmates obtain a

degree and one of the many programs is run by Chaffey College. They have
partnered with the California Institution for Women (CIW) located in Corona
California to create a program that has allowed female inmates obtain an
associates degree during a three year period. According to Chaffey Colleges
website not one student who has been released with a Chaffey College
degree or tutor who has worked for the program while incarcerated has reoffended (Chaffey). Such statement blatantly expresses how such programs
to better society can transform an inmates negative time spent in prison
into a tool they can later on use in the real world. According to John H.
Esperian, author of The Effects of Prison Educating Programs on Recidivism,
he clearly says that it pays to educate by stating, it is far more profitable for
states to fund education classes for inmates for two reasons: first, doing so
reduces recidivism dramatically, and second educating felons eliminates the
costs associated with long term warehousing (Esperian). When someone
commits a crime it is usually due to a lack of thinking. A lack of consideration
of the future consequences and penalties that one may face if such act is
indeed executed and all Americans should be entitled to have a mind of their
own in order to preserve the little sanity that is left to mankind. The ability to
make something positive out of a negative situation can only benefit society
as a whole such as Malcolm X once achieved himself.
The ability to socialize with one another tends to bring harmony into
everyones lives and conflicts can be avoided by promoting social skills
within correctional facilities. Many who are faced with the punishment of

serving time in a correctional facility have often faced some kind of racial
stigma and segregation due to their lack of exposure of other racial groups.
Such unintentional segregation brews animosity towards groups of different
religion, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, if someone is
raised in poverty they might hold a grudge or anger towards the privileged.
In order to promote a healthy social environment one must learn to associate
themselves with other groups of different backgrounds. Confined within the
walls of a prison you are exposed to individuals from all walks of life and
there is no better place to learn how to interact with someone that differs
than you than in the safety of a classroom. Inmates are serving a sentence
for a crime that they have committed and because of so prisons are not very
accommodating. Inmates are often crammed into overcrowded cells and
unfortunately they may be faced with having to settle differences in an
unsafe way that will bring harm to one another. Classrooms have strict rules
that students and teachers must follow to avoid any unnecessary
altercations among the inmates. One important rule that has been crucial to
the safety of the students is to refrain from discussing race, religion, and
political views. Such conversations tend to get out of hand outside in the real
world between non-felons so by eliminating them teachers have been able to
avoid and prevent any unwanted tension. With such rules student inmates
are given the opportunity to discuss several mind engaging topics in the
classroom. For example, Robert G. Thomas, author of Expanding the Purpose
of a Prison Education Classroom, states that, it was not uncommon to

witness a Mexican American, African American, and Anglo American working

as a team to solve a mathematics problem or to identify the correct answer
to a reading-comprehension question (Thomas). Such statement only
emphasizes that it is possible for people from that differ from one another to
get along and they were able to do so with the help of their willingness to
learn. With the help of certain rules being enforced it is nearly impossible for
an altercation to arise without some kind of punishment for their actions
such as dismissal from the program. Clearly inmates are in prison for failing
to follow set rules but within the safety of a classroom inmates are able to
learn and practice in order for them to utilize learned behavior to stay out of
trouble in the future. Many of Americas prisoners often have families of their
own that they do not know how to communicate with such as their own
children. By utilizing the social skills that they obtained from their education
while incarcerated they will have the ability to share what they have learned
while spending crucial family time with their children. There is no better way
of reducing crime than by leading by example. A child is most likely to
succeed if he or she has a role model to look up to such as a mother or
father. It is never too late to make a positive change in your life to better the
community. Children will also be able to receive much needed homework
assistance from family members, which will allow them to stay on track with
their schoolwork. In order to minimize the number of inmates the U.S is
housing it is important that the cycle that causes crime is broken.

With the help of a well-structured education system inmates are

allowed to cope with the stress of living life behind bars in a positive way.
Many inmates may turn to crime within the facilities which include but are
not limited to gambling, drug use, and fighting. Although prison is not meant
to be a free all-inclusive vacation inmates are still human and they too
deserve to be treated with respect. The time that they spend away from
family and friends is often too stressful and some turn to suicide to escape
the pain. In a survey conducted by Thomas he explains that twenty-six of
those [inmates] who responded to the GED-class exit survey agreed that the
prison schooling experience provided them with the opportunity to
accomplish a goal that required an extended period of time; this in turn,
taught them lessons that would be applied to other areas of their lives
(Thomas). Through education inmates are given the opportunity to look
forward to something when they start their day and when they are
eventually released back as a civilian. With some of the skills they learned
through formal education inmates are able to voice their concerns. If
something is sitting heavy on their mind or they are uncomfortable they will
have the ability to express themselves in a positive manner in order for them
to be in a more comfortable environment with limited potential dangers.
Many may argue that taxpayers should not be responsible for financing
such programs in order for inmates to have such rights that they
immediately threw away the moment they committed a crime but everyone
should be entitled to a second chance in order to better themselves. We are

only human and we all make mistakes some bigger than others. In order to
have a well-functioning program there should be rules and restrictions on
who will be able to participate in such programs in order to reduce resentencing. In order for anything to work rules and policies should be
followed to ensure the safety of the students and teachers alike. Educators
that teach or have taught in prisons express that their students are eager to
learn and engage in interesting discussions (Michaels). In a study conducted
by Irena Michals, author of Prison Teachers and Their Students: A Circle of
Satisfaction and Gain, Michals claims that society benefits when prisoners
are educated because they are significantly less likely to return to prison
(Michals). Educators that have firsthand experience on how the programs
benefit society can vouch for them because they are effective and it pays to
In conclusion, everyone wants to be able to see men and women that
were once considered only criminals thrive as beings in a productive society
and to find a legal form of employment. There have been many positive
reviews and many true-life storybook endings such as the one Malcolm X
experienced himself. The ability to leave a criminal history in the past with
the help of something so simple as an education is nothing short of a true
fairytale and Malcolm X stated himself that with the help of his teachings
while incarcerated he had never been so truly free in his life (X).

Works Cited
Carson, Elizabeth Ann. Prisoners in 2014. Bureau of Justice Statistics. U.S
Department of Justice, Sept, 2015 Web. 5 Oct. 2015
Chaffey College. "Chaffey College at Chino Institute for Women (CIW)." Chaffey College, n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
Esperian, John H. The Effect Of Prison Education Programs On Recidivism.
Journal Of Correctional Education 61.4 (2010): 316-334. Education
Research Complete. Web.14 Oct. 2015.
Hall, Lori L. Correctional Education And Recidivism: Toward A Tool For
Reduction. Journal Of Correctional Education 66.2 (2015): 4-29.
Education Research Complete. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
Michals, Irena, and Suzanne Kessler. "Prison Teachers And Their Students: A
Circle Of Satisfaction And Gain." Journal Of Correctional Education 66.3
(2015): 47-62. Education Research Complete. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
Thomas, Robert G. "Expanding The Purpose Of A Prison Education
Classroom." Journal Of Research & Practice For Adult Literacy,
Secondary & Basic Education 1.3 (2012): 173-178. Education Research
Complete. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
X, Malcolm. Coming to an Awareness of Language. Language Awareness
Readings for College Writers. Paul Eschhol ed. Alfred Rosa ed. Virginia
Clark ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2013. 67-69. Print