My Experience as a Prison Educator

Lessons Learned From 9 Months Voluntarily Locked-Up

In approximately nine (9) months, a child can be born, a college year can be completed, beliefs can be altered, and lives can be changed. For me, it was a life altering experience that happened during an unexpected journey toward new discoveries, which started while teaching inmates at the Arlington County Detention Facility (ACDF) in Arlington, VA last September.

My journey toward personal enlightenment started after friends encouraged me to use my inspirational life quotes to teach inmates about managing their life, actions, and behaviors. Prior to these subtle pushes and even after, I never considered or wanted to be in any jail for any reason. Disregarding my apprehensions, a meeting was scheduled to meet with ACDF Program Manager – Kristen Cane. Ms. Cane welcomed my new educational non-profit - without any past performance history - to submit proposals to teach life management, soft skills, and business concepts to inmates.

Even after Ms. Cane and I scheduled a meeting to solidify the beginning of this potential partnership, I still wasn't sure whether the jail was the right environment for me to teach. However, while visiting a housing unit, someone from my distant past was encountered who was a temporary resident of the unit that I would later teach. This individual – someone who I hadn't seen in almost thirty (30) years – recognized me within seconds of entering the unit, and validated the pushes from friends to offer my non-profit's "Saving Our Communities at Risk Through Educational Services (SOCARTES –" educational programs in this environment.

These men quickly embraced me, the material, and the journey that we were about to take together. None of us would realize that at that moment our lives would change and we would forever be intertwined because of the unlikely intersection of our different choices, which would lead us to exist in a common place, share a considerable amount of time together, and unexpectedly grow from this shared journey.

The most valuable lessons learned from my first nine (9) months teaching at the ACDF:

* Individual desire overrides location, as location can be a factor in one's growth but individual motivation is required to maximize any journey toward success. The reason is that anyone who has a desire and determination to make forward progress can do so regardless of the environment.

* Connections are significant factors in success, as individuals who don't understand an activities’ purpose can sometimes have difficulty connecting to the activities if there isn't engagement with the process and/or the lessons learned.

* Engagement is important, as it allows individuals to connect in a way that is meaningful for them; otherwise, the information can create noise that doesn't have a method or a means to be properly processed.

* Lessons can be learned at unexpected moments, as learning is an individual process that doesn't occur the same way, happen at the same time, or learned using the same process of delivery. This is the reason that anyone who transfers
knowledge should use different methods in their delivery to ensure the lessons taught are captured.

* Everyone can learn from each other, as a tool for mutual growth. While preparing to teach at the jail, my expectation was that I would teach the inmates about life, soft skills, and business; instead, I also learned about the importance of not making assumptions about individuals or their capabilities, that every individual has the propensity to be moments away from a situation that doesn't demonstrate their finest actions and/or behaviors, the power of forgiveness, the importance of opportunity, and that support can come from anyone – no matter their current challenges.

* Limitations limit possibilities, as preconceived notions about who someone is or who the individual will be in the future can be a societal fault that can not only limit an individual's success, but these unnecessary limitations can also place unnecessary burdensome on societal success as well.

My experiences being voluntarily locked-up at the ACDF taught me valuable lessons about the things that can be learned by pushing or removing individual preconceived limitations. As proven by history, societal advances occur due to individuals who continue to push current boundaries of possibilities to evolve toward new discoveries.

There are countless individuals who have made momentary mistakes, bad choices, or had setbacks. Notwithstanding, individuals who temporarily created a societal fault should still be given an opportunity, resources, and support to become productive members of society. Otherwise, the societal cost can exceed that of the initial crime if the unwanted actions and/or behaviors are viewed as a permanent barrier to an individual's future success. Therefore, society cannot afford to continue to devalue the benefit of learning from past situations and also not allowing individuals to have unrestricted opportunities to have a chance at responsible and productive futures.

An individual who is caught in a bad moment or situation should face the consequences of their actions and/or behaviors, but should also not be unnecessarily punished for their entire lifetime.

If the same happened to you, what would you want others and society to feel about and do for you?

To the men in housing unit 9A who completed my programs: I will forever be changed by our time together, the conversations we had, and the lessons that were learned about the importance of forgiveness, opportunity, and most importantly “hope”. I wish each of you unbridled success!