Here in FCI Florence-as with many Federal institutes-we have a pretty wide selection of A.C.E. classes ( Adult Continuing Education Classes) that are taught by inmates in whatever discipline or skill or expertise they might be approved by the education department to teach. There's much to be said about the teachers of these courses- for the most part they are genuine and eager to lead. And many of the inmates who enroll in these 8 week courses go into it with the best intentions toward self improvement. However, either due to the instructor's lack of energy/ expertise or tot he student's lack of commitment, the majority of A.C.E. course certificates are given to students who learned little, participated less, and ended up believing that the certificate itself is the only reason for enrolling. (These certificates amount to evidence of programming and each course brings a certain amount of money to the institution's budget, so inmates are "rewarded" for accumulating certificates.)
I've personally taught and attended many of these courses over the years. Most of the certificates I gained from them were purchased for a book of stamps. And I was less the man for it, no doubt. The few courses I taught were with excitement and I was proud of the students that participated and made the experience better for us both- so it never fails to shame me hen I think of the opportunities I wasted by taking the easy route to programming.
The latest class I teach-or lead, rather- is based on the program at the end of my most recent book, " It's Never Just One Thing" . I'm growing from it. And the ten guys in the course are all growing from it as well. We all have the chance to speak on issues of race, sex, violence, drugs, addiction, and communication/ relationship issues as they revolve around the presence and absence of various principles. These are men who have grown weary of the masks and ego of prison culture, and now embrace the opportunity to explore some reality with men of the same mind. As I pointed out last week, we are part of a very small minority of people who want to- and have the power to-effect change in lives of people on the verge and in the depths of prison. approximately 40 million American's are directly affected by the 2.5 million behind bars. Another unknowable percentage of Americans will put their toes into the hot water of criminal behaviour- how many millions do they represent?
By turning the corner in our characters and making the decision to become worthy citizens, we also corner the market on empirical wisdom that can strengthen our communities through examples and mentoring. If we have any moments of doubt to where we might " belong" in a community sense, this is a very obvious and empowering answer. And I doubt that anyone would deny us the opportunity to lead struggling men and women up from the depths into the light of their own potential.