I just finished my English Literature class provided through Bakersfield College. Yes, college in prison. Bakersfield College runs a program that provides classes with professors coming into the prison to give in-person instruction. It is an incredible educational opportunity for the men here.
The number one factor in lowering recidivism rates is a college education, which is why the Anti-Recidivism Coalition helped establish this program. Being able to see the men participate in these classes as they grow and change is a clear example of the rehabilitation that is possible within these walls. The greatest example I have seen of this was the day we all shared our poetry project in class.
Our professor asked each of us to stand in front of the class and recite the poems we had written. We were asked to stand in front of our peers, fellow “convicts”, and leave ourselves vulnerable to their criticism and ridicule.
Many of these men were once enemies. Whether they were enemies by choice, circumstance, gang affiliation,or race; it would be nothing for them to meet each other on the prison yard with violence. Now here in this classroom, a safe place, they expose a deeper side of their personal self. As these men opened up and shared, the only criticism that came was constructive. There was no ridicule. No shame. Each poem recitation ended in praise and genuine applause. Everyone had a good time sharing their poetry.
Some of the poems were deep and profound, some touching on subjects once unimaginable to discuss in such a diverse group. While others expressed humor and optimism of a better future for all. Watching all these men open themselves up in such a way was a truly moving experience. To see everyone enjoy themselves so freely was a rare and special gift. In a safe environment these men are capable of letting go of their old ways. They can become men society would embrace when they return to their communities and homes. These are thinking men. They are feeling men. They are compassionate men. They are grateful men; grateful for being given a safe environment to educate themselves and to become men they can be proud to be.
Written by Sean 5/26/2018