As hard as this may be to believe, there are many similarities in the environments for both international teachers and prison teachers. These similarities will allow those educators with overseas experience, a smoother transition into the prison classroom. I had many of the same challenges while teaching in a prison. There are cultural differences and language barriers that must be overcome. There are fewer resources and many times, lack of community support. Sound familiar? But, the difference we make in the students lives, makes both classrooms so very valuable.
Nelson Mandela once told us, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” So many wonderful teachers have heeded this call, and have set out to be educators overseas, traveling all around the world's beautiful countries. I found that this same powerful weapon was in play when I was called to teach in a maximum security prison. Mr. Mandela was himself a prisoner, and he knew the need for an education transcended borders and it also transcended prison walls. If there is to be a change, if there is to be reform, it is just as important for prisoners to get that education, as it is for the children around the world.
I have learned that many overseas teachers enjoy the international opportunity because they get to live a different life and learn new and mind-opening things. In a prison, you and the education you provide, become the student’s opportunity to live another life. Prison does not have to be their death sentence. It is true that for many, their body will die in prison, but education allows their mind to continue to grow and to be free. Without an education, without being able to read and to write, there is no life beyond the walls that surround them.
An education in prison also is a means to an end, as it is a way for the students to support their families as they go through the education system. Not only do they get paid a small stipend for attending class, but many times they are learning right alongside their children on the outside. I have overheard conversations where the offender, a man, a dad, was able to help his son with his homework. What a moment of pride. A positive event amid the long days.
An education both here and abroad, allows for more, better and different conversations. It allows all students to explore a world they never knew, on the outside of their borders, on the outside of their walls. Being able to talk to a person from another country, from another economic background, a person of a different color, allows for great growth and change.
Providing an education, whether here in the U.S., overseas, or in a prison or institution, allows a person to be brave enough to change their world.
Be brave enough to make a change