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The Dichotomy of a Prison


A dichotomy - a split, a decidedly different comparison, a contrast between two opposing ideas. Can a prison be both beautiful and frightening? Can it have both good and bad; beauty and ugliness; fear and faith? It can, and I was there to cut through all of that division and be the best teacher I could be, in that divided environment.


The different facets of prison can strike you the moment you see it from the outside. The one at which I worked was an historic building, a castle-like fortress. But then, that impression changes and one is taken aback by the stark contrast of modern technology, as you walk in the front doors. There are metal detectors, scanners, cell phones, pagers, monitors and bright fluorescent lights.


The scene changes again quickly, with each step I take inside of the seven doors I must walk through each day. With each door, I go deeper into the bowels of the prison and as every imposing, mechanical metal door closes solidly behind me, I once again leave the modern world and step back in time. It is like a scene from an old movie, as I pass into the oldest part of the prison, with its chipping paint and rusty steel abandoned cell doors. I look around, only to find I am just a few steps from another part, with the state-of-the-art electronically activated steel prison doors. I continue on towards my classroom and again, enter into another world - a beautiful courtyard outlined with flowers. The prison walls are high around this courtyard and the old stone is almost charming, until your eyes travel higher and see the walls topped with razor wire and sniper towers.


Finally, it is the men themselves who show me the biggest change of what I thought I knew. They are yin and yang, good and bad. Each of them have a story of what brought them here, but as they walk through the final door - Door 7, they enter my classroom, leaving that history behind them, if only for a couple of hours. They become my students, looking towards an education, a better life, whatever that may mean for them.

“Be brave enough to make a change”.


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John Cameron
John Cameron
Apr 24, 2020

Wow! Profound words Beth. I remember all too well how prison life can be a dichotomy. I can recall my first trip to the prison camp, Lester Heights. Before reaching the camp located in Harpers Ferry, Iowa we made an undisclosed stop at Anamosa State Penitentiary. When our transport vehicle stopped outside the gate I can remember how I felt thinking they had made a mistake or they lied to me about my destination. None the less I was surprised discovering the difference between the outside appearance of the high walls and what lied behind. After several trips behind bars and fences i came to the realization that my change would and must occur in this dicohotomous environment.…

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