Teaching high school in a prison isn’t your normal job. As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”
In the short time I’ve been teaching at Lee Arrendale State Prison, I’ve learned a number of interesting things, some by observation but others by listening to the inmates and security officers. (Please don’t call them guards. They’re officers.)
(Note: Lee Arrendale is the largest women’s prison in the state of Georgia. It houses about 1400 inmates, including juveniles who have committed felony offenses. Georgia’s Death Row is located at the prison and up until a few days ago held the only woman currently under a death sentence. That’s a complicated story and one I will relate in a separate post.)
A random sampling of a few of the things I’ve learned:
1. Even if the door is marked “Do not enter,” it may be the best door to use.
My classroom has two doors. The light switch inside the room is by the door that bears this sign. If we enter by the other door, the proper door, we have to walk the full length of the room to get to the light switch. Besides, the door with the sign is just easier to use, so we use it.
2. There’s an abundance of animals at the prison.
The Forever Friends Canine Rescue Program is billed as “inmates rescuing dogs and dogs rescuing inmates.” The mission of the program is to save dogs from being euthanized at the local animal shelter while providing inmates with the training to teach basic dog obedience and the opportunity to learn animal care and grooming skills. It is quite common to see inmates and their dogs walking around the prison grounds.
The prison also has an equine rescue program that cares for abandoned and neglected horses and provides inmates with the opportunity to work as animal caregivers and receive training as veterinary assistants.
I’ve seen cats on the prison grounds, just walking around or following prison employees. Are they feral cats? Or are they kept as pets? I don’t know.
Skunks live on the prison grounds, and some have been tamed by the inmates who feed them. Teachers were told that the adult skunks might come right up to us, much as a cat would, and not to be afraid. However, the baby skunks born in the Spring will not be tame and could spray us. Apparently an adult skunk sprayed someone or something a few weeks ago because we could smell the odor as we left for the night.
3. Inmates don’t always get three meals a day.
Inmates at Lee Arrendale are served three meals a day only Monday through Thursday. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday they are served only two meals: breakfast and an evening meal. However, they can purchase sandwiches and snacks to tide them over on the days they are not served lunch. Inmates also steal food from the chow hall. I’ve seen stolen sandwiches and oranges mostly. There seems to be an overabundance of oranges available, and I saw one inmate with four or five stuffed into her pockets. If inmates are caught bringing stolen food into the classrooms they can be disciplined by being placed on lockdown. In spite of the issues with food, I haven’t seen any inmates who look as if they’re suffering. In fact, a great many prisoners are overweight.
More to come in a later post on lockdowns and life in the Special Management Unit.