I’m an academic instructor at a correctional facility. There are more than 600 inmates here and many of them need a high school diploma. Maybe they weren’t able to earn it outside because they got into legal trouble, or maybe learning disabilities made school extra challenging. Whatever it is, having a high school diploma means by the time they are released, they can apply for college or they can be employed. They are meant to help them with life on the outside and be able to provide for themselves.
When I started working here, I had to learn the rules around interacting with the prison inmates: what is allowed and not. It’s a security risk when a worker starts being really close to an inmate. As a teacher, this is the hardest thing—having to keep a professional distance in place. I used to teach in the Philippines and, in my experience then, we teachers make bridges and establish close relationships with our students. I’m not saying that I don’t try to connect with my students here—I do—but I have to watch the line.
What’s been really rewarding is being able to help people on an individual basis. That moment they understand a lesson or pass an exam, that time they succeed—seeing them gain confidence is a tremendous feeling! Many of them had given up on their education before going through our program.
But they need to use this chance well. After earning a diploma, there’s still a lot of work to adjust and to live well in society once you go out.
Sometimes I wonder if this is where I should be. Shouldn’t I be striving for my own mountains to climb? But working in this institution means that I am part of a system that gives hope to people.
Immigrant Teachers + Rural America
Feat. Mary "M" Manda of Shelby, Montana
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