Frequently Asked Questions
1. Who can help me if I have a question?
There are multiple sources of help for faculty members. At Norfolk and Framingham, there is a BU Clerk, who is a prisoner and a current student or a graduate of the BU Prison Education Program. He or she is most helpful and knowledgeable in procedural questions. The students themselves will help orient you to the routines in place. For example, prisoners can return to their units only during “movement” (once an hour, for 10 minutes) but they can move about within the building in between this time. Prisoners, including BU Clerks, have limited authority; they will refer you to the principal for questions regarding paperwork, permissions, or any upper-level administration.
Another resource is the Prison Education staff. This includes Danielle Rousseau and Jim Matesanz. Any questions you may have for the Prison Education staff will have to wait until you leave the prison facility. When in doubt, ask the BU Clerk or the DOC Education staff. The criteria you use in your daily life will not always apply in the prison environment. Eventually you will understand the culture within prison, but feel free to ask any questions you may have at any time.
2. Pedagogically, is there anything I need to know about teaching in a prison?
The Boston University Prison Education Program does not offer “open admission.” All enrolled students have demonstrated readiness for college work by either previously completing college courses offered through other institutions, or by passing an entrance exam.
Your principle pedagogic tool is your relationship with your students. Your students will help you arrive at solutions to problems created by teaching in a secure environment. For example, if you assign out-of-class group work, they will pair up by living unit.
Be prepared to be challenged by your class. Students will have done the work you assigned and will be eager to discuss it and seek clarification of what they don’t understand. Prepare to be flexible. For example, if the entire prison should close on the day of your class, you need to be able to adjust your curriculum to cover the same amount of material in a reduced number of sessions. You may be able to schedule a make-up class after consulting with the Principal.
Be aware that students’ exposure to the norms of a college classroom is limited. They do not have access to the Internet, and the library is limited in terms of research purposes. Do expect carefully hand-written papers. There is an overhead projector, a movie screen, a TV/VCR, and an audio CD player available for your use.
As for how to address your students, some professors refer to students as Mr. or Ms., while others use students’ first names. Similarly, you may ask them to call you Professor or to use your first name.
Another consideration is the role of pride and respect in prison. In a traditional college classroom, a student may enjoy being singled out or applauded for his or her work. This is not always true in prison, for a variety of reasons. You may wish to write notes on papers that are read only by the student, but it is a good idea not to allude to disparities in achievement within the class.
Remember, too, that your students do not have control over their comings and goings. Generally, a student’s routine is outlined by the prison, so absences and tardiness mean different things in prison than in a traditional classroom.
There are no “office hours” in prison teaching. However, if you would like to discuss coursework with a student, you can devote a portion of a class for that purpose while the rest of the class reads quietly or works on a group project.
You may ask your students to type papers and most of them will. Some students own their own typewriters. They also have access to DOC typewriters in the library and the Partakers typewriters though the BU Clerks at Norfolk and Framingham. It is fine to encourage your students to type and tell them that it is your preference, however it is not possible to require that all papers be typed.
3. How do the Correctional Officers interact with BU professors?
The Department of Correction (DOC) is responsible for ensuring the safety of prisoners, staff, and visitors alike. BU professors are required to uphold all the rules of the prison, and must go through a security screening process upon entry to the prison. The security screening is designed, principally, to keep contraband items out of the prison. For this reason all bags and persons are subject to search.
4. What is contraband?
Contraband is essentially anything other than what the DOC allows prisoners to have or to do. The DOC requires that certain items do not enter prison grounds. If you are unsure of what you may or may not bring with you into the classroom, ask the officer on duty. You may enter with your course materials, but some restrictions apply (see below).
5. What should I wear?
We must conform to the visitor dress code, listed on the DOC website. The easiest thing to do is dress as you normally would, and then review your outfit from the DOC perspective. The DOC visitor dress code has four purposes: to keep visitors from hiding contraband items; to prevent provocative attire; to make sure visitors and volunteers do not inadvertently look like prisoners; and to avoid setting off the metal detector.
The metal detector responds to things such as: underwire bras, body piercings, and jewelry (though one piece of religious jewelry and wedding rings are allowed). Belts and shoes can be removed and put back on after the metal detector, but jewelry will have to be left behind. Watches may not be worn, but the BU classrooms are equipped with clocks. If you have a pacemaker, be sure to tell the guard in order to avoid any serious complications.
6. How do I get to the prison?
You can find directions at www.mass.gov/doc.
When you drive to the prison, park in the “visitor” parking lot, and enter the waiting room. You will be allowed in at 8:00 a.m. or 12:30 p.m.; if you arrive too early, be prepared to wait. If you arrive too late, you will have to wait until the next shift change. As a BU professor, you are in the “Pass System” and are allowed to come and go all day on the day of your class. When you present yourself at the desk, the guard will take your ID and look you up in the system.
It is critical that you be punctual, arriving at least 30 minutes before your class begins. It takes time for any visitor to be processed and allowed to enter. Your arrival may coincide with that of other visitors, so it is best to be early to prevent any processing delay.
It is important to present your ID to the officer on duty and declare that you are from BU and are there to teach a class. If you wait with other visitors and don’t “cut in line” to promptly show the officer your identification and begin the entry process, your waiting students will be sent back to their units.
7. What must I bring with me, and what is not allowed?
You must bring a picture ID and quarters for the locker. Your picture ID does not have to be your driver’s license. Everything else you brought into the waiting room—other than your teaching materials—must be stowed in the lockers provided. It may be useful to keep quarters, a pen, and a picture ID in a separate plastic bag in a dedicated “prison bag” at all times. Setting aside a book bag or briefcase for use only when teaching at the prison can help prevent you from accidentally bringing in contraband items that are prohibited from entry onto the grounds.
Occasionally, what is considered standard equipment on campus is restricted from entering the prison. For example: bull clips, hollow see-through pens, yellow markers, wristwatches, three-ring binders, maps, full magazines or newspapers (clippings are permitted), videos, or audio CDs (unless you have made arrangements beforehand—see below).
Requests for exceptions are generally not made. However, it is possible to submit an “Authorization to Enter” (A to E) request to the Principal. Try to plan ahead, as you need between one and two weeks lead time for an “A to E” to be processed.
8. How do I let someone know I’m there to teach for BU?
After you’ve placed your belongings into a locker, present yourself to the correctional officers. You will be asked to show your ID, which will be returned upon your departure. The officer will ask you to sign a roster and will let you know when it is your turn to begin the security screening process.
9. What happens during the security screening?
Once you’re called in, the door to the waiting room will slide shut. Stand close to the doors as the guard takes one person at a time through the metal detector. There are plastic tubs into which you are to place shoes, belts, eyeglasses, and coats.
After passing through the metal detector, the guard will run one more check and then return your items.
Only female officers search female visitors.
Keep in mind that procedures vary somewhat by institution. Plan on the most stringent precautions. The COs (Corrections Officers, which is the term they prefer over “guards”) will let you know if there is something you do not have to do, remove, pass through, sign, etc. It is best to be humble about these procedures.
10. Is security screening always the same?
Generally yes, but some days screening is more elaborate than at other times. The demeanor of the COs can vary by institution and by the guard on duty.
11. How do I find my classroom?
Norfolk: When you leave the screening area, go straight ahead to the brick building, passing by the visitor center on your left. Inside, turn left and a guard will open a door for you (you don’t need to ID yourself now). Go through that door, and straight ahead, passing another brick building on the left. Take the sidewalk across the “yard” and enter the brick building at the opposite end. Go up the stairs to the right of the lobby. The BU classroom is at the top of the stairs, down the hall to the right. The Principal’s office is straight ahead on the second floor. You will need to introduce yourself and schedule a brief DOC orientation.
Framingham: When you leave the screening area, take the stairs on the right up one flight. On the second floor, exit the doors to your right. Go straight through the wire mesh fence, and turn right on the sidewalk. Follow the sidewalk to the farthest building on the right. Go down the hall and make a left at the end. There are doors and stairs on the immediate right; take them up one flight. Bear left, ahead is the Principal’s office. The BU classroom is down the hall.
12. Once I find my classroom, is there someone there to help me with getting settled?
At Norfolk and Framingham, the Principal of the school will be available to guide you. BU has a clerk at each of the sites of the prison program who will look for you after you arrive. The clerk is a prisoner who is, or has been, a BU student. Clerks are very knowledgeable and helpful and have access to the photocopy machines. They can do a limited amount of last minute photocopying for you, and will alert you to anything that will affect your class meeting. They will also make sure you receive an attendance-like form, to be submitted for prison records. These forms will help determine how much time a student may receive off his/her sentence for attending each class (“good time”). The clerk will collect this form before you leave for the day. Please keep in mind that any representative from BU is there as a guest of the DOC and, as with any school, the Principal has authority that should be respected.
13. What is my relationship to the DOC Education staff?
Many DOC faculty and staff are dedicated teachers and librarians. They teach pre-GED, GED, ESL, and some are vocational teachers as well. They come in at 7:30 a.m. and leave promptly at 3:30 p.m. If your last class ends at 3:30 p.m., be sensitive to their need to lock up and vacate the building at 3:30 p.m. promptly. Prisoners must leave and return to their units promptly at 11:30 a.m. (morning classes), 3:30 p.m. (afternoon classes), and 8 p.m. (evening classes)—so after-class discussion with students must remain brief.
14. Who will my students be?
Students may range in age from twenties to fifties. While some attended college, most have not. Many graduated high school, but some students entered prison with very little education and have worked their way through pre-GED, and GED programs. Many of your students will have been in the program for multiple semesters, some for years. Some hurry to take as many classes as they can each semester and some stretch it out. They will graduate with a B.A. in Liberal Studies from Boston University through their enrollment in BU’s Metropolitan College. Some Prison Education students manage to accumulate enough credits in one field to constitute a major, but this is not always the case, as BU cannot predict what courses will be offered or when.