OP-ED: How to Educate Yourself in Prison


By Richard Johnson, Folsom Prison Letters

Incarceration can be a very difficult and demanding situation for anyone. But there is potentially a bright side if one chooses to educate oneself by studying everything that is made available, preparing to return to society eventually.

I suggest that you begin by absorbing everything that is relevant to you as a human being, not so much those things based upon your ethnicity alone. I believe your studies should be based on enlightening yourself through learning about other societies, cultures, histories, social progressions and downfalls.

The purpose of being self-taught is to allow yourself to form your own conclusions about life without becoming overly consumed by the constrictions of being at the bottom of this class-oriented society.

So few of us are able to grasp the enormity of this world and our true place in it, but with knowledge and reason, using an approach that analyzes life spiritually, intellectually, socially and religiously, we can.

I’ve found that once you obligate yourself to the disciplines of learning, a whole new world will open up to you. With dedication, one can transform their tomb-like cell into a center of higher education.

Based on the studies you undertake, there is a wealth of valuable and credible information available from the Internet, books, magazines, newsletters, PBS-TV, religious bibles, and other reference materials. If you choose, it’s there for the learning.

There are viable, helpful vocational trades and training opportunities in most prisons, especially if you’re not confined in one of the many special housing units, such as the S.H.U (aka “Hole”) or the PSU (“the psyche unit”), and so forth.

But, as dim as things may look for you, always remember it could be even worse. Yet, as long as you have your wits and desire to prevail, the only thing that could prevent you from surging ahead is you, because failure, contrary to belief, is an avoidable option.

Educational success and understanding comes to those who are willing to do what is required. Your educational future is all up to you, not someone else. In spite of how it may appear, you hold the keys to open all the doors that have been closed to you thus far.

I would recommend starting with Howard Zinn’s “Peoples History of America” and Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”. If you avail yourself of the vast array of thought-provoking books and materials, you will discover, like I did, that learning is a breath of sustainment in this chaotic world of prison life.

The first step begins when you decide what you want to learn about, and then you must be about the business of turning it into reality.

Prison can only hold you physically, but the mind can soar as high and free as you want it to be.


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