Ripples

Minarik, John Paul

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Transcript

About 1,000 words 1600 Walters Mill Road, APO—580 Somerset, PA 15510-0005 RIPPLES bY John Paul Minarik RIPPLES/Jd'1n Paul Minarik Pagie; 1 The far-reaching effects of providing an education, whether to .those in or out of prison, can be compared to making ripples in a body of water, sometimes reaching distant shores. We can not easily predict the where, the when, or the how of these positive effects, but they benefit everyone, everywhere. Human beings, no matter where they are living or being imprisoned, are social creatures. Social interactions between people hold a brighter promise with education. Whether seeking a reduction in wars or gangland violence, or the betterment of humankind through advances in the arts and sciences, the human spirit can only be fully awakened with gifts provided by exposure to knowledge and training. Unfortunately, in American prisons today, due to right-wing repressive and reactionary political policies, much of this promise is going unfulfilled by the creation of a relatively new phenomenon best described as the "prison—industrial complex." Under the mask of “getting tough on crime," prisons in America have become a big business where prisoners are warehoused; college programs have been eliminated or gutted, with systematic exploitation of prisoners‘ families with systemic abuses like outrageously high telephone surcharges being kicked—back into state and federal coffers, with expensive over—building of prisons in rural America being sold as a source of good jobs for those who work there, with a new politics of mass incarceration swelling the numbers of prisoners so that America now has the highest per-capita rate of incarceration, l—in—lOO, with over 2.3 millions now in custody. One can not address education in prison without addressing these political forces. I recommend reading University of Pennsylvania Professor Marie Gottschalk's book: TEE PRISON AND THE GALLOWS: THE POLITICS QE MASS INCARCERATION IE AMERICA. The connection between the politics of mass incarceration and new, stifling limitations on education opportunities for those in prison in America is not a trivial connection. It can be viewed more sinisterly considering how repressive regimes worldwide seek to limit the education of the masses to assure a mindless conformity to the rules and policies of the state; the institution of American slavery openly forbade education of African—American slaves. There is great need for people to speak in a loud Voice, saying that prisoners must have a meaningful right to education, including a college education. Since America is often viewed as a leading nation, the American tendency to stigmatize and incarcerate an ever—larger portion of its citizens is being exported. I have noticed, for example, how English prisons, once famous for their progressive ideas and open prisons, have started to Americanize their prisons. I have been imprisoned long enough to have had experiences with educational programs which were among the best in the nation. I came to prison in 1971 after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University [CMU] in 1970; I worked in Construction Engineering for the United States Steel Corporation, building steel mills. While imprisoned at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh [formerly known as Western Penitentiary, one of the oldest prisons in the world], in 1978 I RIPPLES/John Paul Minarik ' pagé 2 earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh [Pitt] in English and Psychology, Magna Cum Laude. I earned credits in: Child Development, Curriculum and Supervision, and Legal Studies. From 1977 to 1997, armed with this education, I fought against ignorance by teaching college-level courses to fellow prisoners. Between 1979 and 1982, I taught for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts’ Poets—In—The—Schools program, earning the highest internal rating of "5". For Community College of Allegheny County [CCAC], I worked as Academic Advisor, helping to shape the curriculum of courses being offered and guiding students into best paths to attain their degrees. For Pitt, I served on the program council, suggesting courses, instructors who might be sought, and ways to expand the offerings. I often assisted in helping students deal with the conflicts that inevitably arise and helped to evolve amicable solutions to such disputes. I am happy to report that CCAC graduated more than 300 students from the prison college program at Western, with Associate degrees; likewise, Pitt graduated more than 200 students with Bachelor degrees, and in some rare cases, imprisoned students structured graduate work for themselves. We had some Masters degrees and at least one Ph.D. So while my own education helped me to help other prisoners obtain their college educations, was that all? Is that all we can expect from educating prisoners, that they will help educate other prisoners? Not hardly. . My education helped allow me to lead in the creation of other programs in the prison: (1) the first children's play area in a prison visiting room in America, a task only made possible with the help of Fred ‘Mister’ Rogers; (2) co—founded the Academy of Prison Arts, the longest duration prisoner—initiated writing and community performance program in America, funded by both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts [I wrote all of the grant applications]; (3) I believe that I am the only prisoner who sat for, and passed, the difficult eight—hour Engineer—In—Training [EIT] examination, further passing the muster to be elected as a full Member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers [ASME] that required a showing of at least five—years of "responsible charge" of engineering work. And where was this engineering work done? It was done with design and construction of significant improvements to the prison itself, including a rebuilding of the coal handling system for the prison's Power Plant with my fellow prisoners, a $150,000.00 project we did for $25,000.00. The green coal elevator still sticks above walls at Western. The laundry floor was reinforced, and a new make—up tank for the boilers was designed and made. This writer was literally forced to design a new main gate for the prison, which we built. As a New Product Designer for Correctional Industries [C.I.], $1.5 million_ worth of steel furniture was designed; four roll—over simulators were designed and manufactured for the Pennslvania State Police; bear traps were designed for the Game Commission to harmlessly capture and relocate bears straying too close to people. After we manufactured more than fifty of them in C.I., once a bear was loose in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. The bear defied capture. The Warden said to me one day: "Minarik, those bear traps of yours don't work." I said: RIPPLES/John Paul Minarik 7 Page; 3 "Warden, the problem is the bait being used. Everyone knows donuts will only catch cops." But what about the ripple effect mentioned earlier? Oh, please hear about some of my former students, at least ones I have been able to keep track of. Many have been released from prison and have gone on to marvelous careers when their college educations opened doors for them. Major corporations in Pittsburgh have employed them. They lead successful lives. With my own published writings, I have long set an example to my fellow prisoners, encouraging them to submit their own writing for publication. The list of published works by my former students would be longer than this essay! One former student of mine, a Mr. Carl Upchurch, wrote a book entitled: Convicted in the Womb. His book was made into a Showtime movie entitled "Convicted," and it was broadcast over cable TV, earning him $1 million! But, more significantly, his book told the story of how he worked to reduce gang violence in America, and it mentions how he won a prize or recognition from the U.N. for his work in that area. Sadly, Carl has since passed away. Another former student of mine, John S. Thompson, Sr., discovered his talents and operated a literary magazine for many years after his release, and he has won a number of awards for his photography. So the education obtained while in prison can help the students reach for their higher potential for accomplishments, both while in prison and after their release. There have been many contributions to literature and the arts by prisoners and former prisoners. A friend of mine, Michael Hogan, is now teaching in Mexico after a long imprisonment in Arizona; while in prison, he won a National Endowment for the Arts Writer's Fellowship. Richard Shelton has been teaching Creative Writing Workshops in prisons in Arizona for decades, and he wrote in an essay for Rattle: "I drive them [his prisoner/students] to publication because I know it is the kind of affirmation that can change their lives —— powerful, public affirmation for lives that need a powerful jolt. One of them told me once that he wasn't going to rob any more bars when he got out. I asked him why, and he said, blushing, 'I'm too famous.‘ And he was. He had published two books and won national recognition. He was able, after many more years of struggle, to overcome both drug and alcohol addiction and get a Ph.D. in history. But it started when he published that first poem in a magazine." Richard Shelton's new anthology, Crossing the Yard, showcases work by the prisoners and was seen on the Jim Leher News Hour. I have experienced having my own poems read over Monitor Radio and the Voice of America radio. Scientific research has confirmed that education in prison 4 reduces recidivism: a study by Alfred Blumstein [of CMU] was made in the early 1970s about the CCAC college program at Western. Even more than reducing incarceration and crime, education for those in prison creates ripples leading to distant shores. One ripple is this essay. (the end)

Author: Minarik, John Paul

Author Location: Pennsylvania

Date: October 25, 2016

Genre: Essay

Extent: 4 pages

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