The JCI Prison Scholars Program is creating free college classes in prison
2

patrons

$10
per month
Find lots more information at our main website.

Let's start with the deep stuff, right away: education is the beating heart of civic freedom, and freedom is the highest goal of education. Locking education away in the ivory tower alienates it from its mission in society.

Our Program is dedicated to a simple concept: no one in society should be deprived of access to ideas. This has led all of us, through different paths, to seek opportunities to teach and learn outside the walls of the academy, built to keep people out on the basis of their social standing and financial means. And it has ultimately led us to bring intellectual discussion inside the walls of the prison, a space that too many people consider radically separate from society. We see society as a whole riddled with barriers and locked doors and the prison’s are just one more set that we hope to open.

The JCI Scholars Program is a series of volunteer, non-credit, college-level courses being taught in Jessup Correctional Institution, a maximum-security men's prison in central Maryland (note: see our disclaimer). Students in the program are incarcerated men, who must have a high school education (or equivalent) and write an essay about the importance of education to them to participate. Each semester, we have six to eight instructors providing classes to one hundred and twenty-seven students. You can find out more about the program at our website.

Everyone in the program, incarcerated citizens and outside instructors, is a scholar, and we think of ourselves as on equal moral and intellectual footing. We strive to create course content as a collaboration between teachers and students, and to make classes free-ranging discussions and workshops more than lectures.

While we hope that student partners who leave the prison will find what they have learned helpful in re-integrating into non-incarcerated life, our program is not specifically focused on re-entry. Rather, we are convinced that intellectual discourse, critical engagement, and self-reflection are inherent parts of a flourishing human life inside or outside prison walls, and valuable for their own sake.

What This Campaign Will Fund

Right now, our entire operation is funded out of our own pockets, plus whatever small amounts of funding are available from our home institutions (only one of us receives regular support for this work from his University "day job" right now; and, we do not receive any financial support from the prison, though they do provide us with rooms and the support of their library staff). We are actively seeking more traditional grant funding for our work, but this campaign will help us continue doing what we are doing without asking too much of our instructors.

The most fundamental thing that this campaign will do is help us defray the costs associated with running the classes themselves: buying books, making copies of readings, providing writing utensils and writing paper, and the like. This can easily run to the hundreds of dollars per class per "semester," as we are buying books for 20-30 students in each class. Right now, unfortunately, we are sometimes making pedagogical decisions based on which books we can afford to buy! We'd like to not have to worry about that.

There are also a number of incidental expenses that our instructors incur to teach these classes, things like gas money, train tickets, and the like. Should we have enough money to cover our core expenses, we will move on to helping cover some of those as well. If we have a lot of money, well, see our milestones.

For more information on how we will run the finances of this campaign, see below under Questions and Answers.

What Patrons are Paying to Get

Each week, we (collectively) teach four to six classes in the prison. You can see what is currently offered by checking out our current classes page.

Because this is a pretty high volume, this campaign does not ask you to pay per class, but rather per month that we are running classes (if you really want to feel that you are paying "per class," please back at our "Carol Hanisch" level, $20 per month, which works out to a little less than $1 per class session) 

Mostly, your support goes to us continuing to run these courses, which is something that you will not get to see directly.Our instructors will occasionally post a brief note about their classes on our blog, so you can follow along with what we are doing. This may be the instructor's own reflections, or writing or art from students. We will, when available, also post other materials that may come out of classes, such as original research.

Backers at higher levels will receive some other thank-you gifts and tokens of our appreciation.

What are Our Goals?

In the first place, we would like to make our current teaching model more or less sustainable for our instructors. Some of us are lucky enough to have standard academic positions, but we are doing this on top of our work at our home institutions. Others of us have contingent employment as adjuncts and the like, and we are doing this in lieu of taking additional paid work. It would ease the burden of either of those things to at least not have to pay to volunteer in addition.

If we put our current model on stable footing (through a combination of this campaign and other funding sources), we do have some interests in expanding. Here are some of our ideas for the future:

  • Better support for instructors: This is both a logistical and financial goal. Right now, we have one person liaising with the prison authorities and administrators (things like ensuring that all entrance authorizations are up to date and our rooms are arranged). We would love to have the resources to hire someone on a stable basis part-time to do this. And we would love to be able to pay our instructors a wage in addition to costs, and support them in going to conferences to spread the word about our program.
  • More teaching: Our instructors are certified to volunteer in any prison in Maryland, and we have discussed the possibility of providing classes at other facilities. Also, prisons are only one part of society that tends to be cut off from traditional modes of higher education. A couple of us have taught with the Baltimore Free School in the past, for example, and we would like to explore the possibility of providing more classes to the general community, especially marginalized populations.
  • More research: The impacts of education on the quality of communities within prisons are poorly understood at this point. In keeping with our focus beyond re-entry and recidivism, we would like to conduct community-based participatory research in the prison to better understand how incarcerated individuals are currently engaged in their communities inside and outside the prison walls, and how we can better support positive engagement. We also hope to track our "graduates" once they leave the prison system.

We hope that this has made you at least half as excited about supporting us as we are about what we're doing! Please consider supporting us, even at $1/month. Or if you don't feel you can afford it, please spread the word!

Questions and Answers

How exactly will funding from this campaign be disbursed?

We are now a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit.

Funds from this campaign are a fund of "last resort." That is, our instructors will try to cover costs out of other sources of funding before using money from Patreon - grants, faculty funds, negotiated gifts from publishers, and direct support from the students' family.

When we receive funds, our first priority will be materials - books, pens, notebooks, and certificate paper, for instance. We will fund these as evenly as we can. Here's the basic plan:

1. Each instructor who was teaching during a month for which we received funding will receive an equal share of the funding, after Patreon's cut and we make sure that we've set aside what we need to cover taxes. A share will also go to covering the cost of maintaining the website, and we may put money toward group goals like (if we start bringing in enough) paying  a part-time coordinator.

2. If anyone hits a point where all their direct costs for their current course are covered, we'll just share amongs folks who haven't had costs covered until everyone is covered. Right now, we don't have any serious inequities in how much courses cost to run, but if someone proposes a very expensive class (e.g., one that requires lots of A/V materials), we would hold a vote of current instructors on it.

3. If we have any money left over after all direct costs are covered, we'll divide it up among currently teaching instructors. This will let them cover any incidental expenses and, if our patrons are super-generous, maybe even put a little money in their pockets. So long as we have a student volunteer coordinator, she will also get a cut of this.

If we hit certain milestones, we may arrange funding differently (e.g., if we are formally buying out an instructor's class from her university). If we reach that mark, we will announce it through our Patreon feed, and this part of the description will be updated.

Why don't students pay anything?

Most of our students cannot really afford to pay us anything like tuition. Some of them have jobs in the prison, but these typically pay very, very little (on average in state prisons, less than a dollar a day; MD prisoners get a bit better deal, and must be paid at least the federal minimum wage, but face significant deductions for things like room and board and victim compensation funds).

Prior to 1994, most prison college programs were effectively supported by federal Pell grants to prisoners. However, the 1994 crime omnibus bill stripped prisoners of their eligibility for Pell grants.

Why isn't the program credit-granting?

We are currently in partnership with the University of Baltimore to offer credit for some of our courses in the Fall of 2016. However, this will be part of an experimental site waiver for the general Pell Grant ineligibility that will only impact a small group of our students.

The larger part of the study body will continue to be eligible to attend volunteer courses without credit, and we hope to audit the for-credit courses. 

How do you decide what to teach?

Since our instructors are all volunteers, they teach more or less what they would like to teach, with informal input from our students. Starting this semester, we have been having a semesterly session in the prison where each instructor "pitched" his or her course, and students were allowed to list their preferences (actual assignments are made primarily on the basis of seniority in our program).

Since most of us in the program right now are professionally trained as philosophers, we teach a lot of philosophy classes! But we are actively branching out, and have been able to offer courses in literature, psychology, economics, labor history, and games recently.

How do you get teachers?

Mostly, networking by our current teachers. But we're always looking to bring new people into the fold. If you are interested, email us at [email protected]/* */ We are especially looking to recruit more African-American instructors.

Why do you help violent people?

This is a complicated question, and we don't want to sugar-coat it. Many people are in prison in the US for things they probably shouldn't be punished for - non-violent drug crimes, for instance. But the bulk of our students are imprisoned for committing violent crimes.

There's no way to give a satisfying answer to this question in a F.A.Q. but it is an area of active reflection and even research for several of us! If you are seriously interested, contact us and we'll discuss it with you.

Where is the media on your Patreon page from?

The static image you can see before the video is "Mental Hell" by Warren "Rennaissanz Rzen" Hynson, used by permission. Ren is a student in several of our courses; you can see more of his work at his website.

The video was created by Joshua Miller, using YouTube's video editor.
Tiers
Pledge $1 or more per month
3 patrons
Jeremy "All Shall Count for One and None for More than One" Bentham -  Thank you! This is the basic support level, and every little bit helps. We will ardently feel gratitude in our hearts toward everyone who supports at this level.
Pledge $5 or more per month
1 patron
Hannah "Space of Appearance" Arendt - We will thank you slightly more prominently on our website, as a supporter of our work. We will also ardently feel gratitude in our hearts for you, recognizing that even this freedom can be destroyed under totalitarianism.
Pledge $20 or more per month
0 of 50 patrons
Carol "The Personal is Political" Hanisch - You have our very great thanks. We will publicly thank you on the website, and each month we will mail you a personal note, either from one of our instructors or from one of our students. When we can, this will include things like writing from the class, artwork, or poetry. This also roughly amounts to giving each of our instructors $1 per class, if you're into that sort of thing.
Pledge $25 or more per month
0 patrons
Antonio "Prison Notebooks" Gramsci - For people especially interested in our research production, at this level we will make available to you working papers and rough drafts of any scholarly work that instructors create that is relevant to our program. Please note that we cannot guarantee that there will be new work available every month; you are still supporting a month of classes directly, not the writing you receive.
Pledge $50 or more per month
0 of 10 patrons
C.L.R. "Every Cook Can Govern" James - Thank you from the bottom of our stomachs! Each month, you are invited to have lunch with one or more of our instructors at our standard planning spot, Frank's Diner. Our treat! (only to lunch, you have to get there under your own power) We will also list you on the website.
Pledge $100 or more per month
0 of 10 patrons
Angela "Any Person who Studies Philosophy has to be Involved Actively" Davis - Your commitment to prison education is obvious. We will thank you on the website, you can join us for lunch when you like (up to once a month on our treat), we will send you personal notes, and you are invited to any planning conversations we have about the program as a non-voting member.
Pledge $1,000 or more per month
0 of 10 patrons
Amilcar "The People are Not Fighting for Ideas" Cabral - We are incredibly thankful and surprised. At this level, we know you're not in it for the patron rewards, but you can have lunch with us up to once a week, on us, and participate in any planning calls or meetings that you are interested in. We will also be happy to work with you to make one of our instructors available to speak to your class, civic group, etc. (you will be responsible for travel costs outside reasonable driving distance, if necessary). Oh, and we will thank you on the website and send you personal notes.
Goals
$10 of $200 per month
Direct costs vary, but at about $200/month we would - according to our back-of-the-envelope calculations - typically be able to cover direct costs for all of our instructors.
1 of 4
Find lots more information at our main website.

Let's start with the deep stuff, right away: education is the beating heart of civic freedom, and freedom is the highest goal of education. Locking education away in the ivory tower alienates it from its mission in society.

Our Program is dedicated to a simple concept: no one in society should be deprived of access to ideas. This has led all of us, through different paths, to seek opportunities to teach and learn outside the walls of the academy, built to keep people out on the basis of their social standing and financial means. And it has ultimately led us to bring intellectual discussion inside the walls of the prison, a space that too many people consider radically separate from society. We see society as a whole riddled with barriers and locked doors and the prison’s are just one more set that we hope to open.

The JCI Scholars Program is a series of volunteer, non-credit, college-level courses being taught in Jessup Correctional Institution, a maximum-security men's prison in central Maryland (note: see our disclaimer). Students in the program are incarcerated men, who must have a high school education (or equivalent) and write an essay about the importance of education to them to participate. Each semester, we have six to eight instructors providing classes to one hundred and twenty-seven students. You can find out more about the program at our website.

Everyone in the program, incarcerated citizens and outside instructors, is a scholar, and we think of ourselves as on equal moral and intellectual footing. We strive to create course content as a collaboration between teachers and students, and to make classes free-ranging discussions and workshops more than lectures.

While we hope that student partners who leave the prison will find what they have learned helpful in re-integrating into non-incarcerated life, our program is not specifically focused on re-entry. Rather, we are convinced that intellectual discourse, critical engagement, and self-reflection are inherent parts of a flourishing human life inside or outside prison walls, and valuable for their own sake.

What This Campaign Will Fund

Right now, our entire operation is funded out of our own pockets, plus whatever small amounts of funding are available from our home institutions (only one of us receives regular support for this work from his University "day job" right now; and, we do not receive any financial support from the prison, though they do provide us with rooms and the support of their library staff). We are actively seeking more traditional grant funding for our work, but this campaign will help us continue doing what we are doing without asking too much of our instructors.

The most fundamental thing that this campaign will do is help us defray the costs associated with running the classes themselves: buying books, making copies of readings, providing writing utensils and writing paper, and the like. This can easily run to the hundreds of dollars per class per "semester," as we are buying books for 20-30 students in each class. Right now, unfortunately, we are sometimes making pedagogical decisions based on which books we can afford to buy! We'd like to not have to worry about that.

There are also a number of incidental expenses that our instructors incur to teach these classes, things like gas money, train tickets, and the like. Should we have enough money to cover our core expenses, we will move on to helping cover some of those as well. If we have a lot of money, well, see our milestones.

For more information on how we will run the finances of this campaign, see below under Questions and Answers.

What Patrons are Paying to Get

Each week, we (collectively) teach four to six classes in the prison. You can see what is currently offered by checking out our current classes page.

Because this is a pretty high volume, this campaign does not ask you to pay per class, but rather per month that we are running classes (if you really want to feel that you are paying "per class," please back at our "Carol Hanisch" level, $20 per month, which works out to a little less than $1 per class session) 

Mostly, your support goes to us continuing to run these courses, which is something that you will not get to see directly.Our instructors will occasionally post a brief note about their classes on our blog, so you can follow along with what we are doing. This may be the instructor's own reflections, or writing or art from students. We will, when available, also post other materials that may come out of classes, such as original research.

Backers at higher levels will receive some other thank-you gifts and tokens of our appreciation.

What are Our Goals?

In the first place, we would like to make our current teaching model more or less sustainable for our instructors. Some of us are lucky enough to have standard academic positions, but we are doing this on top of our work at our home institutions. Others of us have contingent employment as adjuncts and the like, and we are doing this in lieu of taking additional paid work. It would ease the burden of either of those things to at least not have to pay to volunteer in addition.

If we put our current model on stable footing (through a combination of this campaign and other funding sources), we do have some interests in expanding. Here are some of our ideas for the future:

  • Better support for instructors: This is both a logistical and financial goal. Right now, we have one person liaising with the prison authorities and administrators (things like ensuring that all entrance authorizations are up to date and our rooms are arranged). We would love to have the resources to hire someone on a stable basis part-time to do this. And we would love to be able to pay our instructors a wage in addition to costs, and support them in going to conferences to spread the word about our program.
  • More teaching: Our instructors are certified to volunteer in any prison in Maryland, and we have discussed the possibility of providing classes at other facilities. Also, prisons are only one part of society that tends to be cut off from traditional modes of higher education. A couple of us have taught with the Baltimore Free School in the past, for example, and we would like to explore the possibility of providing more classes to the general community, especially marginalized populations.
  • More research: The impacts of education on the quality of communities within prisons are poorly understood at this point. In keeping with our focus beyond re-entry and recidivism, we would like to conduct community-based participatory research in the prison to better understand how incarcerated individuals are currently engaged in their communities inside and outside the prison walls, and how we can better support positive engagement. We also hope to track our "graduates" once they leave the prison system.

We hope that this has made you at least half as excited about supporting us as we are about what we're doing! Please consider supporting us, even at $1/month. Or if you don't feel you can afford it, please spread the word!

Questions and Answers

How exactly will funding from this campaign be disbursed?

We are now a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit.

Funds from this campaign are a fund of "last resort." That is, our instructors will try to cover costs out of other sources of funding before using money from Patreon - grants, faculty funds, negotiated gifts from publishers, and direct support from the students' family.

When we receive funds, our first priority will be materials - books, pens, notebooks, and certificate paper, for instance. We will fund these as evenly as we can. Here's the basic plan:

1. Each instructor who was teaching during a month for which we received funding will receive an equal share of the funding, after Patreon's cut and we make sure that we've set aside what we need to cover taxes. A share will also go to covering the cost of maintaining the website, and we may put money toward group goals like (if we start bringing in enough) paying  a part-time coordinator.

2. If anyone hits a point where all their direct costs for their current course are covered, we'll just share amongs folks who haven't had costs covered until everyone is covered. Right now, we don't have any serious inequities in how much courses cost to run, but if someone proposes a very expensive class (e.g., one that requires lots of A/V materials), we would hold a vote of current instructors on it.

3. If we have any money left over after all direct costs are covered, we'll divide it up among currently teaching instructors. This will let them cover any incidental expenses and, if our patrons are super-generous, maybe even put a little money in their pockets. So long as we have a student volunteer coordinator, she will also get a cut of this.

If we hit certain milestones, we may arrange funding differently (e.g., if we are formally buying out an instructor's class from her university). If we reach that mark, we will announce it through our Patreon feed, and this part of the description will be updated.

Why don't students pay anything?

Most of our students cannot really afford to pay us anything like tuition. Some of them have jobs in the prison, but these typically pay very, very little (on average in state prisons, less than a dollar a day; MD prisoners get a bit better deal, and must be paid at least the federal minimum wage, but face significant deductions for things like room and board and victim compensation funds).

Prior to 1994, most prison college programs were effectively supported by federal Pell grants to prisoners. However, the 1994 crime omnibus bill stripped prisoners of their eligibility for Pell grants.

Why isn't the program credit-granting?

We are currently in partnership with the University of Baltimore to offer credit for some of our courses in the Fall of 2016. However, this will be part of an experimental site waiver for the general Pell Grant ineligibility that will only impact a small group of our students.

The larger part of the study body will continue to be eligible to attend volunteer courses without credit, and we hope to audit the for-credit courses. 

How do you decide what to teach?

Since our instructors are all volunteers, they teach more or less what they would like to teach, with informal input from our students. Starting this semester, we have been having a semesterly session in the prison where each instructor "pitched" his or her course, and students were allowed to list their preferences (actual assignments are made primarily on the basis of seniority in our program).

Since most of us in the program right now are professionally trained as philosophers, we teach a lot of philosophy classes! But we are actively branching out, and have been able to offer courses in literature, psychology, economics, labor history, and games recently.

How do you get teachers?

Mostly, networking by our current teachers. But we're always looking to bring new people into the fold. If you are interested, email us at [email protected]/* */ We are especially looking to recruit more African-American instructors.

Why do you help violent people?

This is a complicated question, and we don't want to sugar-coat it. Many people are in prison in the US for things they probably shouldn't be punished for - non-violent drug crimes, for instance. But the bulk of our students are imprisoned for committing violent crimes.

There's no way to give a satisfying answer to this question in a F.A.Q. but it is an area of active reflection and even research for several of us! If you are seriously interested, contact us and we'll discuss it with you.

Where is the media on your Patreon page from?

The static image you can see before the video is "Mental Hell" by Warren "Rennaissanz Rzen" Hynson, used by permission. Ren is a student in several of our courses; you can see more of his work at his website.

The video was created by Joshua Miller, using YouTube's video editor.

Recent posts by The JCI Prison Scholars Program

Tiers
Pledge $1 or more per month
3 patrons
Jeremy "All Shall Count for One and None for More than One" Bentham -  Thank you! This is the basic support level, and every little bit helps. We will ardently feel gratitude in our hearts toward everyone who supports at this level.
Pledge $5 or more per month
1 patron
Hannah "Space of Appearance" Arendt - We will thank you slightly more prominently on our website, as a supporter of our work. We will also ardently feel gratitude in our hearts for you, recognizing that even this freedom can be destroyed under totalitarianism.
Pledge $20 or more per month
0 of 50 patrons
Carol "The Personal is Political" Hanisch - You have our very great thanks. We will publicly thank you on the website, and each month we will mail you a personal note, either from one of our instructors or from one of our students. When we can, this will include things like writing from the class, artwork, or poetry. This also roughly amounts to giving each of our instructors $1 per class, if you're into that sort of thing.
Pledge $25 or more per month
0 patrons
Antonio "Prison Notebooks" Gramsci - For people especially interested in our research production, at this level we will make available to you working papers and rough drafts of any scholarly work that instructors create that is relevant to our program. Please note that we cannot guarantee that there will be new work available every month; you are still supporting a month of classes directly, not the writing you receive.
Pledge $50 or more per month
0 of 10 patrons
C.L.R. "Every Cook Can Govern" James - Thank you from the bottom of our stomachs! Each month, you are invited to have lunch with one or more of our instructors at our standard planning spot, Frank's Diner. Our treat! (only to lunch, you have to get there under your own power) We will also list you on the website.
Pledge $100 or more per month
0 of 10 patrons
Angela "Any Person who Studies Philosophy has to be Involved Actively" Davis - Your commitment to prison education is obvious. We will thank you on the website, you can join us for lunch when you like (up to once a month on our treat), we will send you personal notes, and you are invited to any planning conversations we have about the program as a non-voting member.
Pledge $1,000 or more per month
0 of 10 patrons
Amilcar "The People are Not Fighting for Ideas" Cabral - We are incredibly thankful and surprised. At this level, we know you're not in it for the patron rewards, but you can have lunch with us up to once a week, on us, and participate in any planning calls or meetings that you are interested in. We will also be happy to work with you to make one of our instructors available to speak to your class, civic group, etc. (you will be responsible for travel costs outside reasonable driving distance, if necessary). Oh, and we will thank you on the website and send you personal notes.