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Taking my Students to Prison


Taking my Students to Prison

Jean Trounstine

Every semester my students from Voices Behind Bars, a class I teach at Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts, go to prison. They used to visit state institutions but now that the Massachusetts state prisons do not offer tours (perhaps because it is a hassle to have outsiders trooping through them and criticizing what they see), the students take a tour of Billerica House of Correction, where they experience confinement to some degree and listen for an hour to an incarcerated man talk about his life and what it is like to be behind bars.


I wonder about the ultimate lesson Ms. Trounstine hoped to transfer to students? Was it as limited as "Just say no to drugs" or you'll end up here; or did she speak to her students about the Draconian nature of the War on Drugs and how it not only targets persons of color, but that due to the extent of the Lobbying system, vast prison building outfits like Corrections Corp. of America ensure that they will be able to continue reaping profits from prison-building enterprises. In order to fill those prisons, warm bodies are needed: enter the protocols that criminalize things like being unable to pay parking and traffic fines or being caught using pot.

It's one thing to take students into a prison setting, and another to explain what's made prisons expand to the tune of "hosting" 2.2 million beds over the course of that same time-span that saw a deregulation of just about everything along with the rabid entrance of its "cousin," privatization. A new legion of private jailers moved in to quickly capitalize on an eagerly expanded "inmate frontier." I wonder if this aspect of the new "Enclosure Movement," U.S. as world's largest prison gulag shows up in class discussions?


Hello, my name is michael. and i must say it was powerful how the woman saw her brother. I did time at the billerica house of correction, i was on B-pod. infact i don't believe i ran into your class but i remember hearing about you guys coming so of course they made us clean the pod extra nice just incase. I just want to say, you claim just because it was county. people are only doing 2 and a half years. The limit is actually 7 years, and yes that is still nothing compared to a life sentence. but remember in middlesex house of correction you do 20 HOURS cell time. that is the longest amount of cell time in any jail in the whole state. We are stripped of almost everything but a radio. Up state they have a LOT more privileges than we did. it was like being in maximum security. I also did state time, and i must say state prisons you have men doing a lot of time, older men who understand how it goes. county jail you have children who try to prove something. I would rather do 3 years in state prison than 1 and a half in county anyday. People were trying to pretend they were crazy to go to bridge water mental hospital to get out of middlesex. The hole can drive people mad yes, but those PODS can drive people just as mad. you try sitting in a cell for 20 hours a day. Sorry for my slight hostility. but you take people to a prison and say, "Oh look this is how it is" but the truth is you'll never have any idea what it is like. and i honestly thank god you never will. Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for the article. - Mike