The United States accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, yet incarcerates about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Examining a wealth of studies by researchers and correctional professionals, and the experience of educators, this book shows recidivism rates drop in direct correlation with the amount of education prisoners receive, and the rate drops dramatically with each additional level of education attained.
Presenting a workable solution to America’s mass incarceration and recidivism problems, this book demonstrates that great fiscal benefits arise when modest sums are spent educating prisoners. Educating prisoners brings a reduction in crime and social disruption, reduced domestic spending and a rise in quality of life.
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Interview with Christopher Zoukis
Tell us about your latest book.
College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014), is a book that discusses the reasons to provide education to prisoners so they won’t return to crime once released. It’s a collection of studies as well as my own experience as an incarcerated writer. It aims to present a workable solution to America’s over incarceration and recidivism problems.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Being an incarcerated prisoner before completing my senior year of high school, I realized if I was going to make anything out of myself after I was released I needed to complete high school or gain a GED equivalency. Once I became immersed in that goal I realized that not only was it very hard for a prisoner to gain an education- there wasn’t any help for them either. I made it a larger goal of expanding my experience and knowledge to help those in similar situations as me, and to educate everyone about the holes in the systems.
What inspire you to write?
My inspiration is the power to effect change; the potential for doing so. As a writer, I know that my words can open doors and close them. They can expose wrongs, present new ideas, and spur readers to action. As such, I feel it is my duty to wield this power in a responsible and honorable manner, so that my words contribute to a solution, not add additional problems and obstacles to the issues at hand.
I wouldn’t say that I was inspired to write, as I felt a need to write. In prison you have more hours than you know what to do with, so I rediscovered reading and just started to write more. Then I realized that I had some talent and just kept going.
What has been the most pleasant surprise about writing? How about an unexpected down side?
While I’ve always been interested in writing, I only started writing professionally perhaps five years ago. But as any writer will tell you, you never stop growing as a writer. With each new day and accomplishment I feel as though my writing has reached a new height. Much of my writing concerns social justice and legal issues for fellow prisoners, and advocating for enhanced educational opportunities for the incarcerated. Through these two writing aims, I hope to change many lives for the better. The downside is that I often receive retaliatory punishments for writing and publishing my concerns about my topics. Loss of email, phone calls, commissary – that can be crushing to a person’s spirit.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Since I write in prison, I don’t have a lot of the luxuries that other writers have. What characterizes a prison writer is the classic Bic pen. While I can choose between the colors of black or blue — I prefer blue — there are no other choices. And I use that on pads of paper. There are no personal computers or word processors. I write when I’m not doing work in the prison and when I’m done with my day’s writing I like to type it. For book manuscripts, I use an old Swintec typewriter to put my prose into readable form. These pages I mail to my family to scan into a computer and mail back, which then allows me to red-line the passages and repeat the mailing process until the work is polished and ready to be submitted.
For smaller works (articles, blog posts, and the like), I prefer to utilize my prisons’ monitored email system, which allows me to email with approved community contacts. While I’m billed 5 cents per minute for the privilege, it does speed up the process and allow for more regular writing. This I find refreshing. After all, as writers, we burn with desire to see our works in print. Of course, for me to blog, I must write something, email it to an outside contact, and have them copy, paste, format, and publish the work. It’s a chore, but all ways of life are, so it is what it is.
What is on your writing playlist for this book?
Currently I’ve been listening to a wide variety of music, some black metal- Arisen Upon Oblivion/Unfathomed Abyss, Reggae/pop acoustic- Be Yourself/ by the Dimestore Prophets and industrial strength blues music by the Tomas Doncker Band- music for all moods that I’m in!
Any favorite writing snacks?
Prison doesn’t really hold a lot of snacking foods. More like trashcan cuisine- but on occasion someone here makes an awesome cheesecake as a treat. That’s always great to write with.
What advice would you give writers who aspire to be published?
I would say if it’s something they really want to do, then do it. Don’t hold back, don’t wait for a special time. Do it now and don’t give up. Writing has literally saved me during my time here- having a goal to strive for is so important. You can talk about it all you like, but talking isn’t going to get you anywhere. If I can get out and get published then you can to.
Are you working on anything new right now?
Right now I’m rewriting a science fiction book- it’s quite the challenge as fiction is much more labor intensive, but I really love being able to disappear into worlds that have nothing to do with this one. And I’m also working on a non-fiction book to help families who may have members who are about to enter the correctional system.
What is your favorite book of all time?
I don’t really think I have a favorite book of all time. I’ve read so many that I just love the written word. However, some favorite authors are A. Alexander Dumas, Jack London, J.D. Salinger, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, William Gibson, and Stephen King. But for fiction, I really love Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.
Tell us in one sentence why we should read your book.
It will give you insight into America and education that you probably have never thought about.
About the author:
Christopher Zoukis is an impassioned advocate for prison education, a legal scholar, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and articles. His articles on prison education and prison law appear frequently in Prison Legal News, and have been published in The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, Huffington Post and Midwest Book Review, among other national, regional, and specialty publications.
Mr. Zoukis is often quoted on matters concerning prison law, criminal law, prisoners’ rights, and prison education. Recently, he was the focus of an article at Salon.com concerning America’s broken criminal justice system and potential solutions to the current crisis.
When not in the thick of the battle for prison reform, prison education, or prisoners’ rights advocacy, Mr. Zoukis can be found blogging at PrisonLawBlog.com, PrisonEducation.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com.