By Timothy Pauley

A short time ago I detailed how the doc had converted one of the education buildings into a COVID regional care facility. It was rows and rows of prison beds lined up in close proximity to one another, 45 in all. This was a building adjacent to the recreation yard and there was much concern amongst prisoners.

It seems the government has come to our rescue. We are now hearing this unit has been declared unfit to house prisoners due to the fact there is no fire protection system. If this is true, why was it acceptable as a classroom for decades?

An interesting aspect of all this is what went into this conversion before anyone bothered to check on the specific requirements to actually house sick people there. My work crew spent several hours hauling out supplies and equipment, for example. This process included throwing thousands of dollars worth of viable educational materials in the dumpster. 

A  staff member directed me to throw away about 30 Spanish textbooks, for example. These books were in new condition, so I questioned that order. The response was that they were ‘outdated.’ I questioned that too. Has the Spanish language changed in any significant way in the last two decades? What about the last five? In response, this person gave me a condescending smile as if I were incapable of grasping the world on their level, then said to just throw them away anyway.

In my obvious ignorance, I had to give it one more try, so I stated that I would love to have one of those books so I could teach myself Spanish. If they’re just throwing them away, why can’t I take one back to the cage they keep me in? This time I got the same condescending grin from the sergeant overseeing the operation as he advised me that is ‘Not Allowed.’ How stupid could I be to actually think that bettering myself was more important than filling the dumpster with one more brand new book this corrupt government entity had bilked the taxpayers for?

Yet that is the nature of what official prison education has devolved to.

When I first came to prison, each facility had a partnership with a community college to provide college classes. Since education is one of the single greatest tools for rehabilitating prisoners into productive citizens, this made a lot of sense. It was an investment that would ultimately yield big returns in the form of not requiring huge expenditures to build new prisons.

And these classes were effective. If a person applied themselves, they could not only succeed in the class but also transform themselves into a better person with a far greater chance of never returning to prison.

Then we had the war on crime. Those who sought to personally profit from the massive expansion of the prison system, teamed up with the right wing, old testament christians (those who are big on the part of the bible where everyone is smiting their enemies but not so much on the actual teachings of Christ) and passed a bunch of punitive legislation that effectively gutted prison rehabilitation.

These community college partners quickly shifted their focus to GED and vocational training. They successfully lobbied for budget provisions to keep their partnership with the doc alive. Over the years that followed, this has ultimately devolved into nothing but corporate welfare for the community college partners.

I had a chance to witness this first hand. They offered a vocational horticulture program that included a certificate and 45 college credits. On paper it seemed like a good program so I signed up.

I soon learned the class was taught by a retired prison guard with no qualifications to teach such a class. He required us to sit in a classroom and read a textbook for three hours a day. Once in a while he would give us a dumbed down test. Even though I read the textbook cover to cover multiple times, I acquired no real knowledge to help me re-enter the job market. 

I was one of the better students. Some never even read one page of the book. On test day they could be heard soliciting answers from other students, which was permitted.

The big shock came when I found out we all made the ‘Dean’s List’ for our exemplary performance. I doubt some of these guys could even spell their own names correctly, yet they were awarded 45 college credits with honors. As long as the doc’s check to the college cleared, everything was fine.

So I guess throwing those books away did not really disrupt the Edmonds community college program here at all. They were just window dressing for a giant scam. Had I taken one and actually learned something, it would have gone against everything their entire program stands for.

So when you hear about an organization like the Prison Scholar Fund and wonder why the government isn’t performing that function, that is certainly a valid question to ask. A valid question with an ugly answer, because you as a taxpayer, are funding what they are actually doing. But don’t ask for one of the books you paid for because they’re currently decorating a doc landfill.

No, what the Prison Scholar Fund is actually doing is providing you with some small measure of the rehabilitative benefit the doc is charging you for. If the PSF had a budget anywhere near what Edmonds Community College is charging you for what they do (or don’t do) there would be so many outstanding success stories, you’d be hard pressed to make the time to read about them all.

Instead, PSF is begging for donations, while EDCC is ordering more supplies you paid for that are probably destined for a landfill after sitting on a shelf unused for a number of years.