A New Adventure

I’m stepping out on a new venture this semester–Alvin Community College, where I teach Introduction to World Religiosn, has asked me to teach it in prison, at the Central Unit in Sugar Land. This is one of Texas’ oldest prisons, once supplying labor for Imperial Sugar (which owned the town bearing it’s product’s name until it incorporated in 1959). The main building is a multi-story white stone structure with a dome and four wings. It conjures up visions of all kinds of classic prison movies set in the South in bygone eras.

It’s at the NW corner of US 90 and Hwy 6, and I’ve passed it countless times in our ten years in Houston. But I never drove up the oak-lined drive until last night. I was more than a little nervous. I’d been through an orientation session a few weeks before conducted by TDCJ personnel, and my department chairman had given me some pointers earlier in the day, but that just heightened my apprehension. But I’m adventurous, and never one to let a little nervousness in the way, so onward I went.

I parked my car at the end of the driveway, then walked along the fencerow about 100 yards to the guard tower. The guard lowered a blue plastic basket on a rope, into which I put my ID. We chatted briefly (me looking 20 feet up at him). He signed me in, and then buzzed me in through the first gate. I opened it, let it clang shut behind me, then he buzzed me through the second gate. I went up the path and into the first building, where I signed in, then was patted down by an affable guard. He then directed me to go back out the door and then around the building to the education building. On the way another guard hailed me. He thought I was the person giving an apologetics talk at the chapel. When he learned where I was needing to go, he escorted me the rest of the way. I had to go through another gate, and then I was in amongst the prison population, all dressed in white coveralls with green coats.

I found my way to the school, and in the main hallway seated at a desk was a female guard surrounded by three trusties. She was a little confused; she didn’t have down a religion class, just a psychology class, she said. She found my attendance roster, and pointed me to an empty room. One of the trusties brought in three boxes–my textbooks. I waited. At 6:00 I noticed the room across the hall filling up, but not mine. I went to see her. “Can I help you?” I noted the lack of students, and she wondered if it had not been advertised. She knew nothing of it. Then she showed me the schedule. What she thought was a psychology class was my class, listed just by its number,  PHIL 1304, and not by its name. Those were my students in that room. All 26 of them. And they had a good laugh when I told them what had happened.

Well, to make a long story short, the class went very well. It’s going to be a fun semester. I will have to get used to the train going by, the interruptions by the guard for counts, the lack of PowerPoint, but I think we’ll have a good time.

After class, the procedure was reversed. Back to the first building to sign out, then to the guard with the bucket, then out through the double gate, a brief chat with the guard in the tower, back to the car, and a 20 minute ride home.

2 thoughts on “A New Adventure

  1. Good luck there Bill, in my opinion there are far too few ministers who are willing to volunteer to work in prisons.

  2. Hi Bill,

    I enjoyed this post.

    I make the occasional prison visit as a pastor and years ago, as a young student, spent some time one summer preaching to women inmates in Tennessee.

    Last year I had two back-to-back services for prisoners in Cardiff, where our church does six regular services a year.

    I even did a brief, six month stint as mail room manager for United Prison Ministries International, a self-supporting ministry in Alabama. But that didn’t take me inside.

    Of course, over the years I’ve spent one or two nights locked up in county jails, once at 18 in a drug raid, years later for an unpaid debt, and another at the hands of a very vengeful woman (I wasn’t guilty, honest.) I seem to think there was one other time, but I can’t remember. If not, there should have been.

    I hope you post more on your experiences, especially about the relationships you develop with your students.

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