Education in the Tulsa County Jail

Education in the Tulsa County Jail

When I walk in the jail—Wednesday nights,
6:30 sharp—I am always delighted
to see the women’s faces.

“Thank you for consistency,” one woman tells us.
I think, what a wonderful thing to be grateful for.
She says, “You all don’t have to show up, take time and money
out of your lives to come here, but you do. Every week,
you show up.” 

I realize I’m not noticing the bright blinding orange
they all wear because that is not why I am here.

I’m not here to discuss your charges
–though hearing your stories of abuse
and your tears scream self-defense in my eyes.

I’m not here to place judgment on who you have been
–though I, too, have been a number of people
in a number of places I am unproud of.

I’m not here to teach you any lesson you don’t
already know or could teach me better
–though you greet me, call me your teacher,
I don’t feel like I am any authority over you.

 Pick up your pencils, I say, open your notebooks,
and you tell me the story you’ve been waiting to tell
for so long because we remind you that your voice
is yours, your lips open for this reason so say it loudly.

I am here to listen.

-Hanna Al-Jibouri


3 thoughts on “Education in the Tulsa County Jail

  1. Wow! I’d love to know more about what you do. Education is something that is too often left out of our jails. We need to be providing these individuals with more education to help them gain and pursue a better life! Love that you’re so involved.

  2. I have often been interested in the connections some people make with schools and prison. I believe that in a lot of ways school is a lot like prison and it often make me question how I teach my students and the environment I provide for them. Some schools and prisoners are both required to wear uniforms. The students are seen as equal, but no unique individuals. In both prisons and schools there are scheduled lunch times. All students eat at the same time regardless of when they are actually hungry, just like prison. There are scheduled break times for students and prisoners allowing them to get some exercise and fresh air, but only for a very short amount of time, with still very strict rules. Both students and prisoners ride on a government bus to get them from place to place. They sit in the same type of rows, on the same type of hard seats. Students and prisoners follow a strict ridged schedule and routine from day to day. Their success in prison and in school is determined by how well they follow orders. This has always been interesting to me to see these connections and to here the similarities and differences. I wonder if you notice any of these things when you work with people in the Tulsa jail. I wonder if you notice any differences or similarities in how the prisoners and how students in your classes react to your teaching. Here is a video that discusses one person’s point of view of schools and prisons.

  3. School to Prison Pipeline

    “In 2012 over 700,000 school suspensions were handed out to students deemed ‘willfully defiant’ in California school districts.”

    “School disciplinary policies disproportionately affect Black students. Zero-tolerance discipline has resulted in Black students disproportionately harsher punishment than white students in public schools. Students suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation are nearly three times more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year.”

    The school to prison pipeline. If you’ve heard the term before, you may consider its dramatic tone. It’s a phrase that catches your eye, stops your listening. It jolts you. School to prison pipeline. Why would the two connect? How could the two connect?

    If you’ve walked in my North Tulsa elementary school on any given day, you see students lined up in the office sitting on a bench waiting to talk to our principal, assistant principal, and counselor, whoever is available at the time that has the authority to give disciplinary action. Most of these kids waiting on this bench are African American.

    If you’ve walked in or read about the Tulsa County Jail on my Wednesday night poetry class, you hear older voices, still soft and shy like those of my students at times when it comes to writing, say they don’t have any stories to tell, say they don’t know how to spell something correctly, say they aren’t sure if it makes sense. They are quick to give themselves a preface and warn others they feel they are not worthy of pencil on paper.

    If you’ve sat for long enough and thought about the imbalance that exists, the nonsensical answers given to even more nonsensical questions asked. If you stop and look around you, you may reconsider the dramaticism I spoke of earlier because these are the cards the world seems to keep dealing us. This is the same place where the amount of prison beds and bunks built are based off of 3rd grade standardized reading test scores.


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