University of California, Santa Cruz Student Interviews UBF Founder Ivan Kilgore on the Limitations of Prison Education

You’re shuffled through a sliding chain link fence onto a small patch of aging concrete enclosed by more fence. The height of it is daunting and as you look up, you notice more razor wire topping it. You peer to your right and see the tall octagonal structure with the many-windowed room at its peak. You know the guard in the tower controls the gates because the guard to your right yells at him and the gate rolls shut behind you. Immediately following, another gate directly in front of you opens and you’re pushed through onto a newly laid concrete path. In both directions, a neatly trimmed green lawn embellishes the otherwise desolate landscape. Small flowers and other meticulously kept shrubbery line the intimidating cinder block building, which you can only assume are the housing units. Ten buildings extend from a long central structure; all cinder block. You’re shuffled into the square building directly in front of you. You climb a small set of concrete stairs that lead to the a large bronze-handled wooden door. Inside you are welcomed by the sight of a large dimly lit room with paintings of California landmarks adorning the walls. Off to the right and left are two hallways with what you can only assume are offices for the warden and other administrators. As you walk through the room your shoes echo off the shiny tile floor. You exit through a door directly across from the entrance. As you pass into a small courtyard you notice it’s enclosed by massive grey walls on all four sides. A concrete pathway winds slightly through a small garden that obviously doesn’t get enough sunlight. To your left, you admire a rather large lemon tree giving shade to an old picnic table that must’ve been a brilliant green at some point but is now chipped and faded. To your right are unkempt rose bushes and other flowers. As you finish admiring the little greenery you come upon a large metal door with a barred window to its right. Inside is another correctional officer eyeing you up and down. The guard guiding you exchanges a few raunchy words with the man inside and you hear a piercing buzz indicating the door is unlocked. You have now entered the Correction Training Facility.

Inside is a small hallway ending in a large cast iron barred door. To your right is the guard’s room in which the barred window outside was connected to. The officer inside hands the officer guiding you a single old fashioned key on an equally old fashioned ring. He aggressively pushes you up onto the cold concrete walls as he goes to unlock the cast iron door. The officer unlocks the door and ushers you into a larger corridor. Inside you are surprised to see a massive, colorful mural spanning the entire corridor. It depicts abstract, almost psychedelic imagery of animals, most likely native to California. As you step onto the off-red concrete floor the pungent but pleasant odor of freshly brewed coffee wafts through the air. You look down to the right and back down to your left and realize you are directly in the middle of what seems to be an infinitely long corridor. To your right you notice that the floor at the far end of the hallway is significantly higher than the floor at the far left end. About every twenty feet the corridor slopes down two feet. You assume this is for “safety” reasons as the slope lets you see everyone’s comings and goings throughout the entire corridor. Another thing catches your attention, the corridor is quite lively. In each direction you see green clad officers and blue clad prisoners going about their business. Some prisoners are chatting with the officers or amongst themselves and you actually hear laughter. Prisoners are walking up and down the corridor, some pushing carts of laundry; some carrying white garbage bags full of what looks to be boxed foods, soap and other toiletries; and some look to be carrying textbooks and notepads as if they were heading off to class. The other striking thing is nearly every single blue clad prisoner is African American, although you do see a few Latino men filling out the remainder. The guard hurries you to your left, down the corridor. As you pass three older gentlemen in state issued prison garments, they warmly smile and greet you as if you were an old acquaintance. For that moment, you forget where you are.

You walk further down the corridor past a few large metal doors with signs above them reading “Dining Hall”, “Infirmary”, and “Library”; the guard leading you stops in front of another large cast iron barred door marked with a yellow “B” painted above the door. The door is already open and you are hurried into a chain-link cage. On either side are small rooms enclosed with thick and what you assume is bullet proof glass; each with a correctional officer sitting in front of a large metal panel of switches, buttons and flashing red lights. The officer leading gives the man in the room to your right a nod and he pushes a button. You hear a piercing buzz followed by the sound of metal grinding and the large cast iron barred door slowly ascends. Your gaze follows it as it raises up and you notice the cluster of large metal gears, pulleys and chains all working in unison to lift the massive door. Your demeanor changes as the smell of body odor and hospital soap penetrate your nostrils. You are pushed into a large rectangular room three tiers high with a set of metal stairs in the middle. Your eyes are forced to focus as you’re washed in artificial fluorescent light. In the middle of the room are stainless steel circular tables with benches connected to them. Each tier has a barrier that is just hip level. You can’t help but think how easy it would be to trip or be pushed over the barrier and plummet nearly thirty feet to the floor.

The room is completely empty until you look at the tiny windows on each cell door. Primarily black and brown faces curiously peak out. A few wave but most look purely for curiosity’s sake. As you make your first steps into the cell block, you look to your left where you see six shower heads and two stainless steel toilets, all in plain view with no privacy measures taken. To your right you see an open door leading to a makeshift classroom furnished with desks, a few old computers and a two decade old television set sitting up on a wall mount. On the walls you notice a few Successories posters that you can remember from your middle school classrooms depicting images of serene nature with words like “Integrity” and “Leadership” in bold print below. As you are shuffled through the large room the officer yells “125!” and another, less ear piercing buzz sounds and the door labeled 125 clicks audibly. Before you step in, you glance the room over. It’s about ten feet deep, six feet wide and seven feet tall. On the left are two stainless steel bunk beds with cheap white mattresses on them. To your right is a toilet and a sink with a metal mirror. At the far end of the cell is a small six inch by one foot window. You slowly approach it, but as you get closer you notice its painted over white, only giving the appearance of sunlight. You try to peel the paint off but it’s painted from the outside. Then you hear the loud metallic slam as the cell door locks you in…

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