So I’m doing this college thing through University Beyond Bars. The UBB is a relatively unique organization, in that they offer college classes to Washington prisoners and do not have any special contract with the DOC. In fact, they are a volunteer program. As in, teachers at various local colleges, mostly from Seattle Central Community College and University of Washington, volunteer their time to come into the prison and teach. I’ve heard that there is a similar program in New York called Bard, and WCCW (Washington Correctional Center for Women) has a program called FEPS. However, the UBB is the only program of it’s kind in the “men’s” prisons in Washington state.
So about that college thing, I’m not just “going for my AA degree and eventually a degree in applied computing.” I am also getting involved with what one could call the “UBB student government.” I’ve recently joined a subcommittee called the Education and Equity Team.
One of the things that has been brought to my attention is the UBB’s need for volunteers. Not just teachers, but people who can hold space for students to be able to study. This is because the DOC has a rule which says imprisoned people cannot meet in a classroom unless there is a sponsor there to baby sit us.
As in, we cannot use the UBB computer lab, or meet up to study at study hall, unless we have a babysitter. Many of the people that come into the prison want to be a part of some active program or teach a class, which we need! Don’t let that be lost here, we desperately need that and I will, in all likelihood, speak more on that in the future.
However, we are currently facing a shortage of volunteers for the two computer lab sessions and the one study hall session each week. In fact, the UBB had to cut the Wednesday morning computer lab back to every other week just because we don’t have enough people willing to come and sit in a room for three hours while we, the students, sit at the laptops and do our homework.
So please please please, if you or anyone you know has the ability to volunteer here at the UBB in Monroe, Washington, and meet the following requirements, go to the UBB’s website and volunteer.
The requirements are:
- Must be able to commit to 12 volunteer sessions per year.
- Must be 21 years of age or older.
- must pass a background check.
- “Don’t be a meanie.”
Yes, that last requirement is a direct quote from one of the coordinators of the UBB program. Honestly, it’s the most important requirement of all. This is because even if one can’t meet the other requirements, there are other ways to help support the UBB. But we don’t want any meanies, especially not blue meanies.
As for the background check, don’t worry, it’s not that rigorous. A formerly incarcerated person two years off paper may be able to pass it depending on the details of their criminal history.
However, the minimum commitment is a hard line. Once per month is preferred, however the actual scheduling is negotiable as long as one can commit to coming into the prison twelve times total in the 12 month period following volunteer training.
We love our college program, and as UBB students we are proud of maintaining a 3.5 GPA (at least, everyone in my study group maintains a minimum 3.5 GPA. One show off has a 3.98, but I digress). We can’t do that if we don’t have the ability to study together and type up our essays and final papers. I mean, think about it, those of you that have been full time college students: how successful do you think you would be with no internet access, 5 hours a week of computer time to type your homework, and one hour of library every one to two weeks for research?
We work hard to maintain our grades, because there is no flex in the curriculum. No lowering the bar because we are in prison. We meet the same standards as students at Seattle Central Community College and Adam’s State University (depending on which is accrediting a given class).
So please, go to UniversityBeyondBars.org and volunteer.
Image credit: University Beyond Bars