Monday, February 3, 2020

Open Letter to Governor Evers on Technology Education

Here is a letter Charles Kurkura sent to Governor Evers about technology literacy for inmates in the Wisconsin DOC.  If you are interested in helping advocate or get a program like this off the ground, please contact Charles at:
Charles Kukura
Stanley Correctional Institution
100 Corrections Drive
Stanley, WI 54768


Governor Evers:

My name is Charles Kukura, and I am an inmate from the Stanley Correctional Institution.  I highly doubt that you'd remember, but I've met you on several occasions, as I worked in public education (PK-12) for 15 years as a technology consultant out of CESA #10, (Ross Wilson was my supervisor), as well as directly with school districts in the Eau Claire area.  In addition, I was an adjunct instructor for CVTC, teaching computer and EMS classes.

I share a passion with you in recognizing the need for technology literacy in our state.  The public school sector has made huge advancements in the last few decades.  I believe that it is due to federal funding via e-rate, as well as the leadership you've provided during your tenure as the Superintendent of DPI.  I thank you for your service to our great state, both now, and while you were at DPI.

I am writing you today about the level of technology literacy I have witnessed within the Department of Corrections, both of the staff and inmates.  I see a great opportunity to help incarcerated individuals prepare for release back into their communities.  Unfortunately, the DOC is no where near where they could be in this area.

In my public service, I worked often with Stuart Ciske on the e-rate program.  While doing this process, I learned a great deal about what goals and objectives were appropriate and achievable, and at what cost.  This seems to apply directly to the DOC just as much as it does to education.  I would suspect that you would agree.  My question to you is this:  how can we improve inmate's technology literacy, which is in line with the DOC's mission to help reintegrate inmates into society?  Well, I have several ideas which I have implemented at several school districts, and some here at Stanley's BCE, as well.

First, I would address the largest hurdle; funding.  Here at SCI, we have a school called Windy Meadows.  I do not know if it is registered with DPI and has an identity number or not.  I know that CESA #10 did, and it was not a school.  If Windy Meadows doesn't, would it be possible to get one?  If so, e-rate funding would become available to use for infrastructure (servers, lines, switches, wireless, etc.), and communications.  This would also encourage the DOC to seriously look at technology literacy for all inmates, as e-rate is tied to goals and objectives.  We have nearly 1,600 inmates, all below the poverty level.  Unfortunately, the percentage of those enrolled in Windy Meadows is a small fraction of our population.  Whether we can obtain federal funding or not, there are things that we can do that cost little to nothing to help with technology literacy.

As you may be aware, we are now able to purchase tablets running the Android operating system.  These tablets are quite expensive, $130 for a tablet that can be purchased online by a non-incarcerated individual for $30.  Be that as it may, we that have purchased tablets can utilize them to become more literate in many areas.  Unfortunately, the program offerings on our tablets are abysmal.  There is no word processor, no financial planner, no calendar, no time management, etc.  Nearly all of the basics of Android are missing.

According to The Community, an inmate advocacy group, the DOC is currently working on a way to allow our tablets to access the online law library, which is currently only available in the physical library, on their computers.  This will be a wonderful addition to the functionality and convenience of our tablets.  Interestingly, this also opens up other avenues to explore as far as using our tablets for education.

At Fall Creek, Granton and Loyal school districts, I implemented online classrooms using the free classroom software, Moodle.  This was an amazing addition to our schools, as it moved the students outside the traditional brick and mortar, 7:15 am to 3:15 pm structure of school.  In addition, Moodle allowed us to offer and receive classes that we were not staffed for, and our classroom sizes could be increased as there were no physical room size constraints.  Could you imagine implementing Moodle, allowing inmates to do online learning within the DOC?  This would increase learning, decrease boredom, and give another tool to the DOC to educate many more students than is currently possible now with our 12 - 16 student class sizes.  This would allow us to offer more classes, and in addition, allow inmates to get into classes much more quickly than is now possible.

It boggles the mind to think of what could be taught.  Math, science, social studies, GED/HSED, ESL, web design, graphic design, history, and the list goes on and on.  Not only could these classes be offered to the inmates at Stanley, but because all prisons are connected, one class from Stanley could be taught across the entire state.  If an inmate has a status change where they move to a different facility, they can continue their education uninterrupted because the class would still be available.

Even a greater opportunity exists here, as court ordered classes, (domestic violence, anger management, substance abuse, sex offender treatment, etc.), could be offered, thus eliminating the bottleneck in fulfilling these requirements.  As an added bonus, these court ordered classes, if offered via Moodle, would be available statewide.  There would no longer be a waiting list to move to where a program is offered, and in turn, this would reduce transportation costs.

As I alluded to previously, I was tasked to implement Moodle at BCE (Bureau of Correctional Enterprises) here, to store customer graphics, color standards, etc., but the full power of it was never utilized.  You could simply take what I started there and drop it onto a computer and run Moodle right away, again, for no cost.  Curriculum can be downloaded from other Moodle sites around the world, easing the burden to the teachers.

Now, there are some things that cannot be fully taught online, e.g. welding, custodial, etc., but study guides, curriculum, etc. could be placed there, and the teacher could implement testing.  Typing is a skill that is necessary to learn, but it not teachable online or on a tablet, at least, not on our current tablets.  This leads me to the next idea.

There are computers that can be purchased for as little as $5.  Have you heard of the Raspberry Pi?  It was designed to get technology into the hands of the world's poorest people.  Inmates fall into that category.  A Pi is a simple computer that can be plugged into our televisions, and they have a ton of free software installed; typing, word processing, spreadsheets, etc.  More software can be added as needed.  The $5 model does not have wireless, so I would recommend the $35 model, which does.  This would allow access to the law library and online school, if it were implemented.  Other options, such as Chrome books, are also quite inexpensive, and are mobile, unlike the Pi.  I purchased 100 netbooks for Fall Creek, each costing only $200 each.  Accessibility to technology is a huge problem in prison, and allowing Pi's or Chrome books would solve this problem.  Some states solve this issue by providing tablets to every single inmate, free of charge.  Their goal is to empower inmates to become technology literate.  Accessibility is the first crucial step to fulfill that goal.

One thing I've seen being done in prisons, which was a shock to me, is that in California, inside a maximum prison, inmates were writing code for Android and iPhone applications.  What an amazing, progressive idea!  Why not actually teach skills that are valuable for today's society?  It simply makes sense.  These inmates receive good pay which gives them a drive to do well, and stay out of trouble.  This increases the safety of the prison, and that, in turn, helps the correctional officers and staff, too.  It is interesting to note that the Raspberry Pi comes with a programming language, Python, built in.  Inmates could also learn to code by having a Pi, coupled with a Moodle class that taught the subject.  The tools are available for Wisconsin to really make a difference in how corrections are perceived by releasing inmates that can step immediately into well paying jobs, and becoming contributors to society.

Another problem I see is the lack of knowledgeable teachers.  I really don't know how to solve that problem.  What I do know is, inmates, such as myself and others who know technology, could teach the teachers.  After all, inmate labor is very inexpensive, and our expertise would help others.  For myself, I would be willing to travel from prison to prison in order to help teachers learn to use technology effectively, especially if it would benefit the inmates being taught by them.  At my core, I am a servant of others.  I was also an EMT for 15 years.  I am happiest when I'm helping people.  I would even teach inmates, if that were of interest to you.

And so, if these ideas intrigue you, I would be willing, with your permission, to purchase the hardware myself to do a proof of concept.  I could do simple testing only, or I could go all the way to a full presentation with handouts, power point, etc.  If that is not possible, I would be willing and eager to setup a Moodle site while working with BTM on its implementation, configuration, etc., as I doubt that they would have set one up before.  I went to college for computer science.  I do not need further technology literacy, but there are many incarcerated individuals that do.  I am hoping that I can pass on what I know to others, to empower them to be prepared for life in the 21st century.

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