Teaching woodworking in prison
Driving through the Vermont town of Windsor one notes that it's the birthplace of vermont but may miss it's other claim to fame--it housed Vermont's only high security prison.The prison buildings are set back from the road so the size and menace of the central cell block with its iron barred windows is not apparent. I knew that at one time all Vermont’s license plates had been produced at the prison but not much else. I decided to take the tour and was assigned a warden to show me around--I had him all to myself since there were no other ‘Tourists’ that day. I wanted to see the workshop facilities first but didn’t get very far. ‘Burned’. said my guide, “by the Inmates”. I didn’t persue the subject but gathered there was talk of hiring a woodworking teacher. When I later met the prison Governor I offered to help set up a program in the prison and volunteered my services for three months-- time enough to get the program going and train someone to run it.
So when the paperwork was completed I was given the run of Cell Block A. This was a hollow square with the prisoners housed in the central block which was surrounded by a three story high corridor--it felt like a set for “Escape from Alcatraz”--even to the barred iron doors on each cell.
The equipment was placed around the corridor so it was impossible to see who was doing what. Somebody was keeping an eye on us--the walls were bristling with video cameras each with its little red blinking light.
I met the students--ten of them and we talked of projects, materials and how to make the best use of the time available--two hours max. All this reminded me of my English boarding school. I still remember that shop was Wednesdays 9am to 11 and spending the intervening days planning for that magical two hour period.
I didn't have the chance (or inclination) to chat with the students but I was impressed by their dedication. The prison was eventually closed but the experience of teaching there stayed with me, the most motivated bunch of students it's been my good fortune to encounter.
I later corresponded with a few of the inmates about their projects but Windsor was too far from Putney to continue any meaningful connection so I never went back.