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The Power of Learning in Prison

As soon as Demarcus walked through the classroom door, I knew we were in for an eventful class.

He had just been released from administrative segregation in order to attend our Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture class. He walked through the class with swagger, exclaiming to the other students, "guess who's back!" We had started the lecture 5 minutes ago and it was going well, I silently lamented the fact that the train was about to go off the tracks. Demarcus finally settled into his seat. I could tell his mind was elsewhere. There was no telling how long he had been held in solitary confinement. He glanced at our whiteboard and then started drawing in his notebook, making it quite obvious to me and the entire class that he wasn't interested in today's lecture. I continued teaching. As the minutes passed by, I watched him start to sit up and scribble a few notes. He tried to act like he wasn't interested, he was too tough, too cool for our silly horticulture class. By the ten-minute mark, a remarkable change had washed over Demarcus. I saw him nodding along, furiously writing in his notebook. One student interrupted class with a joke, and Demarcus quietly asked him to "stay focused." Later, when another student reclined his chair like schoolkids do, Demarcus gently guided his chair to the ground and warned him, "you could hurt yourself." Demarcus is a tough kid. He's 17. His face is tatted. He was sentenced as an adult. By his own admission, he's never played in a garden or grown his own food. He is what most people would assume to be a "bad student." During that lecture, I watched God move through Demarcus. He went from energetic, angry, proud, to totally transfixed in a span of 10-minutes. Our horticulture class gave Demarcus a sense of purpose that day.


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