Book Review–Crosswinds: Memoirs of a Jail Teacher

Posted: August 12, 2014 in Alternative education, Juvenile Justice
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One thing you take away from Crosswinds: Memoirs of a Jail Teacher by D.H. Goddard (a pseudonym for the author who is still teaching at the jail he writes about) is that the prison system, no matter where it is located, no matter what the setting—big or small; urban or rural; county, state, or Fed—is pretty much the same: inefficiently run, punitive in its approach, more interested in retribution and warehousing than helping people change their lives. Another thing that strikes you after reading this memoir is that in these toxic systems there are always people who want to make a difference in inmates’ lives, who understand that what we are doing is not going to cut down on crime but only increase it and in the process tarnish our national character.

D.H Goddard is one of those people. A high school teacher in a county prison in what he describes as a “cow paddy town” where cows outnumber people and “the major industry is incarceration”, he cares about the young people he works with, guiding them through the high school equivalency curriculum while motivating them to change the behaviors that got them locked up in the first place.

He doesn’t hesitate to share his frustrations and failures along with his successes. The reader sees him feeling his way through an arcane system that nobody bothers to explain to him. He gets no help from his supervisor who seems more afraid of his students than interested, or from the correctional staff who are, at best, hapless if not indifferent or obstructive. Yet Goddard learns as he goes along, developing respect for his students, recognizing the lost worlds they come from and trying to make a difference.

Interspersed throughout the book are the projects he instigates—a classroom aquarium and an ambitious unit on aerodynamics, both serving, it seemed to me, as metaphors for these young people’s lives in and out of prison—as well as the risks he takes to engage his students in discussions that might help them see beyond the block, the razor-wired walls, and a world defined by abandonment and defeat.

Crosswinds: Memoirs of a Jail Teacher is filled with the author’s efforts to educate and engage students, to connect with them and mentor them as one of the few adults in their world who not only cares about them but also enjoys their company. What might happen to our penal system if every incarcerated kid—whether locked up in a cow paddy town or in an urban swelter—was given the same opportunities?

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Comments
  1. Janet says:

    Mr. Chura’s book, “I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine” is also fabulous as is Mr.Chura himself.

    Now it appears that most states realize juveniles should not be mixed with adults.

    I hope someone finally realizes at the NYS Dept of Educ that BOCES vocational training opportunities should not be offered so late, AFTER the kids who “really need it” have already dropped out of school! Such a simple tweak to offer vocational training by at least 8th grade would change many lives for the better in so many ways. AND Mindfulness Meditation should be part of mainstream and jail classrooms in every state.

  2. David Chura says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. We can “raise the age” of responsibly but but we also have to provide the support and education that will l help young people, no matter what age they are, heal from the damage of their lives. Things seem to be changing but much too slowly. In the meantime, kids locked up become adults locked up.

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