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An Interview with Correctional Education Program Instructor John Patrick

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety partners with UNC-Chapel Hill on our Correctional Education program, which offers credit-bearing classroom-based and self-paced correspondence courses to eligible incarcerated individuals. The Correctional Education Program is only open to incarcerated people in North Carolina’s prison system.

John Patrick currently serves as Adjunct Teaching Assistant Professor for the UNC Department of Public Policy. We spoke with him about his enriching experience teaching at Dan River.

What do you teach at UNC-Chapel Hill?
I teach classes that explore skills in “effective communication under duress” for Public Policy. I will add a strategic communication class for the Masters in Public Policy (MPP) in 2024.

What subject are you teaching at Dan River Working Prison?
Public Speaking & Persuasion

What made you decide to teach at a correctional facility? Have you done this before?
Spring 2023 was my first ever course for a correctional facility. For years I have consumed articles and documentaries about systemic issues with our criminal justice system and prisoner rehabilitation. Inspired, I hoped my skill set and content might help inmates build toward a successful transition back to society.

Do you have any personal connection to the correctional system?
My UNC colleague Shai Tamari introduced me to some previously incarcerated folks as Shai had met them through mentorship programs. We have had meals together, I have invited them to my home, and I have learned so much from their incredible stories.

How do you feel this program is beneficial to the students and UNC, and what keeps you looking forward to class?
In a course journey, there is something profoundly possible when the students are “bought in” versus obligated. I have found that my students at Dan River Working Prison bring an eagerness, humility and perspective that my undergraduate students would surely glean. I learn at least as much from them as they’ve learned from me every class.

What is rewarding about working with the students at Dan River?
The students have rarely received the time, attention, and commitment from a teacher like those in the UNC DLL program. You can feel the growth and healing that comes from their learning journeys being cultivated in ways most of us take for granted.

Is there a moment that stands out for you from your experience?
When the students got up to give their final Oral Exam, before answering any questions, they insisted that they take turns sharing what the class meant to them. It was deeply touching.

You previously told us this felt like a “great alignment of purpose and preparation” – can you elaborate on that?
Many of us seek ways to “give back.” We donate money, support initiatives, volunteer time, etc…but when you can plug in acute skills into a passion that helps make the world a better place, as it equally humbles you, this is a beautiful thing.

Would you continue teaching with UNC at a correctional facility and if so, why?
100% YES! Status quo learning environments risk growing stale, static, and problematic in relation to power structures. Correctional facility teaching is a powerful antidote as the challenge keeps me on my toes.

How has the Correctional Education team helped you in your teaching experience at Dan River?
Communication has been excellent considering the inherent challenges of bridging the university with an entity such as a correctional facility. The team has been supportive and effective in being my liaison with the prison.

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