Back to pairing in the afternoon. Dave sought me out because I had mentioned in the group that I could help people with user stories (something I actually do know). Dave said he had a hard time with stories, so we worked that into our pairing exercise. Dave is a smart guy, a natural programmer, and even a fast typist. We got pretty far with our Dots game. But just before it was time to break again, Dave got a tap on the shoulder and a whisper in the ear. Apparently, Dave had a visitor, and so he made his apologies to me and left in a rush.
Before the day ended, we had two more pairing sessions and retrospectives. People talked about increasingly complex ways to solve the programming problem, most of which were lost on me. Around 4:00 p.m., an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying they were starting “the count.” Every morning and afternoon, the COs walk through the building and make sure all the prisoners are still there. It was a big deal for us because it affected our departure time. We could not be caught in the hallways during “Count” because we might mess something up. The COs did not come into the computer lab to count our guys; I guess they were somehow exempt since they were doing this activity with us. Count is a big deal. If I had to go to the bathroom or something during Count, I would have held it. I was not going to be the one who screwed up Count.
Apparently, Count can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to several hours, depending, I guess, on how much trouble the COs have trying to find people. Although our pairing exercises lasted until about 4:30 p.m., we might have been there past 6:00 p.m. if Count had lasted longer. But, Count finished quickly and it was time for goodbyes.
I really had a nice time that Saturday. I appreciated the prisoners’ interest in learning and their willingness to pair with me even though I lacked a lot of the knowledge they were searching for. It was always more of a sense of learning together. Before we left, one of the prisoners asked me, “Would you do it again?” I didn’t hesitate in answering, “Yes.”
I guess the biggest thing I needed to learn was how to get rid of my vision of what it’s like to be in prison. Sure, the COs keep a tight lid on knowing where prisoners are. Sure, it’s a tough life. And you have to be OK with people telling you what to do. But there are bright spots. The Green Initiative is really amazing. I’ll bet MCI is doing more to reduce, reuse, and recycle than most schools are. And this software group, too. Imagine going into prison without relevant skills and coming out being able to code test-driven Java. That’s pretty cool. I’m so impressed with Dan and the other volunteers who spend a big chunk of their spare time helping people in prison. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, and I was glad to be a part of it.
If you are interested in participating in this one-of-a-kind program, contact Dan Wiebe at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will let you know when we are doing this again and will give you all the prep you need to take the leap.
The following photos are from the latest trip.