Teaching at SFSU:
I designed the third class to teach students about evolutions that occurred in criminal justice during the 18th century. Scholars referred to that era as The Enlightenment, a time when people had more hope. Two philosophers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, presented different theories on human behavior. According to Thomas Hobbes’ view, people were basically beasts by nature. Hobbes’ theory held that people would only refrain from breaking laws if the state maintained a severe penal system that would punish wrongdoing. John Locke, on the other hand, believed that all people came into the world with a blank slate—meaning they were neither good nor bad. Instead, they learned behavior through their observations and experiences. People may have learned behaviors that led to criminal actions, but they could also “unlearn” those behaviors and become good.
Those types of philosophical questions, I explained to the students, led other philosophers to question the way we responded to criminal behavior. Instead of responding to every offense with corporal punishment, many began to propose different ideas. During the Enlightenment Era, the prison movement began. Instead of relying on jails or prisons to hold people until after the conviction, when authorities could carry out the corporal punishment, we began to use sentence people to confinement. Rather than punishing the body, we would extract time from offenders by forcing them into confinement.
In the following class, I invited the students to assess the level of progress we had made as a society. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being hardly any change and 10 being massive change, I asked them to rate the difference. How much of an improvement was it, I asked, for laws to allow governments to punish offenders by confinement rather than by cutting their heads off, putting them on a stake, and then lighting the heads on fire. Each student agreed that confinement was a significant improvement—a 10 on the scale. Then I opened discussions about how our system of confinement has evolved since the birth of the prison. We spent the remainder of our course discussing the ways that prison systems changed since the 1800s to the modern day.
To help students understand more, I brought many guest speakers into the classroom. A deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department visited, The San Francisco Sheriff visited, and a federal magistrate judge visited. I had formerly incarcerated individuals visit, probation officers visit, and representatives from community activist groups visit. Since I couldn’t bring my students into prisons or into the criminal justice system, I did my best to bring the system to them.
- I didn’t limit my teaching to San Francisco State University. During my first year of liberty I spoke at universities from New York to Washington state, and I spoke regularly at universities in the Bay area, including at UC Berkeley and at Stanford Law School. I felt passionately about working to help more people understand our nation’s criminal justice system and about working to bring improvements.
- California Wellness Foundation:
As much as I enjoyed teaching, I knew that I wouldn’t be spending my career in the classroom. I couldn’t afford it. As an adjunct professor who taught only a single class on campus, my pay capped out at less than $12,000 per year. I could’ve taught a few more courses to increase my pay, but without a Ph.D., I wouldn’t be able to become a full professor or earn a livable wage. Returning to school to complete my Ph.D. wasn’t really an option. After all, I’d been out of the workforce for longer than 25 years and I couldn’t afford to take another hiatus to study for three to five years.
Besides the time commitment that would be necessary, I didn’t want to undertake further tuition expense. Since I’d made a commitment to Carole, I needed to devote time that would allow me to achieve dual objectives. On one hand, I wanted to pursue projects that would improve outcomes of our nation’s prison system and resolve one of the greatest social injustices of our time. On the other hand, I wanted to create income opportunities that would allow Carole and me to enjoy financial stability.
I taught for a full academic year at San Francisco State, but while at the university I pursued other ventures. Fortunately, The California Wellness Foundation continued to sponsor the work that Justin and I were doing. As a consequence of grants we received, we were able to fully develop our Straight-A Guide program.