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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Federal Prisoner Becomes University Professor
Stephen C. Richards • FedCURE Newsletter. Winter: 15-16.

I entered federal prison not as a convicted criminal, but a prisoner of the drug war. I would do hard time in maximum security for failure to cooperate with federal authorities in the persecution and destruction of others. As a result, I would lose a wife, son, and home. I started college in 1969, and left in 1972 without a degree. I entered prison determined to somehow complete that degree. Upon leaving prison I went to graduate school. Today, I am an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology.

College Credit by Correspondence
I entered prison with 115 college credits towards a Bachelors’ Degree in Sociology. Still needing fifteen credits to graduate, I went to work in a UNICOR (federal prison industries) cable factory, where we constructed electric cable harnesses under contract for the military. I worked my way up to Grade 1 clerk, and as one of the highest paid prisoners in the facility, made approximately $200 a month, including overtime. I used my “inmate pay” to pay for college courses by mail. Every month, after making my commissary purchases (food, smokes, stamps, etc.), I would set aside so much to pay for the next course. It took me two years to compete five courses (15 credits), and complete the degree requirements for the UW degree. To my knowledge, I was the only prisoner that year in the entire FBOP to complete a college degree.

Graduate School
Released from federal prison in 1987, I entered the Masters Program at UW-Milwaukee. In 1989, upon completing the MA., I entered the PhD Program in Sociology at Iowa State University, graduating in 1992. Today, I am an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northern Kentucky University.

Becoming a University Professor
It is a long way from Leavenworth to the ivory tower. Earning a PhD was only the first step in becoming a professor. I still needed to overcome the stigma of a criminal record and learn to manage my identity. If I had chosen an academic discipline other than Criminology this may have been less of a problem. Nevertheless, the experience I had with the criminal justice system and prisons has provided a real life education in these subjects that goes well beyond the academic training available to most of my colleagues. Unfortunately, some university faculty are threatened by an ex-convict that knows how little they know about the subjects they teach and research.

Many criminology and criminal justice faculty come from sheltered backgrounds. They have little real world knowledge of working class lives, let alone the perils of poverty, or the struggles of convicts. Yes, they have PhDs, and through many years of studying their discipline they do acquire considerable insight into why people do crime. Still, they never really get it. Which is no surprise, considering they never bothered to talk with convicts. Many academics that claim to be prison scholars, and write books on the subject, have spent precious little time inside of prisons, and even then only on escorted tours.

No wonder most of the prison literature reads like fairy tales (this journal being one exception). Textbooks talk about constitutional amendments, the Bill of Rights, prisoner’s rights, prison programs, and rehabilitation. Ideally prisoners should have these protections and services. Unfortunately, most textbooks paint a false picture of reality, and as such do a disservice to students.

I have learned that becoming a professor means I do not have to suffer fools or foolish books. I have no patience for social scientists that study their subject from a safe distance. Fortunately, we have a growing group of “convict criminologists” that have the courage to do the science and “tell it like it is.”

Convict Criminologists
Today, even while working to fit in and play the professor role, I enjoy my ex-con status. As one of the leaders of the Convict Criminologists, a growing group of ex-convict criminology faculty, I prefer the company of my “felonious friends” who although they have fancy college degrees have not forgotten from where they came.


Stephen C. Richards, a former federal prisoner, is a FedCURE Member and an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northern Kentucky University. He is a Soros Senior Justice Fellow. Some of his recent work includes Behind Bars: Surviving Prison (Alpha) and Convict Criminology (Wadsworth) with Jeffrey Ian Ross.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



In the hectic pace of the world today, there is no time for meditation, or for deep thought. A prisoner has time that he can put to good use. I'd put prison second to college as the best place for a man to go if he needs to do some thinking. If he's motivated, in prison he can change his life.
- Malcolm X

Index: Current Articles

11 August 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Revenge, Not Justice
Anthony McIntyre


Statement of Michael McKevitt


Brutality in Maghaberry Extends to Visitors

Martin Mulholland, IRPWA


Federal Prisoner Becomes University Professor
Stephen C. Richards


What is the New School of Convict Criminology?
Jeffery Ian Ross and Stephen C. Richards


Intellectuals and the Cold War
John Harrington


Kevin Lynch Commemoration Speech
Jimmy Bradley


Neo-Liberal Nicaragua: Neo Banana Republic
Toni Solo


5 August 2003


Spooks, Spies and Spoofers
Anthony McIntyre


Doing Something Right
Aine Fox


The Ideas of Frantz Fanon

Liam O Ruairc


Terrorism and Civil Society as Instruments of US Policy in Cuba
Philip Agee


The Letters Page has been updated.




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