Getting into prison the first time was easy. I was a stringer for a nowdefunct trade publication, and enough people knew about my interest. So when the story came along, my editor at Nevada Contractor thought of me right away. Prison seemed an unlikely place to hold a job fair, but, as he explained, the construction business in Las Vegas is notorious for its transient workforce. Men fresh out of prison have an incentive to show up for work regularly—it's one of the conditions for probation. “And they couldn't be any worse than the people we hire right now who've never been to prison, ” one employer told me later.
“Remember who buys the ads, ” were the editor's final words. “Try to build up the employers. ”
My only goal was getting inside the prison. In November 1989, I was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Reporting for the newspaper was my part-time job. My real interest was doing research on the rehabilitation of convicted criminals. Looking back, it is amazing that anyone took me seriously; a first-year graduate student with little experience in research, much less with convicted criminals. The director of prisons laughed at me when I first presented him with the idea. We met in his office a few weeks after the job fair. I needed his approval to begin the study.
In 1989, much attention was being given to a set of educational theories and methods based on “Socratic questioning. ” The Greek philos