Hazel Koons is a teachers assistant in San Quentin’s Education Department. Her contract expires in August. Ms. Koons has a B.A. from University of California, Irvine in Psychology and Social Behavior, and a minor in Criminology, Law, and Society.
What got you interested in working inside a prison?
I wanted to be a part of something that helps people change and get on the right track in life. I grew up in an area where it wasn’t really safe to stay out on the streets after dark, and I went to a high school where a lot of people dropped out. I knew prison is where they ended up. Working inside a prison gives me an opportunity to help my people in the community.
“My family and I have always believed that everyone deserves an education”
How did you feel about working inside an all male prison?
It was challenging at first. There is always an adjustment period with co-workers and new people in a new environment, but once trust and respect is established then everything runs thoroughly. They know what I came here to do and all I do is that.
What is your opinion about making education available for prisoners?
I used to tutor at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey so I was familiar with juvenile facilities. I also took a tour of CIM (Chino) in college, but this is my first job working inside a prison. My family and I have always believed that everyone deserves an education, but it is just harder for those who work and struggle on the street, not seeing why or the importance of school.
Since working in the San Quentin’s Education Department how do you think your work has affected the lives of the men?
It is always rewarding to see a man succeed. To have a man stand on his own two feet, disciplined, focused, and achieve his goals, no matter how big or small, no matter what the obstacles are or what their peers think about them. I am always reminded from a book called The Black Hand, change is always possible and it makes a strong impact on others.
If you could change one thing in San Quentin, what would it be?
I would close it down. As long as parents, families, and communities raise their children, keep them out of trouble, and show them the difference between right and wrong, then there would be no need for prisons.
If your contract is not renewed do you plan to do any future work with CDCR?
I will always go back to my old neighborhood to remember where I came from to make sure those kids try to stay in school or stay working to keep out of trouble, and keep away from those who get them into trouble. When I get a teaching credential, I would like to continue this work. Then, maybe work in a women’s prison, too.
What do you think will happen to the program in your absence?
I think it will be a challenge in the classroom for teachers to accomplish things like copying worksheets and workbooks while they cannot leave the classroom. Teachers can become bombarded with questions and having to problem solve. The more help in the classroom for the students, especially in math, the better.