Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Interview With Author Chris Zoukis

1. What inspired you to write your books?
With each of my books I have felt that there is an underserved need that needs to be fulfilled. When considering College for Convicts (McFarland & Co., 2014), I felt that the empirical research in the field of correctional education was there, but that no one was effectively presenting it in a useful and timely manner. As such, I strove to put forth the research concerning prison education in an easy-to-understand, useful, and authoritative manner that could be trusted and easily applied. The same is true of my Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). Here I realized that prisoners just didn't have the tools at their disposal to further their education from behind bars. This is doubly true considering that prisoners almost categorically lack access to the internet. So, the goal was to bring the internet to them in the form of a book that profiles correspondence programs that they can enroll in.
My upcoming book, Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), is perhaps a more personal work as it focuses a lot on my experience as a federal prisoner. Understanding that prison can be a scary, unforgiving place, my aim was to help others make it through the process of incarceration as unscathed as possible, while answering family member's questions along the way.

2. What are they about?
College for Convicts is essentially an education-based argument for a "smart on crime" criminal justice policy. The book discusses the research behind educating prisoners, refutes arguments against it, and proposes a plan for how to bring serious education into American prisons. The focus is on the remarkable benefits of prison education not only for the prisoner and society, but for all stakeholders. Prison Education Guide is a reference guide to correspondence programs that allow prisoners to participate. In this book I profile graduate, undergraduate, career, high school, personal enrichment, and Bible study programs. All of these programs can be completed entirely through the mail and in a format that prison mail rooms will allow. In a nutshell, my Federal Prison Handbook is equal part federal prison survival guide and policy analysis text. The focus is on introducing prisoners (and their family members) to life in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, while offering smart tips on each stage of the process, and explaining the policy and federal regulations concerning each area. My goal with this book was to help those subjected to federal incarceration not only survive the experience, but thrive behind bars.

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your books?
I think that the answer for each book is a bit different. When readers finish reading College for Convicts, I hope that they will strongly support prison education programs, even programs at the highest level (e.g., college). I hope they'll do so because they realize that prison education isn't a soft on crime concept, but in our nation’s best interest and will actually reduce crime, recidivism rates, and the ever-increasing cost of criminal justice in America. Following reading my Prison Education Guide, I hope incarcerated readers will leave with a sense of what is possible, even from behind bars. I aim to inspire and guide prisoners to pursue a higher education from behind prison walls. Just because someone is in prison, it doesn't mean that they have no hope of rehabilitation or a brighter future. This book provides the tools to succeed in obtaining just that.
And with my upcoming Federal Prison Handbook, I want readers to leave with a better understanding of what is to come. I want them to feel more certain, less scared, and more prepared for the very caustic existence of imprisonment. In a storm of uncertainty and turmoil, I aim to introduce a foundation of understanding and advice that will guide readers through their darkest hours.

4. What advice do you have for writers?
Start at the end. Whatever it is that you hope to accomplish, picture what the end looks like and commit yourself to the steps required to fulfill your objective. If you want to write a book, think of the book, then think of what needs to occur in the process of getting to a finished product. The same is true of book marketing. Do you want to be featured on CNN or The Huffington Post? Then go and look at those who have succeeded in doing so and reverse engineer their success. You need not recreate the wheel. All you need to do is find creative solutions to challenging problems. Often the process is easier than it first appears to be.

5. Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
This is a very good question. I think that while the largest publishing houses will always have the lion's share of book revenue, I also see that independent authors now have the tools at their disposal required to cater to very targeted, niche audiences. So, my vision of the future for authors is that they will increasingly choose to go it alone, publish their own works, and build very eager, loyal followers. The power will be in authors' hands, not in the hands of editorial gatekeepers. Likewise, authors will be able to enjoy a larger portion of the profits from their independently published books.

6. What challenges did you have in writing your books?
As an incarcerated writer the obstacles are at every turn. They start with procuring research without the aid of the internet (a dedicated friend helps me with all of my research needs) and continue into how to draft without the aid of a true word processor. But as with everything else in prison, success can be realized with a lot of effort and a bit of creativity. Through the system that I've set up -- a team of people both inside and outside of prison -- all of these obstacles can be overcome. At that point, it's all about learning the skills required and staying dedicated to the task at hand.

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
Another good question, and one with three responses (one for each book): Readers should buy College for Convicts because it presents the truth about educating prisoners and making America safer. Our national discussion on prison education -- and, in particular, college education behind bars -- is frozen by irrational fears of coddling prisoners. The real question is why would Americans support enhanced victimization and crime? People seem very interested in dismissing what works (i.e. education) in favor of what feels good (i.e. punishment and incapacitation). We should be focusing on what is best for our society, not what feels good or is easy to support. Incarcerated readers should buy my Prison Education Guide because it is their one true hope for a better life; one away from crime, addictions, and poverty. If a prisoner is looking for something more, education is the answer, and this book is their guide. And last, readers touched by the federal criminal justice system (incarcerated and not) should buy my Federal Prison Handbook because it distills decades of hard-earned experience about life inside the belly of the beast. Read this book to survive the experience. Read this book to stay safe. Read this book to protect your rights. The power of fear can be crippling. When it comes to going to prison, this fear is based on the unknown. This book shines a very bright light into the darkness and allows those subjected to such an experience understand what is to come, prepare for it, and make it through as unscathed as possible.

Author Bio:
Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016), along with the forthcoming Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017). He's also a regular contributing writer to The Huffington Post, New York Daily News, and Prison Legal News. He can be found online at http://www.christopherzoukis.com and http://www.prisoneducation.com.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.
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