At Marion Correctional Institution, a medium-security facility in Marion, Ohio (about 40 miles north of Columbus on US 23), there is a collection of prisoners who are passionate about becoming professional-level software developers when they're released from prison. An outside volunteer meets with them once a week for two hours or so to guide them in their quest, but mostly they drive themselves.
They're all across the spectrum in experience and ability, from folks who are still learning Java syntax to folks who are already at a professional skill level. One of them, a rather startling fellow named Louis Pierce, had the idea awhile back to hold Code Retreats inside the prison so that the guys inside could get wider experience with real-world professional developers, and--it turned out--in some cases teach a few concepts about pairing and test-driven development.
We've had eight Codings in the Clink so far, and they have all been very positive, productive experiences. One of the outside developers from Coding in the Clink IV wrote an article in Agile Journal about his experiences there. We're looking forward to a ninth, and to your help to make it a positive, productive experience as well.
Specific information on how a coding event in prison is different from one in, say, a hotel, is available in this blog post. The fitfully-updated parent blog describes the experiences and rationale of one of the volunteers involved in the program. (One of the articles may be useful if you want to participate, but a loved one is scared to let you.)
Please read at least the blog post. If you don't, the best that can happen is that you won't be allowed into the prison and you'll have to drive all the way back home or sit in the car all day, depending on whether they're your wheels or not. The worst that can happen is that you could get arrested and prisoners thrown in the Hole because of you. But all of this is very easily avoided--really!--if you read the post.
Again: Trying Something New
We've gone through several different formats at Coding in the Clink. We started out with a fairly standard Corey Haines-style Code Retreat formula, then modified it slightly with different problems, then moved away from it entirely. Now we keep the code between cycles and switch pairs and stations, so that each cycle (other than the first), each participant gets somebody else's code to extend. Also, instead of having each pair chart their own course through the problem, we have a stack of story cards at each station, so that everyone knows the route. That way, when you move to a new station, all you have to figure out is how far down that route your predecessors got.
But this time, we are going to try to have something at Coding in the Clink that, as far as we can tell, has never been done in any prison before ever, since the beginning of time. We're not paying for it; it's being donated by an outside party, and there's a small chance that something could go wrong and it could fall through. But if you're a software developer, especially if you're part of the Software Craftsmanship movement, and you don't come to CITC9, and you find out afterwards what our little unprecedented surprise was, you will kick yourself.
Please be prompt. Since we must be escorted into the prison, it's much, much easier for us to go in as a single group. If we have an officer to escort us, but he has to stand around waiting because you haven't arrived yet, nerves will fray and tempers will warm. If you know you're going to be late, please call the front desk (not another participant: since we all read the post, we won't have our phones) at 740 382 5781 and let them know so that we can go on in and arrange for you to be escorted separately. Tell them you're with the Java group.