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 a number of 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 another, 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.
A Little Different This Time
Up till CITC6, we had been following the classic Corey Haines Code Retreat formula pretty closely, except that instead of sticking with Conway's Game of Life, we've used different programming problems each time.
During retrospectives, however, it was repeatedly suggested that it might be more interesting to leave the problem partly finished when the bell rings, and have another pair take it over in the next session. The thinking was that this motivates better code, since it needs to communicate well to the peoplewho take it over.
We tried that out for CITC6, and it worked surprisingly well. We're going to try the same pattern again for CITC7 on a different problem; if everything comes crashing down this time we'll go back to standard delete-the-code-every-time Code Retreat rules.
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.