Coding in the Clink III – Another JavaGuys Code Retreat at MCI

I wish I knew who came up with the name “Coding in the Clink.”  It’s perfect.  I think it was somebody on Twitter.

Anyway, once again due to the driving force of Louis Pierce, with much support from prison staff, Win-Win staff, and outside volunteers, we’ve had another successful Code Retreat in prison.

This time there were eight outside professionals and thirteen prisoners: so we had five triples and three pairs.  It seems mostly the prisoners like triples (I think maybe because the full intensity of the professional’s personality is not focused solely on one person), and the volunteers like pairs.

We also had a photographer wandering in our midst, snapping photos that beg to be posted somewhere.  However, we’ll have to get some special administrative permission to get those photos out of the prison, so they’re not part of this blog post. We gathered in the corridor outside for a group photo too: that should be in the mix, when it comes, as well.

Two of our outside volunteers this time were women: that’s our record so far.  Women volunteers who are not authority figures get a lot of attention from the men inside, but it’s all extremely respectful and gentlemanly attention–even from guys who have only the vaguest idea, mostly from hearsay, of what a gentleman is.

Most of our volunteers were from central Ohio, but three of them came all the way from Michigan.  At least two of the three were enthusiastic enough after the experience to declare that they would definitely come back for the next one.

The problem we chose was scoring tennis.  The story test most of us probably used, taken straight from the problem description, would have been to turn this:

AABBBAABAABBBB

into this:

love all
Alice fifteen, Bob love
Alice thirty, Bob love
Alice thirty, Bob fifteen
thirty all
Alice thirty, Bob forty
forty all
advantage Alice
deuce
advantage Alice
game Alice

Since the Code Retreat was (probably inadvertently) scheduled for the same weekend as Kairos, scheduling was a bit unusual and we only got to run two cycles in this Code Retreat, which is not as many as three, but a whole lot more than none.

I happened to wind up in pairs both times, mostly because a number of the guys have already paired with me and are more interested in using the Code Retreat to pair with unfamiliar folks so as to learn new things rather than old things.

For the first cycle I paired with Lee Leonard, and although we slid the keyboard back and forth, he pretty much took the strategic lead.  It was a good one, because we finished the problem almost half an hour  before the end of the cycle.  (Finishing a problem at a Code Retreat is a new experience for me.)

Between the two cycles we ate lunch, again in the prison chow hall.  It seemed to be a pleasant adventure for most of the outsiders, although the prisoners mostly seemed embarrassed to have us experience their food.  It wasn't the best food in the world, perhaps, but it seemed better than--for instance--what I remember from elementary school.  (Of course, that memory is decades and decades old, so it could be a little fuzzy.)

For the second cycle I paired with Jason Sexton, and it worked out that I had most of the strategic lead, because Jason thought a functional solution sounded more interesting than another imperative solution, and he hasn't really had a lot of functional-programming emphasis in Java.  As it happened, we finished the problem again, but this time just barely under the wire.

There was plenty of time for retrospective and socializing, and most of the folks there seemed to take advantage of it.  Next time, we're going to try for not two cycles, not three cycles, but four cycles.

Once again, it was a thoroughly positive experience both for prisoners and for volunteers, and the prison staff, even heavily loaded down by the requirements of Kairos, were cordial, professional, and prompt as well.

The next Code Retreat hasn't been scheduled yet, but it'll likely be in the summer sometime.

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  1. Dan, I should mention on here how much I appreciated this opportunity. Thanks again!

    • Great! If Louis has anything to say about it, I’m sure we’ll do it again.

    • Paul Bolden
    • October 8th, 2012

    I volunteer at a state prison in Georgia. In talking with state officials, there is interest in spawning a similar program here. Would love to touch bases to discuss.

      • Dan Wiebe
      • October 14th, 2012

      Sure. I’m @dnwiebe on Twitter.

  1. April 11th, 2011

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