Virginia Commonwealth University

About » Program Administration

OPEN MINDS is administered by John Dooley, Director of the Richmond City Jail Education Department, and David Coogan, Associate Professor, Department of English, VCU. Additional support comes from Sheriff C.T. Woody, LTC Carol Dabney, Lt. Felicia Powell, Mr. Ervin Hart, Ms. Cheryl Robinson, Major Jerry Baldwin and the staff of RCSO Inmate Services.

John Dooley

Co-Director, OPEN MINDS

Dooley is a veteran educator whose career spans over three decades at the jail. He has a M.Ed. from VCU and is also a published poet.

RCJ Education Department

OPEN MINDS courses are offered in the Richmond City Jail Education Department at the jail. In addition to these college-level, dual enrollment courses, the Education Department offers empowering classes and certificate programs that enable residents to gain new skills needed for the workforce and daily life. The department offers the following programs and certifications:

  • Adult Basic Education (A.B.E.)
  • Commonwealth of Virginia General Educational Development (G.E.D.) diploma
  • Basic and advanced computer skills with the opportunity to earn a CompTIA A+ Computer Repair Technician Certification
  • English as a Second Language (E.S.L.) and English Language Learners (E.L.L.)
  • Adult Basic Education and Spanish language pre- G.E.D. diploma studies
  • Commonwealth of Virginia Career Readiness Certificate (C.R.C.) program

Since the school began in 1973, more than 2,200 men and women have earned their GEDs at the Richmond City Jail. More men and women earn their GEDs at the Richmond City Jail than anywhere else in the city.

"The class session doesn't really end when everyone goes out of this room and sanctuary. It is an honor to know that deep and personal and sacred and secret and so-filled-with-power sharings are offered freely and trustingly herein this small place amongst us all." - John Dooley, Co-director, OPEN MINDS

Residents of Richmond City Jail can also prepare for the workforce upon release. Through a partnership with John Tyler Community College, the RCJ offers the Virginia Career Readiness Certificate (CRC), a credential that gives employers and career seekers a uniform measure of key workplace skills. The CRC verifies that an individual can complete tasks necessary for job success, such as finding information, reading instructions and directions, using math skills and more. The program emphasizes problem-solving skills needed everyday in American workplaces. Nearly 50 students have earned their CRCs in 2011. Since the certifcation program began, many RCJ residents have earned their Career Readiness Certificate.

David Coogan

Co-Director, OPEN MINDS

Photo by Allen Jones

Coogan is a writing teacher and a scholar of rhetoric and composition who has been teaching in the English Department at VCU since 2004 and offering workshops in autobiography at the jail since 2006. He is the co-author of The Public Work of Rhetoric: Citizen Scholars and Civic Engagement and of numerous essays about the teaching of writing in under-served communities. He is currently working on a new book, a memoir, co-authored with the members of his first workshop at the jail: Writing Our Way into New Life: A Game of Strip Poker at the City Jail. Learn more »

The Richmond City Jail Programs

To help individuals obtain basic academic and work skills needed after release, the Richmond City Jail offers a wide variety of educational programs. Programs focus on leadership development, anger management and substance abuse relapse prevention and much more. Learn more: