This article explores how the author folds prison studies into his composition courses at Texas' only open-admissions university, located directly across from a massive county jail bearing an uncanny resemblance to his home institution. The author not only examines the semiotics of the two buildings but also explains how and why he teaches students about the jail and its connection to a larger system of punishment. Asking first-year students to research a accustomed part of their local surroundings demystifies their understanding of incarceration as it helps to demystify the entire experience of research, writing, and going to school in a unique urban setting. Such a move fosters for the students a theoretical and experiential connection between public education and critical citizenship. It also reminds students to take a good look around (no matter where they are) and think more deeply about what's there, what's not there, and why.

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