By Rebecca Tavernini '11 MA

"Be brave enough to make a change” is Beth Rondeau Deacon’s ’00 MAE motto. She uses it to encourage students in a maximum-security prison, in public high school classrooms and in worldwide workshops. It also guides her personal life, as she transforms from a mathematics teacher to a book author, screenwriter and executive producer of multiple streaming television series and films. Her first screenplay, Intent Unknown, starring Eric Roberts, was filmed this spring, in her house, with her daughter in a leading role. It will premiere this summer.

Beth is also working on two psychological thrillers that will be in production soon; a sequel to Intent Unknown; and an historical aviation series that she thinks will be ground breaking.

Her book, Seven Doors In: One Teacher’s Mission within Prison Walls, has been optioned by a prominent production company for a series inspired by her autobiographical story. She and her series’ writers have scripted the first ten episodes. It is currently being considered by a major streaming platform, and if it’s a go, filming could start this year.

Deacon’s life-changing journey—for both herself and her students —started in Gladstone, Michigan, where she was in her 25th year of secondary teaching. In 2000, she earned a master’s degree from Northern. She was approached by her supervisor to consider taking part in teaching math to adult learners in the evenings. “At the time, of course, I never realized how much this would change my life,” she recalled. “I quickly learned that adults attended school because they experienced life without an education and now knew how much education could mean to their future success.”

She also learned that many of her adult students had been in jail, had drug abuse issues and wanted to turn their lives around. “They had inspired me. They had come to school to better themselves, not because they were required to be there.” She enjoyed the new perspective and challenge, but shortly after, she and her family moved to Iowa. When Beth saw an ad for a teacher at Iowa State Penitentiary, she chose to explore a new challenge in education.

She landed the job, and on the first day experienced the long walk through the prison’s seven metal doors, with guards, security checks and heavy surveillance along the way, finally entering into the classroom where she taught convicted offenders, many serving life sentences. Deacon had to go through a mandatory and intensive five-week safety and self-defense training course, which included full-on physical contact and tactics to respond to personal attacks, prison riots, gang activity and other life-threatening scenarios.

“I’m often asked how I could work in the prison and not be afraid?” said the Ironwood native. “Being from the U.P., fear wasn’t a concern. People often left their doors unlocked and gangs were only seen on television. Sure, my days were spent with men who committed serious crimes; however, I wasn’t there to examine their pasts but only to help them see their potential.”

Beth Rondeau Deacon sitting outside with a notebook


“Actually, I think it’s safer to work in a maximum-security prison than in a public school. When is the last time you have heard of a mass shooting in a prison?”

In the book she wrote: “I learned that the absolute best way to protect myself was to get my students engaged, to inspire them to care about themselves and others and show them how education could change their lifestyle and their outlook.... The ways people talk influences the way that they think and feel... so we would start with language, and eventually, my students would pass a writing test... From there, we would work on confidence, teamwork, listening, and everything else that comes with learning.”

Those were all major changes for the students who were used to routinely just filling out worksheets and getting paid 30 cents/hour to attend class. Deacon implemented strict policies on classroom participation and completing homework. But mostly, she won their minds by treating them with respect, equality and optimistic perseverance. “I believed in them, something most of them had never experienced before,” she wrote. “They knew I was not going to give up on them... They were experiencing success, many for the first time in their lives.”

Deacon tells the men’s stories individually (their names have been changed), so readers get a feel for their backgrounds, personalities, travails and their motivations to succeed (or failure to).

After three years, she presided over one of the largest single-year graduation ceremonies held in a maximum-security prison on record — a total of 17 graduates earning their GED — with great amounts of pride shared among the men and their families. She did not mention it, but Deacon was honored with the Correctional Teacher of the Year Award, Women of Hearts Teacher of the Year and the Sanford Inspirational Teacher Award.

She is the grateful one, though, “because the men gifted me a new set of eyes. It was a wake up for me. I was letting my life float by. They have truly taught me that you have to be grateful for what you have. And what makes me happy is seeing other people happy and seeing people excel, despite the odds.”

“In life they dodged bullets and looked for something to eat. Many never had a childhood. What if they would have had a chance at education? When men and women go to prison, what happens to their kids? They don’t have a chance when their parents are locked up for 20 to 30 years. What can we do with reform so the kids do not suffer? In addition, there is the victim to think of. What can be done to help them?”

We learn from our environment, she believes, and she credits her parents for her love of learning, respect for others and her work ethic. In a fitting nod, the character of Beth in the TV series is named Annie Krayak, her mother’s maiden name. Readers should not expect the TV series to be a simple adaptation of the book. “The only place it’s going to be the same is my personality in the prison. There are all kinds of interactions with offenders in the classrooms, and Annie will be making a difference with everyone in the prison, even outside ‘The Walls.’ Annie also has her own problems, such as I do—I’m legally blind and claustrophobic.”

Deacon said it was difficult working with others to adapt her book, and she had to learn to be more open. “There are some things I wouldn’t budge on. I had to say, ‘No, that’s not how I am.’ But I had to learn to give in also. It would have been a little too boring otherwise! We came together quite well. I think the first season is going to be amazing.” It may also feature a cameo of the real Beth.

The 7 Doors series team includes Producer Prashant Shah, founder of Bollywood Hollywood; Director Terence Gordon, CEO of TnG Films; Producer Anita Sayago, Owner of EDAMA Entertainment; and Executive Producer, Co-Creator and Co-Writer Deacon.

It was amazing how the series collaboration, and everything after, transpired. Beth met Emmy-Award nominated Good Morning America stage manager Eddie Luisi on LinkedIn, where they discussed their experiences working in the prison and eventually met in person. Beth was a teacher and Eddie a spiritual volunteer. Through Eddie, Beth met Director Terence Gordon.

“I always tell my students to go out in the world and meet as many people as you can. We are all lifelong learners. If I wouldn’t have gone out on LinkedIn to invite Eddie to give a talk about his life at my school, I wouldn’t have met Terence. Now, at 54, I’m doing all of these things I never dreamed of. Sometimes I’m doing yoga and ideas for stories and dialogue just come to mind, but I had never thought like that before. I love that I get to create a different world and bring it to everyone. It doesn’t matter your age, just if you’re willing to take that risk. It’s so important to step out of your comfort zone. If you take a risk in life, what you are trying to accomplish happens and everyone in your circle succeeds also. If not, you move on, but you have learned from it. I wish at a younger age I would have done more of that.”

TnG films’ Youthfulambitionya, aims to inspire and empower young minds and adults alike to pursue their passions and achieve their goals. You never know what will happen. For instance, the Caribbean Knight, a super hero, created by Nello Raphael of Trinidad, whom Beth met on Facebook, is a new project she and Gordon are now co-creators on. This also gave opportunity to Terence’s son, Asa Gordon, a talented artist to produce a graphic print of the Caribbean Knight, which was featured in the Intent Unknown movie as a product placement. And in Intent Unknown, along with her first-time actor daughter Lucy, a young local bartender and a double amputee who all have starring roles, Deacon and Gordon created one-liners for a few of her high school students to provide them with opportunities, connections and credits on IMDb. Also featured in a scene are Beth’s other family members. One of the prison offenders made two chess sets out of cardboard that appear in the movie (on which one of Beth’s students played Roberts in an off-set game). The offender can tell his family his artwork is in a movie. “He’s never getting out of prison, so that’s everything to him,” she said.

"If you find your passion, anything is possible,” emphasized Deacon. “Passion drives us to become better. Passion encourages us to step out of our norm. And passion is my inspiration to be brave enough to make a change.”

To learn more about Beth's journey and what she is doing now, visiting the link below: