Education Inside Prison, Part Three

Honors Students Working to Transform Education Access

Education Inside Prison 3

Written by Kathleen Edelheit and the students of Honors 230A (inside and out.)

Kathleen Edelheit is majoring in Anthropology and will graduate this Fall. She plans on attending law school with a focus on Public Interest and Poverty Law.

In addition to general discussions in the class, "In Your Name: Education Inside Prison", we divided into smaller groups, each of which brainstormed a set of realistic, tangible ideas and goals that will help us to bring together these two learning communities in the future. On our final day, each group presented their projects to the class and to a select group of invited guests.

The Blue Group compiled statistics of academic interests of the inmates at TRU, surveying roughly 110 inmates out of a total population of 800. The top academic interests were business, music, and linguistics/communications. The results of the survey will be used in the design of future academic and outreach programs.

The Green Group focused on creating a sustainable Registered Student Organization at the UW called HOPE (Huskies for Opportunities in Prison Education), which is already off and running. (please join us on Facebook). There are also plans for setting up a parallel organization at TRU through the Community Partnership Program. Working together, as Torialai explained, "has the potential to open discussion platforms for incarcerated students not before realized."

The Red Group examined the UW's Dream Project as a successful model for a sustainable student-initiated group. They contacted student members of the Dream Project and hope to have some of them go to TRU to present their college prep workshops there. As one of the presenters, Aleksandr, stressed, the benefits will extend to those who are transitioning out of prison, giving them a head start on college applications and allowing them to interact with current college students.

"Getting a college degree can be the greatest accomplishment ever—for anyone." (Michael)

Finally, the Pink Group focused on UW media and the possibility of establishing a for-credit correspondence course through the UW. UWTV is very popular at TRU, but because the schedule is only available online, inmates have difficulty finding the shows they want. The desire for paper-based correspondence courses similarly derives from the lack of internet access in prison, which eliminates most distance learning opportunities for incarcerated students. Although acknowledging that this is a long-term and ambitious goal, David outlined the benefits of such a structure: "First, it puts the financial responsibility on the inmate and not the taxpayer, second, it allows the inmate to select courses they are personally interested in, and third, it puts money back into the [state] schools rather than sending it to one of the very few out-of-state correspondence programs."

All of the students described the life-changing experiences they had in this class. "Attending this class has been the most valuable, awakening, educational and social experience I have ever had," wrote Michael. "The raw desire to learn and rehabilitate through education possessed by the students we worked with was astounding. It reminded me to not take my own personal education and freedoms for granted." As Bo wrote: "The men I met were some of the most well-spoken and eloquent students I have ever encountered during my time in both high school or at the UW. ... the readings and personal interactions that took place over the four weeks of the term have changed my perceptions and beliefs for the better."

"I learned more from just spending time at the prison than I have in many other classes," wrote Emma. Dana echoed her thoughts: "The Honors Program has a great way of harvesting students to search for greater importance to their classes, and this class really provided the inspiration for activism. Overall, this class was probably life-changing." "If I had to describe this class it would be as a valuable social project," wrote Donald. "Not only did we discuss the benefits of education for all, but those on the outside were able to see that people in prison are just that—people. This class allowed us to be treated as equals." Dana echoed this: "Not only was the prison its own community, but it's a part of our outside community as well. Visits made me realize how real the people there are and how important it is to recognize that. They're people who will once again be integrated into society and our complete denial of their humanity is counterproductive."

"Education is a challenge and an honor. It is beneficial and groundbreaking for those of us who want to change." (Marvin)

Several students wrote about their appreciation for the experiential learning opportunities provided through the Honors Program. "The honors classes have been this way for me so far: unpredictable. I thought that this class would be about education in prison and learning about the current situation," wrote Jinsung. "This class went above my expectations by making me actually initiate a change with the current system." "I've been used to taking courses with huge lecture halls that I felt like I forgot how to communicate with classmates," said Andy. "Honors 230A allowed for me to voice my opinion among peers."

"Overall," wrote Emma, "the greatest strength of this class was its ability to build a bridge between communities. I have been able to engage with people I would have never had the opportunity to otherwise. I have gained an appreciation for those who work inside prisons. Their jobs are incredibly difficult and the stress and tension inside a prison is constantly palpable. Most of all, I learned not to view those incarcerated as criminals, felons, or prisoners, but as students."

Derek's writings summarize the hope and passion we all discovered in this joint work: "I took this class because I want to contribute and I want to receive. I want to sow seeds and reap the harvest in the form of seeing a brighter future, in minds being transformed and enriched. I want to live in a world enlightened and illuminated, where the hungry are fed and the weak made strong. I want to see lives changed, and selfishly enough, I want it to begin with me."

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