A lesson in incarceration, from the inside: Inside Out program brings class to prison to learn beside current inmates
by Kyle McCall /// Staff Writer
When students go to Reiko Hillyer’s history class on crime and punishment this spring, they will have to travel a bit farther than Howard Hall. The course, part of a new initiative, is taught inside of a prison. Students will carpool to the minimum security Columbia River Correctional Facility and learn alongside the men serving their sentences there.
This method, called the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program, originated at Temple University with professor of Criminal Justice Lori Pompa. She developed the base course curriculum and, after seeing how well it worked with her students, created a group that offers training so others, including Professor Hillyer, can learn and teach the courses themselves.
An important aspect of the pedagogy behind the project is a hands-off teaching method to facilitate interaction between students and inmates. “It’s powerful for a teacher to step out of the way and allow students to teach each other,” Hillyer said. “It doesn’t mean anything goes, or that the teacher has nothing to offer. The idea is to create a sort of bounded freedom. Not freedom in the sense of total chaos, but a kind of container to allow the students constructive freedom. I think that that’s particularly powerful in this setting because the students have a lot to learn from each other.” The radically different setting of this course may be part of what makes it so appealing.
“(This class) is a rare opportunity to be a part of an egalitarian learning community with people who I've been trained all my life are fundamentally worth less than me, and unlearning ideas like that is a big part of becoming the kind of human that I want to be,” says student Tara Brown (’12).
During the course, the inmate and student halves of the class will be required to do the same readings, working as peers. It is this deconstruction of the walls, literal and figurative, between the college students in an “ivory tower” and misrepresented prisoners that makes the experience.
Jeremy Nichols (??), another of the students selected to participate in the course next spring, shares the sentiment. He said, “I believe the inmates and the experiences they bring to the subject of crime and punishment will be invaluable and make the class pretty remarkable.”
There are a great many students who would love to be in Jeremy’s place; when Hillyer hosted an interest meeting and presentation for her course, nearly 60 people showed up, filling the Howard lecture hall. There were even more who expressed interest but were unable to make the meeting.
To weed through this large crop of highly qualified applicants, she had each one submit an essay to her on why they wanted to be in the course. After sifting through the essays, she eventually had to use a lottery system to select from the still far too large stack of quality applicants she had. The selection process concluded with interviews of all the students drawn.
Those who did not make it into Hillyer’s class may still have an opportunity to participate in the Inside Out exchange program, however. “My hope is that this course will be a success, so that other courses like it can be offered in the future, so that it becomes a more regular feature of the Lewis & Clark experience. I think that this could be a way to really distinguish Lewis & Clark.”
She addresses the school’s message of community involvement and creating students who are aware of real world issues. The US Prison System holds a quarter of the world’s total inmates and possesses a population double that of 1995. It is an aspect of our country that cannot be ignored and offers many opportunities for those who wish to make a difference.