This fall, 15 UT students and 15 inmates at the Toledo Correctional Institution will come together to study the history and politics of mass incarceration through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Project.
The course is designed to allow students, both inside and outside, to work together as equals in a classroom setting.
“People who are incarcerated are stigmatized, both culturally and structurally,” said Dr. Renee Heberle, UT associate professor of political science. “In the larger scheme of things, the Inside-Out Project wants to break down the stigmas and the stereotypes and the barriers, using education as the vehicle.”
Students in the course know one another on a first-name basis only, and the two groups are not allowed any contact outside the classroom. Anonymity is the most important rule of the class and violation of it is cause for expulsion. This policy is for the security and privacy of all students, inside and out.
“The reason that the inside students are incarcerated is irrelevant to the class and to the entire process,” Heberle said. “We are not there to discuss why they’re there, how they got there, or how long they should be there. We are there to be students together.”
The first week of the semester, the two groups of students meet separately to answer any questions, get to know one another within their groups, and discuss rules. The next week, the two groups meet for the first time to do introductory and icebreaking activities.
They meet separately once again the third week to discuss first impressions and answer additional questions and concerns. Then all 30 students meet together once a week for the rest of the semester.
“That third separate meeting is sometimes the most moving of the term because that’s when people begin to realize and discuss openly why and how the anxiety and the tension that they thought was going to exist in the classroom is dispersed,” Heberle said.
During class, students sit in a circle alternating inside and outside students to provide more integration. The discussions are led by students, while the facilitator or instructor guides them with assignments and exercises related to the readings.
The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Project is available for all majors. All students, inside and out, meet individually with faculty to determine whether they are mature enough for the program and ready for the experience.
Generally, only juniors and seniors are admitted, but sophomores and graduate students can be accepted if they show interest. The program can be adapted for grad students by giving them additional independent work.
In the past, the program has included a variety of courses, such as American History, Persuasive Writing and the Ethics of Public Policy. Currently, there is only one course per semester, but UT hopes to have more in the future.
The University has participated in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Project since 2010 and has an active alumni group, People for Change. The group recently hosted the regional hub meeting for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Project with a total 54 instructors and students from the Midwest.
UT students interested in participating in the program should contact Heberle at firstname.lastname@example.org.