On a Tuesday evening this past March, UD undergraduates piled into a campus van and traveled to Lebanon, Ohio, where they joined other students from the Warren Correctional Institution for an evening of Inside Out class.
They started off class sitting in a circle, sharing their definition of empowerment one by one. “Equal opportunity.” “Solidarity.” “Integrity.”
They then wrote down the name of someone who has inspired them, someone who has worked for justice in their home communities.
Before they split off into groups to plan their final project — a magazine and online blog about life in prison — they put the names on the backs of empty chairs.
Their definitions of empowerment, as well as the influence of the people belonging to those names, sat in the room with them during their discussions.
The course is officially titled Crime & Inequality, taught by Jamie Longazel through the University of Dayton Inside-Out Program.
“On its surface, the Inside-Out program is simply a college course taught inside of a prison where ‘traditional’ college students and people who are incarcerated learn side-by-side,” said Longazel, assistant professor of sociology. “On a deeper level, however, Inside-Out brings all students to their ‘learning edge’ — an intellectual and emotional space where we can explore difficult issues within our society and ourselves.”
The course has nine “insiders” and 11 “outsiders” — from the institution and from UD, respectively. This is the language the students use to refer to one another.
Inside student Tim (all students go by first names only in class and in this story) said his favorite part is the intense conversation with all students. He joined because he wanted to learn more about the role of race in the prison system.
“I expected the class to be challenging, and it has been,” he said. “I didn’t expect to have such a tight bond with the outside students — all of them are friendly and gracious.”
Inside student Marlon said the class is the highlight of his week.
“The topics of the class also make us see what we have in common,” he said. “You can coexist in harmony if you have an open mind.” While in prison, Marlon has earned his GED and taught himself Spanish.
Outside student Keyy explained that she joined the course because she wants to work inside the criminal justice system, specifically with counseling youth.
“The mission of this program has been very personal for me because my father is incarcerated,” she said. “Because of this class, now when I talk to him I feel like I can be like, ‘I understand more of what you’re going through.’”
The class changed not only her mindset, but also her terminology. “It went from saying ‘them’ to ‘insiders.’ To being inclusive, not exclusive,’” she said.
See the photos below for more from the students on the impact of the class.
The course ended with a ceremony on the last day of class in April, where both inside and outside students gave speeches.
“The conversations have been very deep and enriching,” Longazel said. “We are learning together, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” This quote by Lilla Watson captures the essence of why I wanted to take this class. I have a love for people and their stories and this class presented the opportunity to not only meet and get to know people currently in prison, but also is giving us the chance to work toward mutual understanding. In addition, by breaking down the barriers within our own hearts and minds, we can gradually start to take down the walls of oppression, apathy, and ignorance that separate us. —Emily, outside student, psychology major