Transformative Learning: U-M Faculty and the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program

This past June, the Center for Engaged Academic Learning awarded course design grants to three U-M faculty members to develop courses that will be part of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. Antoine Traisnel (Comparative Literature), Ruby Tapia (English Language & Literature), and Jeff Morenoff (Sociology) participated this summer in the Inside-Out Training Institute. Through 60 hours of intense training these faculty worked on curriculum and developed teaching strategies to optimize the experience for the U-M Ann Arbor students and incarcerated people -- that is, the inside and the outside students -- who will be learning side by side within different correctional facilities.

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, founded by Lori Pompa and an incarcerated man named Paul, brings together people in prison and academia to study crime, justice, and related social issues as peers. Since its start at Temple University in 1997, over 300 courses have been offered in the United States and Canada. Each course is comprised of 15 university students and 15 incarcerated people. Both groups must apply and be accepted to the program. Everyone leaves the course transformed by the experience. As Professor Traisnel observed from his time in the Training Institute:

"An inside student told me that Inside-Out gave him a stake and a responsibility, both for himself and for younger incarcerated individuals. This response has stuck with me. This sentiment captures what I feel the program has given me: a concrete stake as a teacher and a renewed sense of responsibility toward myself and toward students on both sides of the prison walls." 

Professor Tapia also noted the ways in which the training is already shaping her teaching as well as her research:

"The entire experience was transformative in many ways: the model teaching units and discussions with peers provided new, crucial angles from which to think about my research and teaching on the carceral state and the experiences of incarcerated individuals. I was especially impressed with how the structure of the training, itself, brilliantly mirrored the dialogic pedagogy that is the method and aspiration of the Inside/Out program. Productively challenging and destabilizing accepted ideas about where, and with whom, "knowledge" and "authority" reside is not an easy thing to do in any educational setting, but the Institute equips its participants to practice this challenge, to enact these destablizalizations. The work is serious and shouldn't be romanticized, but its achievements should be celebrated and I'm deeply grateful for the opportunities that the training and certification will afford me to improve my teaching, within and outside the prison."

The Fall 2016 U-M Ann Arbor Inside-Out course was offered through the Department of Sociology by Professor Jeffrey Morenoff:  

"The training helped me frame my course for active, bi-directional learning between 'inside' and 'outside' students. I had never been more excited to teach a class than I was heading into this semester. This was a new style of teaching for me, but the training really convinced me that if you trust the process, you will be amazed by the kinds of insights and interactions that are generated through the exchange of ideas in a dialogic format. Throughout the fall we explored the criminal justice system by blending theoretical knowledge and practical experience. We read about and discussed all facets of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. We also explored the causes of crime, philosophies of punishment, approaches to rehabilitation, life after prison, and police-community relations."

The second Ann Arbor Campus Inside-Out course is being offered this term through the Department of Classical Studies. In that course students are exploring the prison writings of the world's greatest thinkers, from Plato's Apology of Socrates to the work of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Angela Davis. 

Faculty interested in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program should contact CEAL, which provides all of the curricular design support, the student development workshops for both inside and outside students, and the coordination with the correctional facilities. CEAL Course Development Grants are also available to cover the cost of the required I-O training. 

Undergraduate students interested in taking an Inside-Out course, please contact Becca Pickus, CEAL’s Interim Program Coordinator. 

Questions? Contact CEAL’s Director, Denise Galarza Sepúlveda