Submitted by Smart on Crime
Walking into the prison for the first time was an experience I won’t soon forget. Heavy doors locked behind me one after the other. I got this strange feeling that there was no way out. I didn’t share the same fear as my family, who worried about my safety. And I didn’t really feel intimidated by the guards. What I did feel was worry – worry that the women inside would judge me for what I am – a (prissy) master of social work student.
I'm not talking about going to prison because of a crime I committed, I'm talking about being a participant of the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program and a member of the Walls to Bridges Collective.
From the founder & director of Inside-Out, here’s what the program is NOT:
It is not research. Outside students are not going in to study inside students. Outside students are also not going inside to “help” the inside students. “That’s just not what we’re doing. We are learning together”. "
Basically the program looks like this: people in university (“outside students”) and people in custody (“inside students”), come together to take a course behind the walls of a correctional institution. The course can be anything from literature and history, to social work and criminology. So although the course content is usually pretty standard, the classroom and the students are anything but.
The purpose of Inside-Out (I-O) is to increase educational opportunities for people inside and outside of prison. In an I-O class, we emphasize dialogue and collaboration, and talk about social concern issues. We break down the walls that separate us.
Experiencing Inside-Out is often referred to as personally and professionally “transformative”. But what is it about the program that makes it so?
From my experience, it’s got a lot to do with recognizing and challenging assumptions and biases. It’s got a lot to do with questioning society and the powerful impact of oppression and privilege. It’s got a lot to do with building relationships and honoring individual lived experiences.
During our closing ceremony for the first Inside-Out course in Grand Valley Institution for Women, one of my colleagues articulated the transformation she saw and experienced:
“Pre-conceived notions. We are all guilty of harboring them. Notions of what we think things are supposed to be. Things like prison, and education. Of what and who the student is, and what and who the convict is… Today those lines are blurred. No, today they don’t exist. Today there is no distinction between student and convict and education and prison… because today, right here, we are all students. Learning. Evolving. Erasing. Celebrating”
- Inside-Out Alumni, currently incarcerated
The Inside-Out alumni group now meets bi-weekly to work on projects inside and outside of the prison walls. The “Walls to Bridges Collective” exemplifies “smart on crime” in action:
Through collaboration with people living inside and outside prison walls, we will strive to connect and build bridges by educating, informing and advocating about social justice for criminalized women and trans people.
As a passionate and engaged community, we’re being smart on crime together.... and, this is only the beginning.
To read the “Inside-Out Center Newsletter”, where the Walls to Bridges Collective is featured, click here.
Today the Inside-Out Program exists in 25 American states and growing fast. In September 2010, the Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Grand Valley Institution for Women partnered to host this ground-breaking program, being one of the first ever Canadian Inside-Out Programs. The second WLU & GVI course just finished in April 2012 and two more will be starting in September 2012. We have also begun developing an Inside-Out Canadian Instructor Training Institute where all Canadian instructors interested in teaching Inside-Out courses will come to get trained in the Inside-Out pedagogy.
Author: Kayla Follet - Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Kayla studied at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick where she completed an honours degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Upon graduation she travelled and worked in different community settings. She is now working toward her Master of Social Work degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and happily fulfilling her Practicum Placement at the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council.