Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What makes the Inside-Out model unique?
A: The Inside-Out model is unique because incarcerated students and college students are in class together as peers, learning together and with each other. This is in contrast to most courses taught in correctional facilities, where the students are all incarcerated, as well as most programs where outsiders come into correctional facilities, where the outsiders are there to “help” people who are incarcerated and are assumed to bring superior skills and knowledge.
Q: How can I decide if the Inside-Out model is appropriate for my institution?
A: (For correctional institutions) Inside-out has been offered in virtually every kind of correctional institution in the country – including local, state, and federal facilities; maximum, medium, and minimum-security facilities (including work release programs); men’s, women’s, and juvenile institutions – so chances are, the model is probably appropriate for your institution, as well. However, no matter what the institution, it is important to have a way of selecting students who are likely to be successful in the classroom – people who do not have recent behavioral infractions, and who are interested in learning and in listening to what other people have to say. Courses tend to be most successful when both the incarcerated and campus-based students are as diverse as possible in terms of their backgrounds and life experiences. Correctional institutions that house only those with sexual offense convictions are the only kind of facility for which Inside-Out is not recommended.
(For academic institutions) Inside-Out has been offered in virtually every type of institution of higher learning in the country – from small private colleges to large research universities and from community colleges to graduate programs. Many Inside-Out courses have had a criminal justice focus, but courses in many other subject areas, such as philosophy, political science, creative writing, gender studies and literature, have been very successful. The one thing that is necessary is that your school be within fairly easy traveling distance of a correctional facility, usually an hour driving time or less. However, there have been situations in which the course structure was modified to accommodate courses in facilities that are farther away.
Q: How can I get more information about being trained as an instructor?
A: Please send an e-mail to email@example.com and ask for information and application materials. If you like, you can be put in touch with someone who has already taken the training so that you can learn and ask questions about the experience first-hand.
Q: How can I make the case for Inside-Out inside my local correctional facility?
A: Because they know that men and women with more education are less likely to be re-incarcerated (and less likely to be involved with disciplinary problems during their incarceration), administrators at most correctional facilities are eager to offer educational programs. This is especially the case when classes can be made available with no financial cost to the correctional institution. The main concerns of correctional officials are safety and the prevention of ongoing personal relationships between inside and outside students. The Inside-Out model is designed in a way that addresses both of these issues to the satisfaction of most prison administrators.
Q: How safe is it to teach a class in prison?
A: Though nothing is without risk, teaching in prison is, actually, quite safe. For one thing, the administrators would never allow the class to happen at all if they thought there was a potential safety issue. For another, incarcerated participants tend to value highly the opportunity to participate in an Inside-Out class, and would be unlikely to do anything to jeopardize it. Also, those who might have a higher potential to cause a safety problem are screened out of participating in the course.
Q: I’ve never set foot in a prison; how do I even get started?
A: Enroll in a National Instructor Training Institute. Inside-Out has trained many instructors with no prison experience at all. The intensive training includes the step-by-step issues that come up in implementing Inside-Out, and after instructors have been trained, they are eligible to receive whatever technical assistance they may need.
Q: Do these classes take advantage of incarcerated people in any way?
A: These classes are specifically designed not to take advantage of those who are incarcerated. “Inside” students and “outside” students engage in collaborative learning, and everyone has an equal voice in the semester-long exchange.
Q: I’d like to start a class similar to this at my university. Do I have to call it “Inside-Out"?
A: Not necessarily. Of course, only instructors who have taken the Inside-Out training would appropriately call their courses “Inside-Out,” but they are not required to. That having been said, we do not recommend doing a class like this without adequate training. It is much more complex than it appears. It may seem like a great thing to do – and it is; but if not done correctly, it can be potentially damaging.
Q: What are the most important elements for a successful class experience?
A: The single most important element for a successful class experience is the instructor’s high degree of self-awareness, since teaching in a prison context can be emotionally demanding and present many ethical challenges. In addition, it is essential that the instructor be skillful in handling the complicated class dynamics that exist in an Inside-Out situation while, at the same time, creating a sense of openness and safety for all of the students. Part of this involves being willing to use an experiential model of instruction, rather than relying on lectures. All of these issues are addressed at the National Instructor Training Institute.
Q: What have you learned from teaching behind bars?
A: So many things; but mostly, never to underestimate the capacity of any of the students – whether from the inside or the outside – to fully engage in learning and to share insights that are fresh and profound.
THE INSIDE-OUT CENTER