Given the delicate nature of this program, it is important to make clear what Inside-Out is not.
• Inside-Out is not an opportunity for anyone to gain access to prison populations as a pretext for doing research unrelated to Inside-Out. People on the inside have a realistic concern about being treated as “guinea pigs” (a phrase often used by those inside) for research that, too often, is exploitative, harmful, and invalid.
We do, however, recognize the need for program evaluation and research that unpacks what Inside-Out does for its stakeholders (e.g. students, instructors, communities, institutions and systems) and what happens in the learning situation as it relates to collective outcomes.
All such endeavors must be conducted with the highest ethical standards. (Contact us for our “Guidelines for Ethical Inquiry.”)
• It is not an opportunity for charity, or to “help” incarcerated men and women in the sense of volunteerism or charity. Though we sometimes refer to Inside-Out as a “service learning” experience, the phrase “community-based” learning is much more appropriate. The concept of “service” implies – and often produces – a power differential that undercuts the equality of the inside and outside students. If any “service” is performed, it is not doing for, but rather doing/being with, in a true collaboration – in which everyone serves and everyone is served.
• Inside-Out is not a “scared straight” program. Our intentions are not to give the outside students an experience that, based on fear, will cause them to rethink their life choices. Though it is sometimes the case that individual students will express either an appreciation for how their lives have gone or a clarity that they don’t want to “end up in prison,” that is not the goal of the program.
• Inside-Out is not a whistle-blowing program that has as its aim to draw public attention to problems inside the prison. The particular prison or system sponsoring the program is not the focus of the class and its discussions. While there may be examples from life inside the individual prison in question that illustrate something being discussed, it is important always to bring the analysis back to larger, systemic issues. It is these issues – which include the criminal justice system, as well as the larger political, economic, and social questions – that are at the heart of what Inside-Out attempts to unearth in its exploration. No activity in the name of advocacy, whistle-blowing, or serving in a watchdog capacity can be conducted in the name of Inside-Out.
• Finally, even though bonds between and among students inevitably form throughout the semester, Inside-Out is not a vehicle for developing relationships that will exist outside the parameters of the program. Only first names are used and no other identifying information is shared. Parameters are critical to this program, as it exists within a very clear-cut, black and white environment. There is no room for shades of grey. Allowing situations to move into the grey area can potentially place the existence of the program in jeopardy.
These are the issues that those involved in the program need to be clear about, remembering what we’re there for, what the mission of the program is, and how fragile this kind of program can be.
THE INSIDE-OUT CENTER