"The heart of this methodology is in providing a framework within which the issues that we are studying can be examined in depth. This exploration is mediated through an ongoing group process, in which everyone is afforded the space to raise questions, challenge each other, offer diverse perspectives, and wrestle with the idiosyncratic nature of our system of crime and justice. My hope is that, by the end of the semester, each participant has developed more than merely the ability to take in information, but rather, the capacity to inquire, analyze, critique, challenge – and be challenged by – the information acquired.
"Through our class discussions, we come to see that crime, beyond being a problem in itself, is a symptom of a much deeper social illness – a societal dysfunction in which every one of us, by omission or commission, plays a part. This is what I want my students – those on the outside and those on the inside – to understand: that each of us plays a role in a deep, complex social drama whose unfolding we hold in our hands.
"I want my students – those on the outside and those on the inside – to know the issues thoroughly, especially as they impact on their own lives and that of others, and to then take an active role in addressing issues of crime, justice, and incarceration as they are played out in the public arena." (Lori Pompa)
Having class inside of a prison is compelling – an experience that’s hard to shake. And that is one reason we do it. I don’t want my students to shake these encounters easily; in fact, I want the students to be shaken by them. I want them to analyze what they experience and question it all: who is locked up and why, how these decisions are made, what these institutions are all about, and what each of us can do to change the situation.
This kind of learning has the power to turn things inside out and upside down for those engaged in it. It provokes one to think differently about the world, and consider one’s relationship to the world in a new way. This unique educational experience provides dimensions of learning that are difficult to achieve in a traditional classroom.
At its most basic level, Inside-Out allows the outside students to take the theory they have learned and apply it in a real-world setting, while those living behind the walls are able to place their life experiences in a larger academic framework. However, much more occurs in the exchange. Many inside students discover academic dreams they want to pursue and begin making plans they never would have considered otherwise. Outside students reconsider their classes and careers. Prison administrators see the positive effects of these classes on the inside students. Instructors rediscover their passion for teaching and are invigorated by this new model.
Inside-Out puts a human face on an incarceration problem that can be kept simplified only if it remains faceless. It challenges us to recognize the complexities in ourselves and in others, and stretch beyond simplistic assumptions and policies. By exploring theoretical concepts inside prison, theory is moved out of a purely mental sphere to a place where theory and reality meet in a powerful and unique way.
I invite you to consider something different and radical: teaching a class behind bars. Time and again, instructors have reported back after their first Inside-Out class, “This is why I went into teaching in the first place” or “I feel energized like never before.” And that is really what transformative education is all about. We all change, we all feel more understood, more heard, more connected, and – most importantly – more on fire and ready to make change in the world, as we have come to understand it anew.
- Lori Pompa
THE INSIDE-OUT CENTER