Episode 1: The Origins of The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program

January 4, 2017

Subscribe and listen via:
iTunesGoogle PlayStitcheriHeart RadioRSS

In this premier episode of The Inside-Out Podcast, the founder and executive director of The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, Lori Pompa, shares her thoughts on how the program began and how it has evolved over the years. You'll also get to hear from a man named Paul, whose idea was instrumental in the birth of this program nearly 20 years ago. Paul is incarcerated in Graterford Prison in Pennsylvania.

Episode Guide:

Episode Transcript:
Welcome to the Inside-Out podcast a production of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange program based at Temple University in Philadelphia. I’m your host Dave Krueger. In this premier episode I'll be speaking with Lori Pompa, founder and executive director of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. You’ll also get to hear from a man named Paul. Paul’s idea was instrumental in the birth of this program nearly twenty years ago. Paul is incarcerated in the Graterford Prison in Pennsylvania. The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program is an educational program with an innovative approach to learning designed to facilitate dialogue across difference. It started in 1997 and originated as a means to bring together campus based college students and incarcerated students for a semester long course held in a correctional setting. This educational model has been replicated across the United States and in multiple countries since its inception nearly 20 years ago. It has grown into an international network of more than 700 trained faculty, more than 22,000 alumni, nearly two dozen think tanks, and hundreds of higher education and correctional administrators who have sponsored these classes over the years. Inside-out seeks to bring about social change through transformative education. Lori Pompa agreed to speak with me about how inside-out began and how it has grown over the years. Lori has taught as a professor of criminal justice at Temple University since 1992. She is the recipient of the 2016 lifetime achievement award for teaching from the American society of criminology. This prestigious award recognizes persons with teaching careers that have produced a considerable impact at either the university or national level. Pompa’s career has accomplished both.

DK: Lori thanks for sitting down to speak with me and congratulations on winning this award. 

LP: Thank you.

DK: What does this award mean to you? Could you have imagined this to be possible back in 1992 when you started teaching?

LP: Well no especially since the way that I came into teaching was as an adjunct. I had no background in teaching at a college and so my first class was a class in corrections and I knew right away that the way I learned about corrections was through going to prisons and jails in the area and that's exactly what I would need to do with my students and so I started with that first class and then one class led to another, led to another, and then, the next year, I became full time and as they say, the rest is history. I’ve been teaching at Temple for 25 years. I could never have imagined that this went where it went. Meaning, that I have had the opportunity to do the kinds of classes that I have done and also the opportunity to be instrumental in getting this inside-out program started. I was surprised to win this award and it's a kind of very humbling thing because in many ways I have learned so much about teaching through the teaching process itself and through my students. I mean even the Inside-Out program, sure I can take some credit for it, but I really share the credit. And in fact, when I received the award at ASC, I said even that night that I wanted to share this award with the hundreds of instructors and the tens of thousands of students who have been involved in this program and I mean that in a very serious way. So it means a lot to me that something as cutting edge as Inside-Out was recognized as important in the criminology community.

DK: What is unique about the Inside-Out style of learning?

LP: The Inside-Out learning experience is very different on a number of levels. For example, where we do the learning is significant. As outside folks we are going into a prison and learning together with people who are living in that prison. It’s not a space that is neutral, there's a lot of complexity to it. So that's one of the things that's very important, the where. The who that’s involved, the two groups involved, are at first blush, seemingly two very different groups of people. One of the deep learnings that happens at Inside-Out is that it doesn’t really break down into two groups anymore once people start to talk together. People start to see the ways that they are similar, the ways that they’re connected rather than focusing on the differences between them. That’s a learning unto itself. One of the ways that we talk about inside-out is as examining social issues through the prism of prison and there's something very powerful about that even if the social issues aren't particularly about crime and justice. I mean, if they're just issues that we’re dealing with as a society when you look at them through that particular prism, through that particular perspective, it moves us to a different way of understanding things. In higher education when we think about community based learning, in my mind, Inside-Out is almost like the poster child for community-based learning because different from, say, service learning, we’re not going in to help people, we are going into the community and embedding ourselves in the community and learning together, all of us together, collaboratively and it’s a process through which everybody learns, everybody helps each other, everybody is helped to think in deeper and more critical ways about whatever it is that we are considering. And the final thing that I would say about the difference in Inside-Out learning is that it is focused on dialogue. A lot of this has to do with the idea of voice. I think there is a crying need for people to get in touch with their internal voice, and I'm not just talking about those who are incarcerated, I’m talking about students in our classrooms, in our higher education facilities. I watch throughout a semester how, students both inside and out, discover their unique voice and it is, at one in the same time, exciting and sad to me to see that happen, especially for students who are in our colleges and universities, because I think that what it’s uncovering is that in higher education people are not really encouraged to find their voice. They’re encouraged to learn a particular canon of knowledge and then regurgitate it back, but it’s entirely too rare that they are asked what they think. What I’m hoping that we do overtime through the process of higher education is sending people out into the world with a deeper ability to understand and enhanced ability to question and that happens when you asked people, “Well what do you think? What connections do you make here?” Rather than my just telling them what they need to know.

DK: How did you first get the idea for inside-out?

LP: I had been taking students into prisons and jails in the area and in 1995, I took a group of students to the state prison in Dallas, Pennsylvania, three hours away from Philadelphia. So we went there, I figured it would be just like the other trips that we had taken before. Little did I know that that day would be a life-changing day, certainly for me, because what happened was we toured the facility and then we sat down to talk with a group of men who were incarcerated at Dallas. I had never met any of these men before and the conversation that we had was quite extraordinary. So extraordinary that, really, people did not want it to end. We were talking about race, and class, and crime and justice and how it all connected and when we were finished one of the men from the panel, a gentleman named paul, came up to me and said, “Have you ever thought about doing this over a whole semester?” And I didn’t quite know what he meant and he explained “You know, like a seminar. We could have these kinds of conversations, we could read books together, write papers, just like this.” And I thought it was a great idea and I told him that, and I also said, “Unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to do it here because it’s really too far away I could never get students to sign up to travel that much for class, but I promised him that I would think about it and that’s all I could think about after that day! So I put some ideas down on paper, named it “The Inside-out Prison Exchange Program”, this idea of exchanging between and among inside and outside participants. I originally wanted to start it at Graterford Prison but the timing was such that when I was about to approach them, there was a raid on the prison and they shut the place down to all outside people and so I couldn’t go there then. I let it sit for a while and finally I approached the Philadelphia jails and in the fall of 1997, I held the first Inside-Out class and it was phenomenal. It was exactly what Paul had envisioned but even more. The exchange was just very powerful between people, and people learned certainly about crime and justice issues, because that’s what I teach, but also learned about themselves, other people, communication, about systems in society and about their own relationship to systems. It was just this very full, engaged experience, and people left there saying that it really had – I didn’t plan for this – but it really had changed their lives! So it was quite something.

DK: How has the program grown and expanded over the years?

LP: After I had taught the first Inside-Out class in the Philadelphia Jails I loved it so much that I taught it every semester. And then in 2000, a couple of other professors from Temple came to me with their own idea about a class that they wanted to do and I thought that was great and, frankly, I hadn't thought of anything beyond that. I just thought it was cool that two other people wanted to do this. And then, as luck would have it, at the end of, I think, 2001, I went back to Graterford after not having been there since the raid, so It was several years, and I went there for a tour and conversation with some of my students. So we toured the facility and then we sat and had a conversation with a group of men there. One of the men was Tyrone Werts, who I actually have known for many many years, and he said to me “Lori when are you gonna that thing you were telling me about before the raid?” I did not remember that I had said anything to anybody. So I told him “Well actually Tyrone, Graterford is where I wanted to do it to begin with” So he told me what to do, how to get it started there. But one of the wonderful things about this story is that after hearing back from Tyrone, the next day I received a letter from another guy at Graterford and I didn’t recognize his name. So I’m reading this letter and the gentleman in it said “I was talking with Tyrone, he was telling me about this program that you’re bringing here and I’m gonna help him to get it started here, I’m part of a committee that’s part of the lifers association and we’re very excited that you’re gonna bring it here” and then he said, and this was this kind of jaw dropping moment, he said “Now, you may remember me. I met you at Dallas. My name is Paul.” And so here the guy with the original had been transferred to Graterford, I had no idea, I had not kept in touch with him. It’s just this wonderfully, kind of full-circle experience. Where things went from there is really kind of interesting. We had our first class at Graterford it was so powerful that – this is gonna sound odd – but the group, that first class did not want to end and so we continued to meet. We started to meet every Wednesday night. We began in October of 2002. Believe it or not that group still meets every Wednesday night – with some different people who are apart of it – but we’ve been meeting consistently for 14 years. But what’s significant is that a couple of things came out of that group at the beginning: One of which was the idea to expand this opportunity beyond just Temple University and so we decided to make it into a national program. So I was able to get a fellowship from a foundation, gave me a pot of money that I was able to pay some people on the outside to work with the think-tank and to work with me. We came up with materials and a curriculum for a 7-day intensive training for instructors, an outreach strategy, a fundraising strategy, and then we had our very first training in July of 2004. It’s funny to look back now we were really nervous about that because we weren’t sure if anyone wanted to take the training. It ended up that we had 20 people at the first training which is way more than we had anticipated. Fast forwarding to today (2017), we’ve had 45 trainings, we have 700 instructors trained from throughout the United States and 9 other countries and how this has emerged over the years is fascinating because where we started out kind of focusing on people teaching crime and justice kinds of courses, invariably what would happen is people would get trained, go back to their campuses, do their classes and then talk with people in other departments and talk about, “You would love doing your, say, economics class, or theatre class, or whatever, sociology class in this sort of format why don’t you go and get trained?” And so where we had not been planning to make this a kind of interdisciplinary sort of program, it has turned out to be that. Also we certainly didn’t plan for it to go international but again, people talk to other people, other colleagues, and one by one we started to get people from around the world. One of the things that I love about inside-out is that essentially it has grown and evolved organically. Not that we don’t plan, we certainly do plan, but we plan in a very loose way and this program has moved into the future along the lines of how water finds its way and it's just a really beautiful thing.

DK: What’s next for the inside-out program for 2017?

LP: We have 6 more trainings happening and we have a 20th anniversary conference and that’s just very exciting we’ve been looking forward to it for a while. We also want to do more with taking the methodology and applying to non-carceral settings. We’re not sure yet what that's gonna look like but it has exciting possibilities.

DK: Lori thanks so much for speaking with me today.

LP: You are welcome this has been delightful!

DK: To learn more about the 2017 instructor training institutes and the 20th anniversary conference in October be sure to visit the website at insideoutcenter.org

DK: Lori talked about the central role that Paul played in the genesis of inside-out. Paul is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the state correctional institution at Graterford located about 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Paul has been incarcerated since the age of 19. He’s a founding member of the Graterford Think Tank and he’s also the 2014 recipient of the Marilyn Buck Award which is given to incarcerated or formerly incarcerated activists who work for justice. I spoke to Paul on the phone from Graterford Prison.

DK: Paul thanks for taking the time to speak with me. At your sentencing hearing back in 1977, the judge read excerpts from your personal file. That file included an education assessment which said that you were, among other things, not well adjusted to school, that you were suspended frequently, and that you were barely literate. But at some point later while serving your sentence you say that you fell in love with learning and you went on to earn a college degree. What do you think it was that sparked this change in your attitude toward education?

Paul: It kind of started with me doing a lot of introspection about myself. I began to try to use books and find out “how did I mess my life up? How did I end up in prison?” and several books that I came across helped me to change my life and spark my interest in literature and learning and studying and reading and education. Those books were Manchild in the Promised Land by Clark Brown, AJ Rogers – From “Superman” to Man, and Victor Frankl's Man’s Search for Meaning. And probably of those three, the book that had the most profound effect on my life and my interest and pursuit of education was Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I was kind of blown away by how he described how people found meaning in the Jewish camps and it kind of made me see “wow”, you know I’m doing life, but how do I make this meaningful? And that kind of sparked me to have an interest in education and to try to change and grow just from reading that book alone and that’s what really sparked my interest in education so I can say that it came from me trying to discover myself.

DK: Back in 1995 you were serving your sentence up at the state institution at Dallas, Pennsylvania. One day a criminal justice professor, Lori Pompa and her class from Temple University came up to visit. Could you describe what happened that day?

Paul: When Lori came I was actually asked to sit on a panel with several other lifers to talk to Lori’s criminal justice class and I didn’t know what it was about. I actually thought it was gonna be a class session, but we got on the panel and the first students began to ask us questions about what we thought about the criminal justice system, what it was like in prison, and I was kind of blown away. They were actually genuinely enthusiastic and wanted to hear what we thought and that kind of stimulated me. I thought that was a powerful thing that college students wanted to know what prisoners thought about the criminal justice system. We talk about the system among ourselves all the time but to have someone from the outside wanting to hear what we thought – I thought that was a powerful experience and I was very stimulated from their conversation and questions. At the end of the discussion I approached Lori and asked her what she thought about the idea of having a semester-long class on criminal justice with prisoners and outside students. Lori just kind of looked at me and I saw the spark in her eyes and she said something to the effect that “Wow, that sounds interesting!” And I asked her could I contact her and send her a proposal for doing a class at Dallas. So she gave me her contact information, but at the time, I was in litigation on my case and I never got back with her. So several years passed. In 1999 I was transferred to SCI-Graterford where I met Tyrone Werts who’s the president of the lifers organization here at the time, and now he works for Inside-Out, but at that time I’m in Tyrone’s cell we’re talking about life positions and stuff and I noticed he had a magazine or a newsletter. I’m not sure what it was, and I noticed that the newsletter they talked about a class of college students coming into the county prison for a semester-long course on criminal justice and I told Ty, I said, “Ty, I remember I had an idea like this I gave it to this lady that came up Dallas back in 95 and Ty told me, he asked me “was her name Lori Pompa?” and I said “I don’t remember I never got back with her” and he said, well, he knew Lori for years and in 95 she asked him “Could they have a class like that up here?” and she said a guy up Dallas gave her the idea, but since she couldn’t do it here in 95 she decided to try to do it in the County. So a long story short, Tyrone ran into her a couple weeks after we had that conversation and then came back and told me and said “Lori was here. She said ‘yeah I think that’s the guy who gave me the idea at Dallas”, and she told him that she always wanted to do it here at Graterford, the state prison, and asked him “Could we actually start a class here?” So Tyrone, and me, and another lifer, Stanley, got together and we drafted a proposal requesting permission to bring in an Inside-Out course under the offices of the Lifer’s association. And to our surprise, they approved it! After that, everything was history we had the first Inside-Out class at Graterford in 2002 I believe it was.

DK: Could you tell us about your experience in that first Inside-out class? How was it different than other classes you had taken before?

Paul: I’m gonna start off by saying this: Inside-Out was the most humanizing learning experience I’ve ever had in my life. In contrast to the traditional college classes where the instructor lectures us and we have to sit in rows of desks listening to lectures and taking tons of notes off the board and then regurgitating what we learned in the textbooks and assignments back in essay forms or multiple choice questions. Inside-Out was totally different, it's almost like a lived learning experience. There’s no lecturing. Lori Pompa started that class and she facilitated structures and activities while we engaged in dialogical conversations. The learning experience was much more than what’s learned about in textbook materials and assignments we read on criminal justice. We were able to put our conversations into context of our own personal lives. In that class, I learned much about myself, the criminal justice system, and the participants in the class. The incarcerated people and the college students, we became almost a cohesive one group almost instantly within the first few sessions. We spoke of so many common perspectives about life and ourselves which made the class more than just about criminal justice it was about life. I witnessed people in that class who were not that vocal but at the end of that class there were guys who were withdrawn and speaking their voice out loud and we were all able to see ourselves as equals in that class. There was no instructor, no college students, it was just us in the class, human beings, discussing issues that were relevant to us as individuals and us as a community.

DK: Paul you are one of the founding members of the Graterford Think Tank. What is the Graterford Think Tank and what kinds of projects is the group involved with?

Paul: The Graterford Think Tank came about after the first Inside-Out class we had in 2002. Like I said, we were so excited as a class, both the inside and outside participants said “We can’t end this, we must educate the public about this criminal justice system and other social issues.” So we contended to meet after that class once a week every Wednesday night from 6 to 8. The inside and the outside people, we started out doing workshops for the local colleges around Pennsylvania and community groups. After we started doing training to expand Inside-Out, the think-tank at Graterford became the hub for the national training. Three times a year the Inside-Out think tank does part of the Inside-Out international instructor training. We make it anywhere from 12 to 25 college instructors from around the country and abroad that come to Graterford 3 days out of the 7-day training. And the Inside-Out think tank, we kinda act as coaches in the training we design the inside part of the training where the college professors learn about the Inside-Out model, and that's probably one of our major activities is acting as trainers, we kinda like train the trainers in the inside-out model, but beyond that we meet every week and there's so many projects that we are working on. We’ve had conferences with the world conference of criminology. We did a conference with them and the lifers organization. We actually hosted a conference with members who attended the American Society of Criminology. We talk about a lot of social issues, racism, and stuff that’s connected to social justice.

DK: Paul, as you know, Lori Pompa won the 2016 teaching award from the American Society of Criminology. Do you have anything you want to say to Lori?

Paul: Yes, Lori I’ve witnessed you many times and you say the same to me. Lori you changed my life, but more importantly, I learned from you what being humble means, what being a leader means. I learned from you what being human means, and I can’t think of anybody in this world who has had a greater impact on me as far as education than you. You know, Lori is a humbling inspiration, you know she still blows me away that she showed me that ordinary people can do extraordinary things in life. She reinforced my belief in the possibility of the capacity to transform our world into anything we want it to be. I witnessed, you know, I was there, I seen it, and I participated and I made contributions to something that’s so much bigger than me, Lori, or anyone of us that’s involved in that. Inside-Out, I always believed that this program had the potential to change the world as we know it and it’s just so hard to think about “I knew the person that ran point on this program”. You know I try to make an analogy of her with Johnny Appleseed. She’s planted seeds all over the country and it’s spreading all over the world like she created a new form of an apple tree or something. I never really knew how to tell Lori how proud I am of her. I actually wrote a letter in support of her nomination for lifetime achievement and even in that letter I couldn’t really express the depth of gratitude and admiration I have for her.

DK: To register for one of the Inside-Out faculty training institutes, visit our website at insideoutcenter.org. Thanks for listening to the Inside-Out podcast. Tune in again to hear more stories about a model of education with the power to bring about social change.

About the Show:
This podcast tells stories from The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, an international educational program with an innovative pedagogical approach tailored to effectively facilitate dialogue across difference. It originated as a means of bringing together campus-based college students with incarcerated students for a semester-long course held in a prison, jail or other correctional setting. This podcast is produced by The Inside-Out Center, which trains and equips higher education instructors to teach courses comprised of incarcerated and non-incarcerated students.

About the Program:
The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program is an educational program with an innovative approach to learning designed to facilitate dialogue across difference. It started in 1997 and originated as a means to bring together campus-based college students and incarcerated students for a semester-long course held in a correctional setting. This educational model has been replicated across the United States and in multiple countries since its inception over 20 years ago. It has grown into an international network of more than 1,000 trained faculty, more than 38,000 alumni, over 30 think tanks, and hundreds of higher education and correctional administrators, who have sponsored these classes over the years. Inside-Out seeks to bring about "Social Change Through Transformative Education."


funding button
Paul and Lori in conversation
Paul and Lori in conversation following a recent Inside-Out training at SCI-Phoenix.

Inside-Out training
Lori Pompa leading a session at an Inside-Out Instructor Training Institute at the Pendle Hill Conference Center in Pennsylvania.

SCI Graterford
The gate leading into the State Correctional Institution at Graterford located outside Philadelphia.