CONVICTS BECOME CLASSMATES

As a part of our multi-platform public media initiative, “Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America,” we take you inside Monmouth University’s academic exchange program where students get an education on mass incarceration inside a maximum security prison.

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

Aired May 31, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

> FOR THOSE WHO ARE INCARCERATED, EDUCATION IS A KEY MEANS OF REHABILITATION WITH A GOAL OF DECREASING RECIDIVISM ACCORDING TO THE BUREAU INSTITUTE OF JUSTICE.

THE STUDY OF BUREAU EDUCATION SHOWS 43% INMATES ARE MORE LIKELY TO REMAIN LAW ABADING WHEN RELEASED IF THEY ARE INVOLVED IN THE PROGRAMS.

MONTH MATHEW UNIVERSITY AND THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION HAVES TEAMED UP TO BRING TOGETHER NOT ONLY THE PRISON COMMUNITIES BUT STUDENTS FROM TRADITIONAL ACADEMIC COMMUNITIES TO ENGAGE IN A NEW TYPE OF EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGE.

AS A PART OF OUR CHASING THE DREAM INITIATIVE ON POVERTY AND OPPORTUNITY IN AMERICA, WE'RE GOING INSIDE THE PROGRAM THAT'S PROVIDING LESSONS IN LOCKUP FOR INMATES AND STUDENTS ALIKE.

JOINING ME NOW WITH AN INSIDER VIEW MONTH MATHEW UNIVERSITY DIRECTOR OF SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR JOHANNA FOREST AND ELIZABETH CAR MINE A SENIOR WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE PROGRAM WELCOME TO BOTH OF.

YOU THANKS.

JOHANNA GIVE US A SENSE OF CONTEXT AND TALK ABOUT THIS CONCEPT THAT'S BEEN DESCRIBED AS THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE.

SURE.

WHAT WE MEAN BY THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE IS REALLY A SET OF INSTITUTIONAL PRACTICES AND POLICIES THAT TARGET, LABEL AND CRIMINALIZE DISPROERLGSLY STUDENTS OF COLOR AND PUSH THEM AWAY FROM EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION ATTENTION AWAY FROM MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING SERVICES AND INTO CUSTODY WHETHER THE JUVENILE FACILITIES EARLY YERL OR THE ADULT PRISONS.

YOU THEN HAD DECIDED ALONG WITH SOME OTHER FOLKS AS MONTH MOUTH THAT WE HAD AN IDEA TO DEAL WITH THAT COULD BRING THE STUDENTS INTO THE PICTURE INVEST THEM WITH AN INVOLVEMENT IN THIS.

HOW DID THIS IDEA EVOLVE.

WELL MY COLLEAGUE HE WILL MORE NOVAK IN COMMUNICATION WE'VE BEEN DOING PRISON WORK ABOUT 15 YEARS OR SO BUT NEVER HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO BRING THE STUDENTS INSIDE THE CORRECTIONAL SETTING.

AND WHAT WE REALLY WANTED TO DO WAS TO CREATE A SHARED SPACE WHEREAS YOU SAID STUDENTS FROM TRADITIONAL ACADEMIC COMMUNITIES AND PRISON COMMUNITIES COULD HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO HUMANIZE EACH OTHER AND REALLY BEGIN A CONVERSATION WHERE WE COULD BREAK DOWN STEREOTYPES THAT BOTH GROUPS MAY HOLD ABOUT ONE ANOTHER.

AND SO WE FELT THAT THE ACADEMIC EXCHANGE PROGRAM WAS A GOOD PLACE TO START.

ELIZABETH WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST REACTION WHEN YOU HEARD ABOUT IT.

I WAS A LITTLE CONFUSED AT FIRST HONESTLY BECAUSE THE IDEA OF HAVING A CLASS IN A PRISON WAS SOMETHING I NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE.

AND I SHOULD SAY MONMOUTH HAS THIS MAGNIFICENT BEAUTIFUL CAMPUS.

YES.

YOU GO DRAMATICALLY FROM ONE CLASS LOCATION -- I'VE BEEN IN THE TRENTON PRISON.

IT'S HIGH SECURITY.

IT'S A FRIGHTENING PLACE.

YOUR FIRST THOUGHT WAS HUH?

YES.

SO I HAD NEVER HAD ANY EXPERIENCE WITH PRISON BUT I HAD NEVER DONE A TOUR OR ANYTHING.

WHEN I HEARD ABOUT IT I WASN'T REALLY SURE.

BUT I THOUGHT I REALLY WAS INTERESTED IN LEARNING ABOUT THE TOPIC.

I WANTED TO GIVE IT A TRY.

AND ONCE WE DID THE FIRST TOUR OF A MORE LOCAL PRISON IT BECAME CLEAR THAT I WANTED TO DO THE CLASS INSIDE, BECAUSE I JUST REALLY WANTED TO KNOW MORE.

AND I WANTED THE OPPORTUNITY TO MEET WITH THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE INSIDE THE FACILITIES.

SO HOW WAS THE PROGRAM THEN GOING TO BE STRUCTURED?

SURE.

ONCE A WEEK FOR TWO HOURS A WEEK WE TOOK EIGHT UNIVERSITY STUDENTS INSIDE THE PRISON TO STUDY WITH 11 STUDENTS INSIDE.

TWO FACULTY MEMBERS.

AND THE FACULTY MEMBERS SET FORTH THE CURRICULUM IN BROAD STROKES.

WE KNEW THAT WE WANTED TO TALK ABOUT THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE.

AND GIVE BOTH GROUPS THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE THEIR LIVED EXPERIENCES, AND TO EXAMINE TOGETHER A CURRICULUM.

BUT FROM THERE IT WAS A PARTICIPATORY LEARNING MODEL.

STUDENTS TOOK THE LEAD IN DECIDING WHAT THEY WANTED TO STUDY AND BRING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY.

IT'S ONE THING TO SAY TO YOURSELF, IN THE ABSTRACT, I'M GOING INTO A PRISON ENVIRONMENT AND I'M GOING TO INTERACT WITH PRISON INMATES.

THE FIRST TIME YOU WALKED IN THE DOOR -- I REMEMBER I TALKED WITH PEOPLE WHEN I WAS A PROSECUTOR THE FIRST TIME I WALKED IN THAT PRISON AND THE DOOR SLAMMED BEHIND ME AND I KNEW I'M A PROSECUTOR I CAN LEAVE WHENEVER I WANT.

IT WAS STILL A VERY SHORT OF TROUBLING MOMENT.

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION THE FIRST TIME YOU WALKED IN.

WELL THE FIRST TIME I WALKED IN IT WAS HONESTLY A LITTLE FRIGHTENING.

ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IT IS A A MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON.

SO GETTING THROUGH SECURITY ITSELF WAS PRETTY IN-DEPTH AND SO MANY RULES AND REGULATIONS ABOUT WHAT WE COULD WEAR AND WHAT WE COULD BRING IN AND JUST GOING THROUGH THAT PROCESS AND BEING WITH THE OFFICERS, IT DID FEEL FRIGHTENING WE HAD TO WAIT AT THE BUZZER TO GO THROUGH THE NEXT DOOR AND SHOW THE IDs APPEAR THROUGH THE NEXT DOOR.

IT FEELS LIKE YOU'RE LOCKED INSIDE THIS INSTITUTION.

AND SO IT WAS DEFINITELY TOUGH TO GET USED TO THE FIRST FEW TIMES WE WENT INSIDE.

WHEN YOU WOULD GET THERE, WHAT WERE THE ACTUAL INTERACTION BETWEEN THE STUDENTS AND FACULTY MEMBERS AND THE INMATES.

WE WOULD GO IN THE CLASSROOM AND THE OUTSIDE STUDENTS GOT THERE FIRST AND WAIT UNTIL THE INSIDE CLASSMATES GOT INSIDE AND SIT IN A BIG CIRCLE.

AND WE WOULD PUT ONE INSIDE STUDENT AND THEN ONE OUTSIDE STUDENT.

WE SAT NEXT.

THAT'S THE WAY YOU REFERRED TO THEM AN INSIDE STUDENT AND OUTSIDE STUDENT.

YES.

NOT AS INMATE.

YES WE WERE ALL STUDENTS.

CAN I ASK A QUESTION?

KWIE ARE WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT JOHANNA LET ME SEE WHY WAS THAT IMPORTANT.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT INCARCERATED FOLKS DEAL WITH IN OUR SOCIETY AND ELSEWHERE IS THE STIGMA OF BEING INCARCERATED.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT THE STUDENTS ON THE INSIDE REALLY WANTED THE STUDENTS ON THE OUTSIDE AND IN THE COMMUNITY TO KNOW IS THAT THEY'RE MORE THAN JUST THE MISTAKE THEY MADE THAT GOT THEM IN THE FACILITY.

IT'S A WONDERFUL PROGRAM JOHANNA THANK YOU FOR ASPEN BEING TIME WITH US.

ELIZABETH THANK YOU.

GOOD LUCK TO YOU YOU GRADUATED AND HEADING OUT TO THE PEACE CORPS.

YOU ARE INDEED SOMEONE THE UNIVERSITY CAN BE ROUD OF.

THANKS FOR JOIPG US.

YOU BOTH BE WELL.

THANK YOU.

THANK YOU.

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