Learning from each other Inside-Out

Group photo of an Inside-Out class

Learning from each other Inside-Out

Note: Photo taken pre-pandemic

By Colleen Bradley, Communications Intern

Creating dialogue, immersing students in unfamiliar environments and encouraging experiential learning are all part of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Programs mission. Inside-Out brings incarcerated and non-incarcerated college students together in an educational environment within a prison, where they can learn side by side with students of different backgrounds than them.

Once students are approved by their Ohio State professor and enrolled in the course, they attend class once-a-week for three hours over the course of a semester in a prison. There are a variety of courses the students can take from criminal justice to womens, gender, and sexuality studies. Each classroom is composed of equal amounts of incarcerated and non-incarcerated students. However, whether incarcerated or non-incarcerated, they are all Ohio State students earning grades toward a degree.

While the courses teach them about a specific subject, the experiential learning aspect is the main focus. Through small group activities, brainstorming, writing and presentations, students receive intellectual stimulation in an unfamiliar environment.

"Particularly for the inside students, they appreciate the intellectual stimulation that the class provides," explains Tiyi Morris, associate professor of African American and African Studies. "There are some educational opportunities available in many facilities, but I think the Inside-Out classes in particular, since they are coming from a perspective of humanities and social sciences, offer the insiders a different way to engage intellectually with the material and also with other people who do this on a regular basis. It gives them a different type of learning environment."

"Having interaction with people that they cant have interaction with on a regular basis can really open up their lives in ways that a prison setting closes down purposefully," continues Mary Thomas, associate professor of Womens, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. "Our philosophy is that this can help peoples reentry and their adjustment coming back and will hopefully allow them to have a clearer path to higher education once released."

At the end of each course, there is a group project, usually consisting of a presentation on a topic related to the course, such as a grant proposal or policy proposal. Taken from the autumn 2019 classs final project report, one of the students, Terry Green, talks about the impact the class had on him.

"I took the Inside-Out program fall 2011, and it was one of the best programs that I took while I was incarcerated...In 2015, I had the opportunity to share my story as a PowerPoint presentation for a senior humanities class at OSU. That 20-minute PowerPoint presentation was entitled 'Think, Make, Live' which I shared how I think of a change for my life, start making changes within my actions and now living a positive lifestyle."

Green now runs a social enterprise by the same name Think, Make, Live.

Not only does this program benefit the inside students, but it also opens the eyes of the outside students. They are challenged to think differently about incarceration and see first-hand the issues that come along with mass incarceration. Additionally, the outside students usually find commonalities that they share with the inside students, building that bridge of understanding and empathy.

Working with Inside-Out since 2009, Angela Bryant, associate professor of Sociology and Ohio State coordinator of Inside-Out says, "I learn as much from my students every semester teaching Inside-Out as they do learning from me or each other."

This program would not be able to do the great work that it does without the help of its partners, especially the Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme, which is the programs biggest funder. They also work closely with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, the wardens of the facilities at which they teach, Ohio States Office of Outreach and Engagement, and the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Center in Philadelphia.

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Center in Philadelphia is helping the Ohio State Inside-Out team with its training that is taking place at the university in spring 2021. They are looking to expand and grow their programing and network, especially by gaining more faculty and teachers. They specifically want to recruit more science, math, and humanities professors.

Inside-Out is truly making a difference in the community. They are proving that interacting first-hand with unfamiliar people and places can diminish stereotypes and start a dialogue about issues that need solutions.

Interested in being trained to teach Inside-Out courses at Ohio State? Participate in an Ohio State-exclusive Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program training in spring 2021, in partnership with the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Dates will be announced when they are finalized. Email Mary Thomas at thomas.1672@osu.edu for more information.