Students inside and outside correctional units attend the same “Inside-Out” class
Imagine a class so meaningful to students that one says it’s life-changing, while another pledges to cherish the experience she’s having for the rest of hers. A third call it the most important course he has taken in his degree program.
Yet another, an exchange student from England, says the class was one of the main reasons she decided to spend her year abroad at Arizona State University.
“The course taught me to see beyond a person’s current situation or past choices to see who they really are and what a difference we can make in our own lives,” she said.
CRJ 317, known as Inside-Out, is coordinated by the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program and is offered by the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.
An equal number of “outside” students from ASU campuses and “inside” students from a local prison are members of the class. They meet weekly in person at a state correctional facility. With guidance from their instructors, students ask and answer each other’s questions while sharing and comparing life inside and outside the correctional system and seeking ways to improve it.
The 2022 spring semester chapter meets at a women’s medium security unit in Goodyear, Arizona, led by criminology and criminal justice doctoral students Caitlin Matekel and Danielle Haverkate. Previous sections have involved incarcerated male students, while the current semester is only the second to include students living in a women’s facility.
Internal and external students must meet the same requirements
All 20 students in the course use the same curriculum and must meet the same class requirements, said Associate Professor Kevin Wright, director of the ASU Center for Correctional Solutions.
Wright taught the first course offered in Arizona in the spring semester of 2016, and several sections since. He said financial contributions to the Inside-Out Prison Exchange fund pay for books, fees and travel expenses for students taking the course.
“With this support, students inside and outside the correctional system will be able to collaborate on solutions to improve the system,” he said.
External students quoted in this story are identified only by their first names in order to protect their privacy.
“Inside-Out is life-changing,” said class member Shayna. “I gained new perspectives that inspired and solidified my passion to enter the field of criminal justice. I am grateful for the impact of this program and for the people involved who have all contributed immensely to the lives of others.
Neil, another member of the class, said it was the most important class he had taken since he was in ASU’s Criminology and Criminal Justice program.
“The concepts, institutions and issues of our justice system now have real faces and real people attached to them, and it’s incredibly powerful to bring concepts I’ve spent years learning to life into a class setting,” Neil said. “I would highly recommend this program to any major (criminology and criminal justice); the benefits of taking the course cannot be overstated.”
“These women will never be forgotten”
Another class member, Shannon, said she greatly appreciates the opportunity the class gives students to be in a room with 20 students and two instructors from different backgrounds coming together to talk.
“We are all different and have our own stories, but we can connect in ways no one could have imagined,” said Shannon, who said she overcame initial doubts about the class. “I’m so glad I didn’t back down because I wouldn’t change that for the world. I will cherish this semester for the rest of my life. These women will never be forgotten.
Eleanor, the exchange student from England, said her Inside-Out enrollment was a major influence on her decision to travel several thousand miles to spend a year at ASU.
“The course touched me in many personal ways and reinforced my own intentions to start a career in the future that can improve the criminal justice system and the corrections system,” Eleanor said. “I hope to see more courses like these offered, and hopefully I can begin the process of convincing my home university to bring back their version of the Inside-Out program.”
Inside-Out was founded at Temple University in 1997, when the first class met inside the Philadelphia prison system. Nearly a quarter century later, its more than 1,200 trained instructors from nearly every state and 12 other countries have served more than 60,000 students.
Matekel said she and Haverkate prepare carefully before the semester begins to choose the outdoor and indoor students who are best suited to the environment: people, she said, who are ready to commit. .
Matekel said the students have “cultivated a very safe space” for each individual to interact and collaborate.
“They set strong boundaries from the start, but after that we ask participants to decide for themselves what they want to share and how,” she said. “Our students are incredibly patient with each other. It’s amazing to see. In one activity, we asked students if they were going to slow down or speed up time. The discussion that followed was amazing.
Matekel said students learn to make an impact now rather than waiting for graduation or release from incarceration.
“They have powerful conversations. It’s an opportunity to experience the world they will enter at the start of their career, to see what the system is really like. she says.
Wright said one of his favorite indicators of how students are enjoying the class is when they complain that it won’t meet over spring break.
“They say, ‘Can’t we come in yet?’ “, he said.