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Inside-Out Prison Exchange Course Expands Beyond Criminal Justice Courses

April 29, 2013

Inside-Out program

Last spring, Drexel’s first Inside-Out course offered students the chance to get out of the classroom and learn in a prison. Now, more than a year later, the five Inside-Out courses that will be held for the summer term of the 2013-14 school year will let students learn not only at a prison but also at a farm, a senior citizen home and an enterprise center.

The increase in the number and variety of Inside-Out courses is thanks to sociology professor Cyndi Rickards, who taught the Inside-Out “Prison, Society and You” Criminal Justice 380 course last spring. Rickards was instrumental in organizing a Drexel version of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which was founded by Temple University founder Lori Pompa to form a partnership between higher education institutions and correctional systems to address issues of social concern.

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program aims for college students and prisoners to work together while studying and discussing the issues as peers. Since its founding in 1997, the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program has been used across the country and Canada, though the universities participating in the program do not necessarily have to offer criminal justice or prison-based Inside-Out courses.

After holding a faculty information session in January 2012 to gauge interest, Rickards and other faculty members agreed to a pilot program that would offer a Drexel-only program. Over the summer, 10 faculty and staff members underwent training to learn how to organize similar Inside-Out programs in alternative settings that would still allow students to interact and engage with incarcerated people, or “inside” people, on whatever topic they would be studying.

Danie Greenwell, who will be teaching “Healthy Green Spaces: Urban Farming & Community Organizing” as a Communications 380 and Sociology 380 course this summer, attended the training session at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Graterford. She spoke with inmates about Rickards’ plan to take the interactive Inside-Out course program of study and apply it to other “institutions” that weren’t correctional institutions.

“We realized that the course could work beyond institutions and in neighboring communities,” Greenwell said. “This in no way equates the populations, but simply adopts a great education model for beginning to build ties between communities.”

The fruits of their labor are apparent about a year later, as Drexel’s Community Inside-Out program is now offering three courses in the College of Arts and Sciences, one course in the LeBow College of Business, and one course in the College of Nursing and Health Professionals.

Only one of the courses, “Health Promotion: Self-Care Inside Out,” will take students to a correctional facility. The Nursing 480 course will be taught by Dr. Louise Ward, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, and will take place in the State Correctional Institute at Chester. The partnership was secured by the Inside-Out headquarters office at Temple University.

According to Ward, the students will have a learning experience that is completely different than the normal classroom setting.

“We as guests will need to abide by [SCI Chester] rules, which can seem extreme: no keys, no cell phones or other electronic devices, no skirts, no shorts, no flip-flops and a whole host of additional wardrobe restrictions, as well as behavior restrictions,” Ward says.

The coursework will also be unique, Ward said, as the discussion- and activity-based course won’t involve computers, slides, videos or lectures.

“I thought it was a remarkable opportunity for students in the health professions to ‘get to know’ people who seem very different from them,” Ward said. “Our students are told over and over again that they will ‘work with vulnerable populations’ but the opportunities to get to know ‘vulnerable populations’ as equals in the classroom are limited. “

“Healthy Green Spaces: Urban Farming & Community Organizing” will be involved with The Enterprise Center (TEC), a community development corporation located at 4548 Market Street. TEC started the Walnut Hill Community Farm at 46th and Market streets, where Greenwell had planted fruit and nut trees as one of the founding board members of the Philadelphia Orchard Project. Her ties with TEC and the Walnut Hill Community Farm allowed her to use both spaces to teach students how to use community partnerships to create “green” spaces. The students will work with West Philadelphia residents to work on building healthy green spaces.

“As the students leave the course and move on to the next stage of their life, I hope they apply the skills they learned in the course—not only to become better at their jobs—but also to become more engaged and thoughtful citizens,” Greenwell says.

“Intro to Entrepreneurship: A Community of Entrepreneurs,” which is the Management 260 course taught by John B. Hoffman, an adjunct professor in the LeBow College of Business, will also be involved with TEC. His class will work with minority entrepreneurs and other members of the local business community to discuss how to create a successful business entity in a community environment.

“My goal is for students to develop a real understanding of what it takes to make a business go and that being an entrepreneur is not limited to people who work in technology. People that make and sell things for a profit are entrepreneurs, too,” he said.

The Writing 304 class “Once Upon a Lifetime (So Far…),” taught by adjunct assistant professor Cassandra Hirsch, will have students work with local senior citizens on individual and collaborative efforts at memoir writing.

The College of Arts and Sciences’ last Inside-Out course, Criminal Justice 380, offers the same credit that Rickards’ first Inside-Out course gave spring term 2012. It is now offered as “Urban Housing and Community Health” and will be taught by Regina Gendusa. The students will learn about past and current affordable housing policies and then work to create alternative solutions.

According to Rickards, the criminal justice program is now requiring the corrections course to be an Inside-Out course available each spring.

“For now, the course will run as a special topics, CJ 380. We will need to take it before the curriculum committee in the future or designate the corrections course to be taught only in the correctional facility,” she said.

Rickards is now working on broadening the Inside-Out course options so more students, like engineering students, will have the opportunity to experience the alternative classroom model.

“Students have repeatedly said this should be a required experience and we’re hoping to figure that out,” Rickards said.