after nearly a year and a half of training, planning, and negotiating with administrators from the oregon department of corrections, i'm teaching my first inside-out course in the oregon state penitentiary this quarter. the inside-out program brings university students inside prisons to study for a quarter or semester with inmates -- it's a true collaborative learning experience to help to "break down the walls" between the inside students and the outside students.
my course is a special topics course on "crime, justice, and public policy" and will include 12 senior-level undergraduates and 3 graduate students from oregon state university. with very little advertising, i had nearly 40 students who were interested in taking the class and i had to make difficult decisions to choose only 15. assuming all goes well, i am planning to repeat the course in summer, and i have 15 students waiting to take it then.
i also had to choose 15 inside students. after advertising the class in the prison, there were 36 men who were interested and met the eligibilty requirements (including have to spend their scarce resources to buy the text books used in the course). i met with them all in two large sessions, talked about the class, answered their questions, and had them write short answers about why they wanted to take the class, what they hoped to get from it, etc. again, after choosing 15 for next quarter, i have nearly 15 more planning to take the course in the summer. the 15 inside students have varied circumstances: 6 are serving life sentences, two have release dates in 2008, and the rest fall somewhere in between. at least one of the inside students has served more than 20 years. another was a first-time offender incarcerated at 17, so prison is most of what he knows about the world. one common feature these men share is that they are all so excited for this opportunity, so anxious to learn, and eager to try to improve themselves.
this will be a fascinating quarter. our first class meets on january 10th, although i 've got two big training sessions for the department of corrections and the penitentiary between now and then. the set-up has taken an incredible amount of time, but i've had incredible support from both oregon state university and the oregon state penitentiary. we'll be the first inside out class in a men's prison (and, in fact, the only maximum-security prison in the state) on the west coast, so i do feel a lot of pressure to make sure it goes well.
in a way, this post is a good match for chris's last post on soc of deviance in the real world. while he was able to reflect on what his students took from his deviance course to use in their lives outside of the classroom, i'm anticipating all of the life experiences that my varied group of students will bring into my course. i suspect i'll learn at least as much as they do.
because this feels like an important form of public criminology, i'll try to post updates on the blog for anyone who is interested. comments, suggestions, and feedback are all welcome!