Wednesday, January 31, 2007

midterm evaluations and small groups

during my term as a piece of furniture consisting of a seat, legs, back, and often arms, designed to accommodate one person, i'm at least partially responsible for the content of faculty meetings. at the request of undergraduate advisor ann miller, we allocated fifteen minutes of monday's meeting to a presentation on the use of mid-semester course evaluations.

a representative from the minnversity's center for teaching and learning introduced a model called student feedback through consensus. here's how it works: a consultant comes to your class, asks students what's working and what changes they would recommend, and meets with you confidentially to share the results. in the next lecture, you can then reflect the students' concerns, reiterate your priorities, and explain your response to the recommendations.

i'm not sure i'll use a consultant, but i always try to evaluate my courses as i teach them. i distribute midterm evaluation forms, with the first few questions mirroring those on my official end-of-semester evaluation forms. the front side of the form consists of likert-type items (e.g., the lectures are clear and well-organized; the professor is available to me outside of class; the professor resembles "beavis"), with some open-ended items on the reverse (e.g., would you like me to lecture more on readings? more discussion of hot topics? more theory applications and examples? whaddayawant?; do you think the exam format and grading have been fair? why or why not?).

when i reflect their responses, it gives me the chance to show the diversity of tastes and expectations in the class (e.g., some people really like my riffs on theory) and to reiterate my priorities and goals for the semester. i am usually open to changing test formats and will occasionally trim a reading or two, but students typically request much simpler changes. for example, i've been asked to put black-and-white rather than color handouts online, saving them a few dollars in printer cartridges. i also try to throw a few fun questions into the mix, which seems to liven up the discussion.

i'm convinced that midterm evaluations can simultaneously enhance student learning and one's end-of-semester evaluations. they provide a quick heads-up on students who are really upset and an opportunity to clarify misinterpretations or make good on mistakes. for example, a student last year felt my delinquency class had an anti-immigrant bias, primarily because my social disorganization theory lectures and readings tied immigration to disorder and high crime rates. i appreciated the opportunity to get another shot at teaching these ideas and the students seemed to appreciate a more thorough discussion of immigration and crime. they certainly nailed the disorganization question on their final exams.

despite my support for midterm evaluations, i was a little nervous during monday's faculty meeting. at the start of the midterm evaluation presentation, our speaker asked our busy faculty to form small groups and set them to work on a task. uh-oh, i thought. even though many of us ask students to form small groups for class exercises, i didn't know whether her task would fly. how would your colleagues react if they were asked to get into small groups at the next faculty meeting?

i'm happy to report that the exercise was useful and thought-provoking. i'm even happier to report that my colleagues jumped into the unexpected task with good will and a bit of enthusiasm (perhaps because the speaker was well-organized and stuck to her allotted fifteen minutes). even so, i can imagine a few professors in a few departments being somewhat less cooperative. we didn't complete any evaluations for the session, but i suspect they would have been quite positive.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

the inside-out class, week 3

we finally had a relatively healthy group and all 30 students made it to our inside-out class on wednesday night. the oregon department of corrections is currently in the news as the food buyer for all oregon prisons is accused shady dealings and of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. the story broke earlier in the week and i thought it might be useful to give our inside students a chance to comment.

they seemed to believe that the DOC is guilty of nepotism on a large scale, and they were very well-informed as to the details of the current case. as the oregonian reports, fred monem appeared to have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars, reducing the system's daily meal costs by 40 percent: "Under special procurement rules, Monem aggressively pursued distressed and bulk foods on the spot market. The savings have helped Oregon regularly rank among the lowest in the nation for per-inmate food costs." monem also apparently thought quite well of himself. in his 2005 performance review, he gave himself very high marks: "Continually striving to exceed professional and ethical standards," he wrote of his work, "as well as setting the highest measurement as a role model for fellow staff members."

hmm. unfortunately, it seems that while buying distressed and expiring food for inmate consumption, monem collected more than $600,000 in kickbacks over the last 5 years. while his state salary was around $75,000, monem was driving a $77,000 BMW; when federal agents searched monem's home and safe deposit box, they found more than $530,000 in cash.

so, i thought it important to give our inside students a chance to talk about prison food and air their indignation. they took the opportunity and shared many stories about the food and problems with the system with the outside students. a piece that i have heard now from three different sources (including the oregonian story) is that inmates were repeatedly fed bait fish from boxes clearly marked "not fit for human consumption."

the monem case led into the question of why individuals commit crime and we discussed in small groups some of the theories/explanations (social learning, social control, etc.) for such behavior. i'm pleased to say that the inside students -- most of whom have no background in sociology or criminology at all -- are struggling through the academic readings and doing a very good job of making connections between the theories and their own evidence and understanding of causes of crime. in fact, one of my inside students wrote a sophisticated essay discussing four different theories -- above and beyond what was required in the assignment and by far the best paper of the week. they are making the most of this opportunity.

finally, for now, because the prison water is a bit suspect, the administration arranged for us to share bottled water during class. the first 2 weeks we had a couple of gallon jugs waiting for us; this week, there were 31 individual bottles along with a note saying that i needed to make sure we got back all 31 bottles before anyone left. apparently, they can be used to make "pruno" in the cells, so the administation wanted to make sure none of our inside students left with contraband.

in our closing circle, one of the men made the week's most memorable statement when he said: "i knew about bottled water, but i've been in since 1983 and this is my first ever bottle of water."

small privileges and a lot to think about. wednesdays have become nearly all of the oregon inside-outers' favorite night. i'll say it again: i can't wait for next week!

Friday, January 26, 2007

times piece on the felon class

yesterday's sharp new york times editorial picks up on some themes discussed here and in pubcrim. very cool to see social facts escape the maximum security confinement of academic journal articles. here's the piece:

Closing the Revolving Door
The United States is paying a heavy price for the mandatory sentencing fad that swept the country 30 years ago. After a tenfold increase in the nation’s prison population — and a corrections price tag that exceeds $60 billion a year — the states have often been forced to choose between building new prisons or new schools. Worse still, the country has created a growing felon caste, now more than 16 million strong, of felons and ex-felons, who are often driven back to prison by policies that make it impossible for them to find jobs, housing or education.

Congress could begin to address this problem by passing the Second Chance Act, which would offer support services for people who are leaving prison. But it would take more than one new law to undo 30 years of damage:

Researchers have shown that inmates who earn college degrees tend to find jobs and stay out of jail once released. Congress needs to revoke laws that bar inmates from receiving Pell grants and that bar some students with drug convictions from getting other support. Following Washington’s lead, the states have destroyed prison education programs that had long since proved their worth.

People who leave prison without jobs or places to live are unlikely to stay out of jail. Congress should repeal the lifetime ban on providing temporary welfare benefits to people with felony drug convictions. The federal government should strengthen tax credit and bonding programs that encourage employers to hire people with criminal records. States need to stop barring ex-offenders from jobs because of unrelated crimes — or arrests in the distant past that never led to convictions.

Congress should deny a request from the F.B.I. to begin including juvenile arrests that never led to convictions (and offenses like drunkenness or vagrancy) in the millions of rap sheets sent to employers. That would transform single indiscretions into lifetime stigmas.

Curbing recidivism will also require doing a lot more to provide help and medication for the one out of every six inmates who suffer mental illness.

The only real way to reduce the inmate population — and the felon class — is to ensure that imprisonment is a method of last resort. That means abandoning the mandatory sentencing laws that have filled prisons to bursting with nonviolent offenders who are doomed to remain trapped at the very margins of society.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

cool grad opportunity for policy work with mathematica

Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Summer Fellowship Program
Pursuing Self-Directed, Issues-Oriented Research

Who: Students enrolled in a master's or Ph.D. program in public policy or a social science. Qualified minority students are encouraged to apply.

What: Up to five summer fellowships with a stipend of $6,000 for full participation ($2,000 per month) plus $500 toward project-related expenses.

When: June 1 to August 31, 2007 (approximately)

Where: Princeton, NJ, Washington, DC, and Cambridge, MA

Why: To pursue independent research on a policy issue of relevance to the economic and social problems of minority groups. To expose students to social policy research in a non-academic environment.

How: Submit the following to Human Resources, Princeton office, by March 16, 2007:
• A resume
• A proposal (minimum 2,000 words) for the research project you hope to pursue, including a clear statement of the research question, its relevance to social policy affecting minorities, and the steps necessary to complete the project during the fellowship period
• Undergraduate and graduate transcripts
• Two letters of recommendation, including one from a sponsoring faculty member

For more information, visit our website at: or contact:

Karen Chaffkin
Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
P.O.Box 2393
Princeton, NJ 08543-2393
Phone: 609 716-4396
Fax: 609-799-0005

Sunday, January 21, 2007

from thug to dork for under ten dollars

i jog at night while dressed in black. clever lad, eh? so i was gifted with a cateye ld100 flashing red safety light for christmas. i didn't really want to wear it, but then again i didn't really want to find bits of myself stuck to the undercarriage of a ford f-150 either. so i gave it a try.

as expected, the light seems to increase my visibility to impatient motorists. but there's an unexpected side benefit as well: other walkers and runners now find me infinitely less threatening. see, any hard-running dude in a black hoodie represents a potential threat. but a hard-running dude with a flashing red safety light is immediately recognizable as a harmless dork. surely no predator would draw attention to himself in this way.

it surely makes my late-night encounters more friendly. i'll still cross the street when i come upon a woman walking alone, but there's no longer that awkward moment in which my intentions are subject to question. nevertheless, while the flashing light reassures people, their dogs are another matter. the light doesn't seem to incite them, thank goodness, though a black lab once cocked his head and shot me a sneer, as if to say, whatta dork...

the inside-out class, week 2

our second full class meeting of the inside-out class at the oregon state penitentiary went well. unfortunately, one of our outside students forgot her ID and was not allowed into the institution; she was very disappointed but a visitor's ID is his/her ticket into and out of the prison, and there was no way to get it from corvallis (approx. 40 miles away) in time.

we made our way into the prison and up several flights of stairs to the education hall and waited for our inside students to join us. we started the class with a quick icebreaker and then the inside/outside students worked in small groups together to discuss a hypothetical scenario and figure out "who is most reprehensible" in the story. it was an interesting discussion of values and motivation, which led into a full group discussion of potential causes of crime/deviance. with that as the lead in, i then began discussion of the books and theories i've assigned.

one interesting point that came out was the inside (OSP) students' belief that the outside (OSU) students should be admired for the tough choices they made to avoid trouble and to go to college. while the outside students have worked hard to get where they are, i tried to counter that for some of the outside students, college was really the easier and expected choice for them to make, but i don't think the guys from inside quite bought it. i appreciated when one of my outside students said: "i think i'm getting too much credit for going to school."

there are three books for the course: Classics of Criminology, 3rd ed.; Code of the Street; and Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation. all of my students find the classics difficult, so i spent a little time doing mini-lectures on a couple of the readings, translating the ideas into plain english. after a short water break, we had more small group discussion (with students in different groups) and then a closing circle in which everyone said a sentence or two about what they were thinking.

the comments from the closing circle reminded me that my job in this course is to *direct* the discussions and the flow of the class and then to try to stay out of the way of the learning that is taking place amongst the students. i'm used to being more center-stage in my classes, so it's a little bit of a challenge to take that step back, but i know it's important and the collaborative learning is the key to this entire experience.

one of the other comments from the closing circle was: "eight more weeks isn't enough." everyone is enjoying the class and the interactions so much, there is already consensus that the quarter is going to seem much too short. i chose the picture for this post of crocus in the snow partly for that reason -- we've had snow during these first two weeks of class and i can see the crocus bulbs in my yard pushing their way through the soil. they'll likely bloom before the class ends, giving hope for spring, and then they'll fade into a memory. until next year, when they'll be back, having multiplied, and bringing even more color and beauty into the world. it seems like an appropriate symbol/metaphor for this class.

speaking of metaphors, i thought i would share an excerpt from one of the inside student's thoughts on the night before the first combined class. he wrote:'s been fifteen plus years since my last 'open' conversation with people not associated with the penal system, family or friend. In a way that's scary by itself. It's kind of like a new pair of dance shoes I guess -- you know the dance but will the shoes fit comfortably? Will they hurt a little at first and then settle in, or will they just be the wrong shoes all together? One will never know until he puts them on and takes 'em for a spin.
there's a lot more i could write, but i recognize these posts get a little long. i'm hoping my outside students will add some comments and share their perspectives, too (unfotunately, it's not possible for the inside students to do so since they do not have internet access). your thoughts and comments are invited and much appreciated!

Friday, January 19, 2007

deported for car theft

when people plead guilty to felonies, they are typically thinking about whether, where, and for how long they will be doing time. most probably know that they will lose other rights and statuses, but they may not realize that the plea can lead to their deportation.

such is the case of luis alexander duenas-alvarez, a native of peru and permanent legal resident in the united states. he served three years for car theft in california, when immigration officials moved to deport him. this week, in gonzales vs. duenas-alvarez, the u.s. supreme court made it easier to deport aggravated felons, such as mr. duenas-alvarez. the ruling reverses the u.s. 9th circuit court of appeals, which had held that california's law applied deportation too broadly.

i've written a lot about how convicted criminals can lose the right to vote, but i'm also interested in the myriad other collateral consequences of conviction -- affecting employment, family life, housing, educational opportunities, receipt of public assistance and even citizenship status. deportation affects a relatively small number of convicted felons, though it surely ranks among the most serious and disruptive of the collateral sanctions.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

bernard harcourt's times op-ed

bernard harcourt, my gracious host on a recent visit to chicago law, offered a provocative op-ed in the times this week. shouldn't sociological criminologists be able to offer some explanation for the figure at left, showing the aggregate rate of institutionalization for prisons and mental hospitals? in my opinion, the questions posed by professor harcourt might also make for some outstanding dissertations:

Why did we diagnose deviance in such radically different ways over the course of the 20th century? Do we need to be imprisoning at such high rates, or were we right, 50 years ago, to hospitalize instead? Why were so many women hospitalized? Why have they been replaced by young black men? Have both prisons and mental hospitals included large numbers of unnecessarily incarcerated individuals?

nathaniel abraham emerges on friday

as the detroit news reports, nathaniel abraham turns 21 on friday and will be released from state custody. we just talked about abraham's case in my delinquency class last week. i often start the course with the basic facts of his case -- in 1997 at age 11, nathaniel shot and killed 18-year-old ronnie green. in spite of his youth, he had a history of contacts with the police and had basically fallen through the cracks of the juvenile justice system. his mother had sought help in controlling his behavior but was put on a waiting list. the wait proved to be too long and ronnie green and his family paid the ultimate price.

the interesting question in this case was what to do with an 11-year-old murderer. should he be held as responsible as an adult offender? under michigan law, nathaniel abraham was tried as an adult. when a jury found abraham guilty in 2000, the judge had a big decision to make -- he could sentence nathaniel as an adult where he could face life in prison without the possibility of parole; he could sentence him as a juvenile in which case he would be out on his 21st birthday; or, he could give a blended sentence in which they would re-evaluate nathaniel at 21 and potentially move him into an adult prison.

judge eugene arthur moore sentenced nathaniel as a juvenile (for some of his reasoning see here) and has had regular contact with him over the last 7 years. now, after being raised in juvenile correctional facilities (and, yes, costing the people of michigan nearly a million dollars in their attempts to rehabilitate him), nathaniel will be a free man on friday.

as the article reports, he will walk into the world with no job and no ongoing education. and the world will be watching. nathaniel abraham is perhaps the test case for what the juvenile justice system can do to rehabilitate young offenders in this day and age. will he be able to build a successful life in the community? what will it take? what do you think?

Monday, January 15, 2007

juvenile delinquency starts now

i'm welcoming 80 new juvenile delinquency students on tuesday. having taught some variant of the course since '93, i've got lots of delinquency alums in the community -- as social workers, officers, lawyers, and even sociology professors. cooler still, two former delinquency student just got engaged to one another. will this semester's students find love and fulfilling careers? i'm not sayin', i'm just sayin'...

stigma, rehabilitation, and change

chris and i have both posted on this blog about the demonization of sex offenders (as a side note: in the reincarnation of pubcrim II, he's now shown as the author on some of the things i've written -- he's too polite to say, but i suspect he may cringe at some of my opinions which are now attributed to him). yesterday's "modern love" column in the new york times offered an interesting glimpse into a side of accused sex offenders that we rarely consider.

ashley cross, the author of the essay "i fell for a man who wore an electronic ankle bracelet," dated a young man accused of raping a friend at college. she describes him and his version of the event:

Almost all of his close friends were girls. From what I knew, he had a strong relationship with his parents, who were progressive and intelligent and nurturing. He was a rule follower, a brilliant and dedicated student, a chronic people pleaser. He had a history of serial monogamy. I simply couldn’t reconcile the smart, gentle guy I knew with this startling revelation.

As I peppered him with questions, he talked me through the fateful night of only a few months before, when he and the girl, who’d been a friend, had mingled at a party and drifted off drunk together before winding up back in her room, where, several hours later, they had sex. She became hysterical, claiming he forced himself on her. He left, bewildered and distraught. That night he wrote her a letter apologizing for upsetting her and left it at her door. He told me the letter was an attempt to salvage the friendship.

“Did you rape her?” I asked.

“We had sex,” he said. “But I didn’t mean to hurt her, no.”
he accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest and required sexual offender rehabilitation. ms. cross describes how the stigma of his sex offender label and his efforts at "rehabilitation" changed him:

Already he felt the shame of the charge and conviction. With the sexual evaluations, he was forced to question the normalcy of his impulses. Now the rehabilitation extinguished the remaining spark he had left, the irreverence I’d originally fallen in love with, replacing it with a generic “respect” for others that in reality was a kind of bland and suffocating politeness...

Yet what alarmed me was not some sinister side of him I never saw but a passivity and retreat that I saw far too much of. In the end, I found it harder to love an emasculated boyfriend than one accused of rape...

But I’ll always regret what might have been. His ordeal will always haunt me. In my mind, he was not seeking to humiliate and subjugate a woman on that night many years ago. I believe he was a boy who endeavored for hours in the dark to express his drunken, fumbling desire in a way that, fair or not, ended up unraveling his life. I wish he had found me first.

i've noticed that my inside students talk about "when they fell" or the one mistake that sent them to prison. they know they have changed while serving time, but they are not yet sure how. while none of them are sex offenders, they know the stigma of being an ex-felon will follow them out of the prison's gates. we should remember, too, it may be equally difficult for their loved ones to adapt to the changed men that return home.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

my first inside-out class

we had our first full-class meeting inside the oregon state penitentiary on wednesday night. i didn't try to cover too much in terms of content; instead, i tried to set the tone and create a comfortable space for all of the students who will share these 10 weeks together. in separate meetings on monday and tuesday, i had asked both the outside (OSU) and the inside (OSP) students to do a little self-assessment and write a page or two for me detailing how they were feeling and what they were thinking going into the first combined class session. many of my inside students are not used to writing much, so they were teasing me already, joking that: "she thinks 2 pages is short." i emphasized that thoughtfulness was more important than length and left it at that.

their essays were, in fact, thoughtful and interesting and i've promised to return them to their writers before our last class so they can compare their early ideas to their thoughts after the course. in general, most of the outside students had never been in a prison and didn't quite know what to expect -- their images of prisons and inmates came mostly from the media, so they were nervous and excited to get a reality check. my inside students were also excited and eager for the opportunity to interact with people from the outside world. some were also anxious that after serving a number of years in prison, they may have forgotton how to communicate with "free" people.

while i was able to select my 15 inside students and 15 outside students from motivated pools of potential classmates, i had no control over the correctional officer we would be working with. i cannot express how grateful i am to have the good fortune to work with a patient and friendly officer for these 10 weeks. the OSU students and i met at the penitentiary at 5:30 and our officer spent the next half hour going over IDs, taking us all through the metal detectors, sign-ins, and many locked gates up to the education hall. once there, she showed us to our classroom and then, while clearly nearby if/when we needed her, she left us alone. at the end of our course, she patiently led us out.

so how did the class itself go? we had 30 chairs in a circle. the outside students and i arrived first, so i asked them to sit in every other chair. as our inside students filtered in from their various cell blocks, they took a seat and made small talk while we waited for all to arrive. we got started a bit late, because several of our inside students were sent back to their cells to put on their more formal shirts for the occasion -- something we had not anticipated. i guess next time we'll know. once everyone had arrived, we put on nametags and then spent about an hour on an icebreaker where every inside student spent 2-3 minutes talking to every outside student. the noise was incredible (as i can attest since i was responsible for interrupting them and getting them moving) and it proved a very effective way for the students to all meet each other. even those of us who hate icebreakers, had to admit this one really worked.

after that, we took a break and shared some water -- something we had to get special permission to do. the small talk continued throughout the break and then i asked everyone to get back in their every-other-inside-outside circle and together we came up with guidelines for the class. one of our guidelines/rules is that we can talk about the course as long as we protect the confidentiality of the participants. i'm taking that as the rule for this blog, too. i'll share the basics without identifying specifics.

finally, from the inside-out curriculum, i wrote a quote by dostoyevsky on a whiteboard and asked them to get into small groups to discuss it. the quote is: "the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." each group discussed what they thought it meant or what it made them think of and then i brought the class back together for a full-group discussion. the students had a lot to say and it took us to the end of the class when the inside students had to go back for counts.

i thought it was a successful first class because we had created a comfort zone in which to share ideas and perspectives and i think everyone is looking forward to the next nine weeks. the feedback that i am getting from my outside (OSU) students is that they are surprised at how much they have in common with the inside students. OSP administrators told me that they had heard nothing but wonderful comments from the inside students about the first class. while some mentioned they were nervous at first, one said it was the best experience he has had since coming to prison, "it was a positive ray of light."

now that we have the first class out of the way, i can breathe a little easier. we'll hit the academic content very seriously over the next eight weeks (and then have a big graduation/celebration/chance to say goodbye in our last class). i'm thrilled to hear that some of my inside students have already asked permission to get together to form small study groups--they are definitely going to make the most of this opportunity.

i can't wait for next week's class!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

wanna get tased?

have you caught the recent press regarding the taser c2, the new consumer taser that comes in pink? i supervised a graduate research partnership with jesse wozniak this summer, in which he attended a taser convention in las vegas and wrote an electrifying paper on policing, masculinity, and tasers.

mr. wozniak will be presenting the shocking results (sorry woz, couldn't resist) at our department workshop this tuesday at 4 in 1114 social sciences. there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that his new advisor will be tased during the presentation. here's the 'stract:

Real Men Use Non-Lethals: Masculinity and the Framing of Police Weaponry

This presentation centers on an examination of masculinity formation in the police subculture. Using first-hand ethnographic accounts of a major non-lethal weapons manufacturer's annual sales and educational conference, I explore how the introduction of "less-masculine" weapons are marketed to coalesce with the hypermasculine police subculture. Connell's (1995) theories of masculinity are tested to understand how such a tightly-defined subculture absorbs such challenges to its core values and re-imagines itself to keep those core values intact.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

nij and employment programs

i'm just back from a national institute of justice conference in dee cee. the orienting question was what have we learned from longitudinal research? and, parenthetically, was it worth it?

my talk reviewed research on employment and crime. i learned much, but the highlight was a discussion with reynaldo decerega, a new youth development specialist at the department of labor. he described programs designed to place young people with records into high-growth industries. i've long lamented that job training in juvenile facilities seem to be preparing delinquent youth for the job market of the 1940s. it is sad to see kids working hard to learn, say, typesetting on ancient printing presses -- especially when almost everybody on the outside has been setting type on a pc since the 1980s.

mr. decerega offered a few examples of jobs in high-growth industries that would suit young offenders. in particular, he cited a program that moved a former drug dealer into a successful career in cell phone sales and services. hmm. such work takes advantage of an existing skill set and, presumably, cell phones will be around for a few more years. i'm just glad to see some thoughtful attention to the "what kind of training might lead to actual jobs" labor demand question, as well as the "instilling human capital into delinquent youth" labor supply question.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007


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!

soc of deviance in the real world?

my biggest fear as an instructor -- the one that summons the late-night howling fantods -- is that i will somehow manage to teach students nothing they can take beyond the classroom. i confronted this fear directly last month at the conclusion of my sociology of deviance class. as a two-point bonus question on my final exam, i asked students for a specific example showing how they used course materials outside of my class during the semester.

i teach from two competing logics in the course. first, i try to give them a durkheimian sociological realism, emphasizing social facts and the methods we use to obtain them. second, i employ a constructionist emphasis on labels, power, rulemaking, and careers in deviance. it was cool to see students employ both logics in their answers:

“My boyfriend is in prison and I am constantly asking him about things I learned in class, such as excuses and justifications of rapists, how prison culture convinces people to re-offend, stigmas of certain inmates such as child molesters, intense homophobia in the inmate population, etc. I have used course materials to sociologically analyze his ‘deviance’ and how he will manage the stigma and escape the deviant label once his is reintegrated into society.”

“I constantly seem to be having discussion about gay marriage and the current raging debate. On a society level, I believe that GLBT lifestyles are seen as deviant, but I think that we are starting to see a definite stratification of acceptance based on generation. In these discussions, I always try to show people the construction of deviance, and how any group can decide that an action is deviant, but that deviance and deviant label actions change over time.”

“We watched ‘The Woodsmen’ around the same time we were studying sexual variants and abuse in Abnormal Psychology. I am a Psych major so it’s always interesting look[ing] at the same behavior at the individual level psychologically and then in the larger social context, sociologically.”

“My boyfriend was flipping through one of my Cosmopolitan magazines one day when he saw an article about the dangers of men in groups. He didn’t really get it, and I explained about how I just read about how guys in frats will sometimes use alcohol as a weapon and cover up any wrong doing through ‘brotherhood.’ I told him about the Martin and Hummer reading and group-level processes.”

"I would say the biggest thing I took away was sharing my deviant identity paper with my family."

“I am currently taking social statistics as well, and that class is all about statistical relationships. When we discussed correlates, not as a cause, but as a statistically significant relationship, I could relate the two classes together.”

“This class has provided me with endless conversation at the bar and with my friends. Specifically, we discussed the topics of moral panics and drug scares over a few brews just last weekend. I feel I’ve learned a lot in this class and can ‘hold my own’ in a debate that’s relevant now. Thanks!”

“Just this morning I was telling my partner I was surprised that the 1914 Harrison Act of scheduling drug categories occurred that early. He was amazed too.”

“As a bartender, I witnessed many of this semester’s themes first hand. Saw Hirschi’s theory of self control and alcoholism intersect. I saw the negative stigma associated with alcoholism in full affect and its effect on jobs. I also witnessed techniques of neutralization and vocabularies of motive contribute to deviance in many sphere of social life. These theories helped me identify problems with others and problems with myself.”

“At the Juvenile Detention Center I talked to a young man about what it meant to him to be called juvenile sexual perpetrator. We had a long conversation about his experiences in the JDC with staff because of his crime (rape). He felt that women staff wouldn’t talk to him and only saw him as his crime (master status). I asked him what that label meant to him.”

“I used this material outside of class with regard to my good deeds paper. Even after I turned in my paper, I still tried to do acts of kindness. I attempt to give money to homeless when before I hadn’t.”

“I used the knowledge on suicide in discussion with coworkers to tell them who killed themselves the most, what countries and to bust the myth about how people think suicide rates go up around the holidays"

“I used Merton’s anomie theory to try to justify my piracy of movies on the internet. I told my mom that our society has placed universal goals that we should live in comfort. I also told her that certain people are not advantaged, so they resort to crime to achieve such goals. I said that I am a broke college student so I am considered to be disadvantaged. She still said I was wrong, but she watched the movies with me anyways.”

“I have actually used course material from this great course numerous times in speaking about people that like to dig up ‘hot’ corpses, to asphyxiation, to labeling theory, as in at work as we detained a young man screaming, ‘I’m a down ass gangsta.’ I remarked how he had labeled himself as such from differential association and his subculture."

“My husband and I always debate theories regarding entry into drug dealing (he went ‘away’ for four years for cocaine dealing) and I’d tell him about your research on ex-cons and voting. "

“Applying the movie ‘Fight Club’ to a talk with a female friend, I was able to convince her that males were running out of all male masculinity spheres of behavior through which we can interact solely with other males, with the inclusion of women into the work force and equality of positions of authority, male dominance in the social are under attack. Femininity is leaking into masculinity diluting male championed ideals, leaving them frustrated with no avenues of self expression is the modern world. For Merton, males experience strain with the rational and the feminine.”

“I was having a debate with a friend about how prevalent the GLB commentary is in the U.S. She stated the statistic, ‘1 in 3 people are in the GLB community.’ I stated the NHSL survey and the statistics about how low the reporting actually is. We contributed the reporting to either harassment of just a fear of ‘outing’ themselves.”

“Oddly enough, I talk about this class a lot with friends, and when eating with my family. The most recent tie I made with class and discussions was with my girlfriend. She is at the U of M with a rowing scholarship and is from Lithuania. We talked both about women’s sports and the high suicide rates in her country. She was able to give me insight into both areas.”

“Just last night I was talking to my friend about deviance in terms of careers or a process. I explained mostly about drug trafficking and how its exit can be difficult. We talked about the movie, ‘Blow,’ referring to entertainment as a common ground we could both relate to. "

“I actually use the terms often at work as a mall security guard. For example, last week I was trying to explain why a few kids couldn’t throw things at each other. I remember telling them that [they] couldn’t throw things at other people. They said there were no rules against it. So I told them their actions are deviant and they are violating the norms of the mall. They honestly had no clue what I meant, but at least they couldn’t keep arguing with me and felt like I outsmarted them.”

“When my sister discovered I was taking a class titled, ‘Deviant Behavior,’ she immediately responded, ‘I’m not deviant!’ I immediately corrected her telling her we are all deviants in some way. Deviance, I told her, is a violation of social norms and anytime she or I violated any norm we are deviants ... the overall point is we all are, have been, and will continue to be deviants even if it is as simple as bringing a caffeinated soda into church (a Mormon church) as my sister has done.”

“I volunteer at Ramsey County Jail with the women, and help lead a chemical dependency relapse prevention class. I took a lot from this class and applied it to my work there. For instance, many are in for prostitution and it was very helpful for me to view them as victims/survivors of domestic abuse.”

“In a discussion about if viewing porn is o.k. for boyfriends/girlfriends in a relationship, I was able to talk about statistics of male/female[s] who view it, and how changing norms or sex are on the rise. Ex: more premarital sex and how it’s not as deviant.”

“Near the beginning of the semester I was discussing (or explaining) the labeling theory to my friend. We likened it to the label of him by his friends as an alcoholic/party animal. This label, we discussed, reinforces and encouraged his behavior as such, and even though he has acquired a lifestyle slightly less extreme, he is often enticed and/or expected by them to live up to (or down to depending how you look at it) that standard of behavior.”

“I used several statistics from this class like the Devah Pager study on race and employment as a ‘staggering sociological statistic,’ opener for my students in the lab section of SOC1001 I T.A.ed this fall.”

“What I took from this course the labeling theory that I was able to explain to my parents. You see, the Hmong community lives on reputation and labeling is very common. I sat down and had a conversation, relating to my brother’s deviant actions, about how labeling a person will actually enforce him/her to do more deviant acts. Instead, encourage the person to get out of those deviant acts and do good.”

“I avidly participate in local police ride-alongs and I brought up the topic of labeling theory to an officer. Ummmm yeah didn’t go over very well, he is a racist-XXXX and basically said that just because you ‘step in your own XXXX doesn’t give you an excuse to wipe it off on society’s doormat.’ No really, he said it! Needless to say the conversation was a hostile one and I hope he changes professions.”

“Last weekend I had a discussion with my friends about binge drinking. I told them that binge drinking was defined as 5 or more drinks in one occasion. They thought this was a very low number and I told them that [this] was because they were binge drinkers. If they thought they had enough alcohol after 2 drinks, then they would consider 5 to be binge drinking. However, since 5 drinks is a norm, we would say that 10 drinks in one occasion was binge drinking.”

“This morning actually, my brother’s girlfriend was talking about a girl who committed suicide. I asked how, and came to find out that she tried overdosing a couple times before she ended up strangling herself. I told my brother’s girlfriend that girls usually attempt more suicides than complete them because of what they do. Males complete more of suicides because of the majority of them using firearms.”

i was a bit surprised by the diversity in the responses. students didn't simply parrot back my pet concepts or findings, but seemed to employ some course materials when situations presented themselves in their other classes, their jobs, or socializing with families or friends. i'll definitely use such a question again.