Sunday, January 21, 2007

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!


Anonymous said...

This is so cool.

Anonymous said...

Being given the opportunity to participate in this class is one of, if not the most excitng thing I have done in my career at OSU. Honestly, I was blown away at the amount I had in common with all the Inside students. One Inside student was more well read than myself. Every book I had said I wanted to read, he had already read... From Sometimes a Great Notion to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest to A Clockwork Orange! My favorite part of the class is getting together in the small groups to discuss various topics. This is where you really get to know each of the guys on a more personal level, and their insight and experience is invaluable! Graduation day is going to be extremely hard...

michelle inderbitzin said...

Thanks, Sarah S. It's a pretty amazing opportunity for all of us, so I'm trying to share what I can on the blog for anyone who is interested.

And, thanks, outside student Sarah, for sharing your thoughts and your perspective. I think it adds a lot and I really appreciate it.