Women & Literature Inside Out: Resources and Expanded Material

To continue the collaboration we share in our recent article, Reading “Women Don’t Riot” After the Riot: Creating a University-Prison Collaboration” (published by the Journal of Prison Education, ), below we provide supplementary explanations of our process as well as curriculum materials. 

Please note, we strongly advise participating in the Inside Out Prison Exchange Training Institute; once trained, instructors have access to a large repository of teaching materials. 

Creating a New University-Prison Collaboration, “Women in Literature and Society, Inside Out”

The initial impetus for the class stemmed from my research as part of a coalition laying the groundwork for a new treatment effort focused on prostitution which had included conducting a needs assessment within BWCI. During the survey administration, we spoke with a number of incarcerated women. This experience, combined with my prior visits to the region’s correctional facilities as part of a judicial team focused on addressing mental health needs within facilities, fostered my desire to find a way to connect resources from the University of Delaware (UD), to the correctional facility. UD already had a strong working relationship with the Department of Corrections and had provided Inside Out (IO) courses continuously at several other facilities since 2005 (Starks et al 2011). While the process of approval from both the University and the Department of Corrections (DOC) took several years, it was welcomed and supported by the research unit within DOC, by the education and treatment units and the leadership at BWCI, and at the University of Delaware by our home department of Sociology and Criminal justice as well as the Department of Women and Gender Studies and by the Office of Professional and Graduate Studies (the University unit which makes it possible for incarcerated students to enroll for credit at a very low rate, and offers scholarships for at least one student per semester). Our home department welcomed this new course despite its nontraditional content — one of the benefits of an interdisciplinary department that welcomes the exploration of sociology and criminal justice through various sources and methods.

Collaborative Course Design (Expanded from footnote 11):

Chrysanthi Leon led the curriculum design, in consultation with an experienced English teacher in the local public school system, Annie Slease, from whom one of the most successful in-class writing exercises was adapted, as well as local poet Deborah Arnold.  In the semester prior to the first course offering, two undergraduates, Lauren Markovich and Gabby Lanzetta, focused on finding additional materials and exercises as part of their honors and major requirements. Leon also incorporated the creation of a group activity into the requirements for another of her traditional courses (students in an upper division seminar had the option of submitting a final project for the course based on a number of possible readings). Graciela Perez  joined the efforts at this point, originally as a teaching assistant for Leon’s traditional courses. With Perez’s mentorship, undergraduates created an interactive activity for the Handmaid’s Tale, which consistently emerges in post-course evaluations as one of the most impactful, along with another activity used along with the House on Mango Street.

 

Adaptation, Flexibility and Transparency

[In our article we write about how we adapted to an institution in flux, and tried to include students in decision-making.  This is one example of the “nuts and bolts” we did not include in our published piece]

Class Delays

Upon our arrival we would be buzzed in through the main door and wait in line to be scanned. At this point we would go through the metal detector placing our class material – pens, notebooks, and readers– in the conveyor belt before being scanned with the handheld metal detector and patted down. After all participants had been processed we would sign in and turn in our car keys in exchange for a visitor pass. This encounter would take at least 30 minutes on efficient days. However, there were times when the prison was understaffed and one correctional officer would have to clear us all, as well as handle any other visitors or issues. In order to facilitate the process, we implemented a few changes such as asking each driver to bring in only a single key with an identifying tag for the correctional officer to recognize quickly.
In addition to a delayed start due to processing in, we also had to prepare for a delayed start on the inside. Class was at times delayed due to administrative tasks, delays because Inside students hadn’t received meals or medication, lockdowns, or other unspecified security reasons. During these lockdowns their schedule was altered and many Inside students then had a later dinner which prevented them from arriving to class on time. On other occasions, usually related to understaffing or shifting of new correctional officers, Inside students could not be located because the correctional officer that handled our session was not present to recall the whereabouts of students. The presence of regular officers facilitated our sessions because they often knew who was enrolled in the class and could easily locate the students to walk them in on time. The correctional officer surveilling our activities would gather our Inside students and walk them into our classroom. Usually the correctional officer would peek once through the window in the room and the remaining time the officer would be at their desk in the hallway.

Adapting to Meet Needs

In addition, we also provided students with additional resources that were not required for class but were recommended. This addition arose after our first session, when we realized our special responsibility in assigning emotionally burdensome material that may require additional resources to process. Therefore, we began to provide hard copies of mindfulness activities and guides to aid with stress or fatigue . We have also tried to provide dictionaries and printouts of common terms when possible.  Students really seemed to enjoy these additional resources because not only did they help them in the classroom, but also with their daily lives.

Recognizing Achievements, Relationships and Closure

With the students’ support, we continue to invite outside guests and administrative staff to our closing ceremony. Prior to the closing ceremony, invited guests have to be cleared by the correctional facility. Outside guests such as the chair of our department arrive with us to avoid any confusion with the entry process and all other guests join us an hour after our regular class start time. Regretfully we are not able to invite an outside guest for each student, as is common with other Inside Out courses.  

Students receive certificates with their first name only at the ceremony, followed by a certificate with their full names the following week during the separate debriefings.  Following the template provided by experienced IO instructors, we also provide each student with a letter detailing their achievements in the class. We learned that these letters must be approved by BWCI, so we prepare them at least a week in advance.  The second time we taught, we also started a shared document for each instructor to provide short notes about each student, so that we didn’t have to scramble to complete 20+ letters at the end of the semester.

 

Sample Materials

Click here for Lesson Plans

Mid semester Feedback Form
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See our article for how we responded to feedback: in addition,  we incorporated simple things like a reminder for students during writing activities that they can move to different parts of the classroom to be able to focus and write comfortably, creating more visual or hands-on activities, and clarifying the parameters for the group project.

Self-Care Suggestions

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Stick Figure Sita Ram (by Erin Sweeney)

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Additional Recommended Readings

Davis, S., & Roswell, B. (Eds.). (2013). Turning teaching Inside Out: A pedagogy of transformation for community-based education. Springer.

(2020) Perez*, Graciela & Chrysanthi S. Leon.  “Bonds Beyond Bars: Impact of an Inside Out Prison Exchange Program.”   Journal of Correctional Education. 71(3):33-53

Starks, B. C., Harrison, L., & Denhardt, K. (2011). Outside the comfort zone of the classroom Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 22(2), 203-225. doi:10.1080/10511253.2010.517773

Werts, T. (2013). Tyrone Werts: Reflections on the inside-out prison exchange program. The Prison Journal, 93(2), 135-138.

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