The success of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program

Holly Burns, Contributing Writer

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The University’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which allows students to work and learn with local inmates, offers a variety of courses. These courses allow students to travel to state correctional institutions and have interactive learning sessions with inmates, or “inside students.”

 

Professor of Sociology Carl Milofsky has been involved with the program for three semesters. In the fall semester, Milofsky teaches Sociology 317: Experiencing Prison Inside Out. In this class, University students travel to the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Coal Township once a week to meet with the inside students. The course is built upon a semester-long project in which groups focus on several different aspects of prisoner life and the transition back into society. The course also works with a local program called the Community Action Agency (CAA) to support and promote positive reentry into society for the inside students.

 

During the spring semester, Milofsky teaches Sociology 239: Deviance and Identity, in which students also travel to the SCI at Coal Township and meet with inside students every other week. In addition to these two courses, Milofsky and several of his former students have started a group called “The Think Tank.” This group aims to create a prison reentry program to support those in Pennsylvania who need help re-immersing and rebuilding their lives following release from prison.

 

Milofsky explained his aim is to “build the class around issues of how imprisonment is experienced, how it relates to identity, how it relates to communities of origin for students, how it relates to the rapidly evolving government policies related to prisons and imprisonment, and how all of these things relate to personal development on the emotional and moral level.” Students who have taken an Inside-Out Program at the University found it to be an extremely enriching experience.

 

“Professor Milofsky’s Inside-Out Program was certainly the most impactful educational experience I’ve had here at Bucknell, but unlike a typical class where the teacher makes all the difference, in this case, it was the students that made it so special,” Julian Hernandez-Webster ’19 said.

 

Another course within the Inside-Out Program is Psychology 242: Positive Psychology. Taught by Associate Professor of Psychology Kim Daubman, the course brings together students from the University and State Correctional Institution at Muncy together to study the notions of happiness and leading a fulfilling life. Samantha Componovo ’21 said that Professor Daubman’s course “creates a learning environment that incorporates new perspectives.”

 

“Everyone in the class comes from a different background and has had different experiences, but we all are able to benefit from the material we learn,” Componovo said.

 

Outside students have also been able to translate the many lessons learned in the prison to their lives at the University. “On campus, I’ve learned a lot about the ways in which a person’s socioeconomic circumstances tend to shape their outcomes, and sitting in the classroom inside the prison, it became clear that this was the case for many of the inmates,” Hernandez-Webster said.

 

Many of the inside students aim to use their experiences to educate the outside students and prevent them from making the same mistakes. This exchange of lessons is yet another way that the program provides a learning experience for both groups. It also allows outside students to gain a new perspective on incarcerated individuals.

 

“These men are intelligent and hard-working, the kind of people you want to sit down and have a meal with,” Hernandez-Webster said.

 

While many students at the University are interested in these intriguing sociology and psychology courses, they are not the only ones who have a great appreciation for this program; there is a great demand among the inside students to be a part of the program, as well. For the spring semester course, Deviance and Identity, around 200 inside students applied to be a part of the program, and only eight were accepted.

 

Milofsky explained that the inside students also find value in the program because they “value the opportunity for a more challenging learning environment, but probably the most important thing is that they find outside students neutral, warm, and interested.”

 

Hernandez-Webster also emphasized the importance of the Inside-Out experience for both groups. “One [inside student] told me ‘If you’ve been a part of the problem for so long, you start to look for solutions, you want to be a part of that.’ Another added, ‘We think proactively in here. For every person we mentor and crime we prevent, we ultimately prevent a victim,’” Hernandez-Webster said.

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