Students inside, outside correctional units attend same 'Inside-Out' class
Participants learn, share, seek to understand each other’s lives, perspectives
Imagine a class so meaningful to students that one says it is changing her life, while another pledges to cherish the experience she’s having for the rest of hers. A third calls it the most important class he’s taken in his degree program.
Still another, an exchange student from England, says the class was a major reason she decided to spend her year abroad at Arizona State University.
“The class has taught me to see beyond a person's current situation or past choices to see who a person truly is, and how much difference we can make to our own lives,” she said.
CRJ 317, known as Inside-Out, is coordinated through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program and is offered by the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.
An equal number of “outside” students from ASU campuses and “inside” students from a local prison are the class’ members. They meet weekly in person within a state correctional facility. With guidance from their instructors, students ask and answer questions of each other as they share and compare life inside and outside the correctional system and seek ways to improve it.
The spring semester 2022 section meets at a women’s medium security unit in Goodyear, Arizona, led by criminology and criminal justice doctoral students Caitlin Matekel and Danielle Haverkate. Earlier sections involved male incarcerated students while the current semester is just the second to include students living inside a women’s facility.
Inside, outside students must meet same requirements
Wright taught the first class offered in Arizona in spring semester 2016, and several sections since. He said financial contributions to the Inside-Out Prison Exchange fund pay for books, fees and travel costs for students taking the course.
“With that support, students both inside and outside the correctional system will be able to collaborate on solutions to improve the system,” he said.
The outside students quoted in this story are being identified by only their first names to protect their privacy.
“Inside-Out is life-changing,” said Shayna, a class member. “I have gained new perspectives that inspired and solidified my passion for entering the field of criminal justice. I am grateful for the impact this program has, and for the people involved who have all contributed to each other’s lives immensely.”
Neil, another member of the class, said it is the most important class he’s taken since being in the ASU criminology and criminal justice program.
“The concepts, institutions and problems in our justice system now have real faces and real people attached to them, and it is incredibly powerful for concepts that I have spent years learning about to come to life in a class setting,” Neil said. “I would highly recommend this program to any (criminology and criminal justice) major; the benefits of taking the course cannot be overstated."
‘These women will never be forgotten’
Another class member, Shannon, said she greatly values the opportunity the class provides for students to be in a room containing 20 students and two instructors from different walks of life coming together to talk.
“We are all different and come with our own stories, yet we can connect like no one could have imagined,” said Shannon, who said she overcame initial doubts about the class. “I’m so happy I didn’t back out, because I wouldn’t change this for the world. I will cherish this semester for the rest of my life. These women will never be forgotten.”
Eleanor, the exchange student from England, said enrolling in Inside-Out was one of the principal influences on her decision to travel several thousand miles to spend a year at ASU.
“The class has impacted me in many personal ways, and has solidified my own intentions to start a career in the future that can improve the criminal justice system and the corrections system,” Eleanor said. “I hope to see more classes such as these being offered, and I hope that I can begin the process of convincing my home university to bring their version of the Inside-Out program back.”
Inside-Out was founded at Temple University in 1997, when the first class met inside the Philadelphia prison system. Nearly a quarter-century later, its over 1,200 trained instructors from nearly every state and 12 other nations have served more than 60,000 students.
Matekel said she and Haverkate carefully prepare before the semester’s start to choose both outside and inside students who are best-suited for the environment: people, she said, who are ready to engage.
Matekel said the students have “cultivated a very safe space” for each individual to interact and collaborate.
“They establish strong boundaries off the bat, but after that, we have the participants decide for themselves what they want to share and how,” she said. “Our students are showing incredible patience for each other. It’s amazing to see. In one activity, we asked students whether they would slow down or speed up time. The ensuing discussion was incredible.”
Matekel said the students are learning to have an impact now rather that wait until graduation or release from incarceration.
“They’re having powerful conversations. It is an opportunity to experience the world they will enter when they start their careers, seeing what the system really looks like.” she said.
Wright said one of his favorite indicators of how well students enjoy the class is when they complain that it won’t meet during spring break.
“They say, ‘Can’t we still come in?’” he said.