Most college students complete evaluation forms at the conclusion of a class. Graduates of IUPUI's Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program rearrange work schedules and travel behind prison walls to testify that the class changed their lives.
For Jody Bahre, an Inside-Out alumna who participated in the class when it was offered in the spring of 2010 at the Dove Recovery House for Women, the experience inspired her to go to college.
She is now studying to be a drug and alcohol counselor, she said, earning a 4.0 in four of the six semesters she's taken.
"If I reach out and help one person, I've done what I set out to do," Bahre said. "If it wasn't for [class leaders], I wouldn't have been inspired to go to college."
Susan Hyatt, an IUPUI associate professor of anthropology, and her colleague, Professor Roger Jarjoura, of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, first taught the class in Indiana at the Plainfield Re-entry Facility in 2007. Inside-Out was founded in 1997 at Temple University. It is now offered in at least 37 states.
The class has two goals, Hyatt explained to an audience of a few dozen people gathered on the morning of April 18 in a Near Eastside Department of Corrections facility's chapel: 1) Bring two groups together who almost surely wouldn't encounter each other otherwise; 2) Expand exposure to secondary education.
This year, Inside-Out brought students from campus to the Indiana Re-Entry Educational Facility, which offers a progressive model of assimilation for prisoners finishing the tail end of their sentences and preparing to re-enter society as caring and contributing members.
Two groups of students — the campus-based "outside" group and the "inside" group of IREF residents — joined together for readings, discussions and group projects centered on this year's theme: Young People, Crime and Activism.
In presenting her end-of-the-semester thoughts, "outside" student Christian said that a quote often attributed to Fyodor Dostoyevsky sparked a fire during one day's discussion: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."
She asked the audience to apply the concept to contemporary society, asking, "How do you want our society to be seen by others?"
Entering IREF, visitors are confronted with a campus more akin to a university than a prison.
Aside from a smaller facility in South Bend, the IREF campus, which houses around 500 residents, represents the DOC's the largest foray into progressive re-entry. The residents wear street clothes. No one is locked into their rooms, residents move freely along the walks and through the buildings, though access to the outside world is still controlled. There is a waiting list of potential residents hoping to transition from the more traditional, punitive environments.
"Beautiful relationships" developed as the Inside-Out group pushed through the class materials, said Hannah Cowles, an instructor with the IU School of Social Work who co-taught the class with Hyatt. She was inspired to take the Inside-Out instructor training course after taking the class from Hyatt and Jarjoura as a student of social work.
Though debate, laughter and the erosion of stereotypes, she said, the graduating group explored "the possibility in each of us for redemption and transformation."
Redemption and transformation are not abstract concepts to residents of the Indiana Re-Entry Educational Facility — the Inside-Out Experience can help them vocalize their actualization.
For Edward, an "inside" student asked by his peers to speak at graduation, the readings offered a reality check, pushing him to ask himself, "What role did I play in a child's life?" Thinking back to the 11-to-14-year olds he knew were influenced by the thug life he once lived, Edward said he has since spent lots of time talking to them about moving beyond that mindset. "I couldn't do anything but apologize [for setting an unhealthy example] because I was partially responsible."
Hyatt and Cowles see Edward's transformation as part of a broader cultural evolution.
"We may not be able to imagine all of the ways in which our students will carry their Inside-Out experience with them as they move into their futures," they wrote in the event program. "(B)ut we feel confident that it will be a part of them, as it is of us, and that through our participation in Inside-Out, we are all participating in a social movement aimed at creating a better world and at breaking down the walls that separate us."