Inside Out Program

For the first time in Michigan history, university students and state prison inmates shared a transformative learning environment.  In Fall 2007, 14 UM-Dearborn students enrolled in Soc 476 the Inside Out Prison Exchange class taught by Sociology Professor Lora Lempert; they were joined in the class by 14 men incarcerated at Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit.

Since that initial class, Inside Out has become a regular curricular offering in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters. Each term, Fall and Winter, UM-Dearborn students and incarcerated men share classroom space and learn together.

About the UM-Dearborn Program

The Inside Out Prison Exchange Program class is part of a national program originated by Lori Pompa and Paul, an incarcerated man, in 1997.  It is located at Temple University.  Inside Out instructors apply for a rigorous pedagogical training prior to offering this course at their respective universities..Since 1997 over 250 instructors from 150 colleges/universities in 37 U.S. states have participated in the trainings.  Dr. Lempert is the first from Michigan to train and offer a class.  Dr. Paul Draus  (Sociology) trained in July 2008, and the Inside Out Prison Exchange class is now offered every Fall and Winter Term in Sociology and Criminal Justice.

Both “inside” (Ryan) and “outside” (UM-Dearborn) students apply and are interviewed before they are selected for participation in the class.  Enrollment is by permission of instructor. Applicants answer questions such as: “What do you think is the cause of crime?” and “Why do you want to take this class?”  They must also commit to always being prepared for class.

The course urges students and instructor to think about crime and punishment mechanisms in human terms.  Criminal activity is often a reflection of other social forces in which we all, by omission or commission, play a part.  A singular focus on crime and the relegation of “bad” people to prisons is, therefore, both disingenuous and unproductive.  Although crime rates have gone down, incarcerations have continued to rise at grievous economic and social costs to Michigan citizens. As Pompa claims, “Through our inordinate use of incarceration, we are deepening the very problem that we claim to be addressing.”

For student protection, the course operates on a semi-anonymous basis, that is, both inside and outside students are identified only by first names.  No surnames are used in class or on papers.  Additionally students are prohibited from any form of contact outside the three-hour class – no notes, no phone calls, no letters.  On the inside, no one with a criminal sexual conduct sentence is allowed to apply.

Students read texts, discuss material, write papers, and participate in projects.  The project for the inaugural class was to create informative tri-fold brochures on the topics of felony murder, myths and realities of prison life, corrections vs. education for state monies, juvenile lifers, and the sentencing commission.  These brochures were distributed to members of the Michigan State Senate and the Michigan House of Representatives, as well as to community members and some religious leaders. Other classes have designed programs and interventions to prevent crimes.

Inside Out Prison Exchange has generated interest from state political leaders as well as federally elected representatives.

Michigan has the dubious distinction of having the fifth largest Department of Corrections in the country.  The state incarcerates more of its citizens than any other Great Lakes State – over 44,000 people are incarcerated on any day in Michigan.  As Inside Out student projects demonstrated, it costs the citizens of Michigan far more to incarcerate one person for a year ($36,000) than it does to educate someone at Harvard, or at any of the state’s top tier universities.

What can be learned from the “inside students”? What can they learn from the “outside students”?  Issues of crime, punishment, justice, victims and victimology, incarceration and many social issues are inherently intertwined.  We learn about them literally from the inside out.

For more information visit Temple University's Inside Out site.

About the Inside-Out Center

Inside-Out creates a dynamic partnership between institutions of higher learning and correctional systems in order to deepen the conversation about and transform our approaches to understanding crime, justice, freedom, inequality, and other issues of social concern.

Inside-Out brings college students together with incarcerated men and women to study as peers in a seminar behind prison walls. The core of the Inside-Out Program is a semester-long academic course, meeting once a week, through which 15 to 18 “outside” (i.e.: undergraduate) students and the same number of “inside” (i.e.: incarcerated) students attend class together inside prison. All participants read a variety of texts and write several papers; during class sessions, students discuss issues in small and large groups. In the final month of the class, students work together on a class project.

Inside-Out is an opportunity for college students to go behind the walls to reconsider what they have come to know about crime and justice. At the same time, it is also an opportunity for those inside prison to place their life experiences in a larger framework. Inside-Out creates a paradigm shift for participants, encouraging transformation and change agency in individuals and, in so doing, serves as an engine for social change.

Through college classes and community exchanges, individuals on both sides of prison walls are able to engage in a collaborative, dialogic examination of issues of social significance through the particular lens that is the “prism of prison.”

Other Michigan University Programs

Inside Out is also expanding in the state.  Eastern Michigan University now offers IO classes at Women’s Huron Valley in Ypsilanti.  Michigan State University is offering Inside Out at Cooper Street Correctional in Jackson.  Wayne State University has started classes at the Thumb Correctional.  CMU launched in January 2014 at Central Michigan Correctional, as did NMU at Marquette Correctional.  Albion College has a TBA for Cotton Correctional in Jackson. Muskegon Community College is exploring Inside Out opportunities at Muskegon Correctional.  We are definitely growing!

Michigan Training of Inside Out Prison Exchange Instructors

For information and application, see

Inside Out Program

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