Lakeshore Report

IUN Course Makes Students Out of Ex-Offenders

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By: Hilary Powell

May 2, 2104 — A chair, a pen, and a piece of paper: All familiar tools of a classroom, but this education happens behind barred doors.

On this day, 15 students form a circle to chat, but only two of them, including Tammy Moore, have dress code: an inmate jumpsuit.

“I got up and moved my seat next to one of them to let them know, you know, we’re the same,” says Indiana University Northwest senior Ebony Hicks, of her jumpsuit-clad classmates. “We’re all people. And they felt that way because they have jumpsuits on and then we come in regular clothes.”

Assistant Professor Monica Solinas-Saunders says her unique class, held at Lake County Community Corrections Center in Crown Point, Ind., is not activism or advocacy it is simply a mutual exchange.

“All students, all people in society need to learn from groups that are different from their own. The students are very comfortable with one another and they seem to need the interactions.”

In the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, students from Indiana University Northwest and students from the correctional facility meet twice a week to study together.

“It’s not a criminal justice course; it’s a public affairs class and women’s studies class,” Solinas-Saunders says.

Hicks says the class shatters stereotypes about the inside students, who are either on work release or house arrest for felony crimes.

“There’s a big stereotype out there that if you are locked up, no matter what you did, you are a bad person,” she says. “I wanted to kind of, like, break that stereotype because I used to feel that same way. I saw that other students felt the same way that I did and as it progressed, they changed their outlooks.”

“The barriers between community agencies like institutions like prisons and the university fall apart,” Solinas-Saunders says. “They fall down and we really become one community.”

Solinas-Saunders is one of only about 300 instructors nationwide certified to teach the inside-out curriculum.

Inside student Tammy Moore, set to be released in October, says the voluntary class should be mandatory.

“I love this class,” Moore says. “It helped me a lot and it helped me to calm down because I was so defensive at first and angry. And it helped me think a different way. But, just think, what if they didn’t have these classes? I’d still be sitting upstairs still having that same mentality that I have, and still angry.”

“I was afraid of her,” Hicks says of Moore. “She came off aggressive. And now it’s like, she brings me lollipops, and we’re hugging, we’re talking and she got a job.”

Class discussions often focus on issues of offender re-entry.

“Ex-offenders lacking the ability to find jobs, especially find meaningful employment, it gives them back their dignity,” Solinas-Saunders says.

One student says the class has helped him understand the barriers to breaking back into society after incarceration.

“Just, learning about their day to day,” says IUN senior Elliot Gabel. “How do they get to work? Do they have a car here? Do they have to be transferred by bus? Just the difficulties that come with being here.”

After a semester-long course Gabel says he has a new title for the incarcerated women.

“Tammy’s my friend,” he says. “Some of the women know more about me than some of my friends. It’s almost like an honor when somebody you don’t know talks about their personal life. Not so much changed my major, but i just changed my thought. One day i hope to have the means to help out ex-offenders.”

Solinas-Saunders says inside students can qualify for course credit at IUN if they enroll within five years of completing the Inside-Out course.

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