by Sara Curnow Wilson

“One of the very cool things about this story is what can happen from the germ of an idea,” Lori Pompa says.

She is speaking about the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, an academic course where university undergraduates (“outside” students) learn alongside incarcerated individuals (“inside” students).

Pompa has been taking students to visit correctional facilities since her first class at Temple in 1992, but only started Inside-Out after Paul, a man in incarceration, asked if she had ever considered making the visit last an entire semester.

“I was just kind of stunned by the idea,” Pompa explains. “I thought it was great.”

The first Inside-Out class met in the fall of 1997. The program is now in its 20th year, but that hardly tells the whole story. Pompa is also the founder and executive director of the Inside-Out Center, the international headquarters for the exchange, which trains instructors wishing to implement the program in their own institutions.

Inside-Out has held 45 Training Institutes, trained 700 instructors in the United States and nine other countries, and reached more than 20,000 inside and outside students.

It is little wonder that Pompa’s efforts have received major recognition. This week, Pompa will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for Teaching from the American Society of Criminology. The award recognizes a teaching career that has produced a considerable impact at either the university or national level. Pompa’s career has accomplished both.

“Students routinely describe the course as transformational and call it the best learning environment they have ever experienced,” says M. Kay Harris, associate professor emerita of criminal justice. Harris went through the first Inside-Out Training Institute in 2004 and taught Inside-Out classes at three correctional facilities. She also nominated Pompa for the award.

Inside-Out’s impact on both inside and outside students is so great that, often, the discussion does not end when the semester does. A number of courses have formed permanent weekly groups.

Though she has inspired a worldwide movement, Pompa says she never imagined the broad influence the program would have. In fact, she only had the idea to expand beyond her classroom when other Temple instructors asked her to help them begin similar courses.

“It has grown organically,” she says. “It got its own momentum.”

This is perhaps the biggest testament to the importance and relevance of Pompa’s work: it exists and develops without her.

Related Articles

Recent Media Mentions