By: Nick Santangelo

One of the ways prisons function is to cut off access between those living inside of them from those living on the outside. Temple University’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program does something different: it connects those inside and outside and fosters collaborative communication and education opportunities. It does so by bringing together incarcerated students and traditional students and having the two groups learn side-by-side in correctional facility classrooms. It’s a model that’s been so effective that it’s experienced a prolific spread to other institutions.

The idea was born when Criminal Justice Instructor Lori Pompa, at the suggestion of an incarcerated person, took a group of criminal justice students over the course of a semester to Philadelphia jails in 1997. The group sat in a circle, alternating between those on the “inside” and the “outside.” It proved to be so popular that a number of the students from the early days still meet today, and, within seven years, the program had gone national. Today, it’s international.

“Early on, we decided it was too good of an idea to just keep at one university,” explains Pompa. “And so we decided to develop it into a national program and got some money to be able to do that. We had our first national training in 2004. The trainings are seven days in length, and three of those days are spent inside prison with people on the inside who have experience with Inside-Out. We've now had 65 trainings. We've trained more than a thousand college professors from throughout the United States and 12 other countries.”

Somewhere around 40,000 students have now been through the program, and there are currently scores of Inside-Out classes happening all over the world. The classes run the gamut from law to religion to geography and criminal justice, to name a few. Each of those classes revolves around opening up a dialogue.

“This is an opportunity for people to come to some deeper understandings about whatever the topics are,” Pompa adds. “And some of what happens in the class is that everybody, including the instructor, learns about themselves, about other people, about communication. It's a deep and powerful experience.”

The professor says she never could have envisioned 22 years ago that the program would grow to become all this, calling the growth both “shocking” and “special.” It’s only been possible because Inside-Out has allowed those who want to get involved to impact the pace and manner in which it’s grown.

One spin-off that’s surprised and impressed Pompa is a program that pairs police recruits with incarcerated people to bridge the social divide and get them to see each other as just people. Another, says Inside-Out Interim Assistant Director Dave Krueger, is a workshop for Temple’s Kornberg School of Dentistry that has students reflect on privilege and power and what it means to be a caregiver to people living in North Philadelphia.

And on Monday night at 6 p.m. in the Ritter Annex’s Kiva Auditorium, Inside-Out, in partnership with the Criminal Justice Society, will host a film screening of The Mayor of Graterford. The film explores the realities of living a life in prison, doing so through the lenses of two formerly incarcerated individuals at Graterford Prison, where the Inside-Out program began to come into its own in 2002. The screening will be followed by a student discussion with Tyrone Werts, the “Mayor of Graterford.”

Krueger says the screening and discussion will further Inside-Out’s mission of facilitating dialogue about the criminal justice system on campuses and building bridges between people on the inside and outside of prison.

“Inside-Out helps provide critical-thinking, communication and other types of skills to people coming out and getting back into the real world,” says Krueger. “But also, students on the outside are now citizens who are better able to recognize the potential of people who are formerly incarcerated. They see them in a different light. They see them in more of a humane kind of way.”

Interested in Inside-Out’s mission? Enroll in an Inside-Out Training Institute, financially support the program or register for your free tickets to see The Mayor of Graterford.

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