Inside-Out Program Explores Criminal and Social Justice Through Art

By Caitlin Burns | December 9, 2020

While the Inside-Out Prison Exchange program looked a little different this semester than it has in the 17-year history at Arcadia, students remained engaged in challenging discussions about the criminal justice system and its impact on society.

For the first time, the Inside-Out program was taught online and with formerly incarcerated individuals rather than in-person at one of the regional prisons with currently incarcerated individuals. Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Kevin Revier said it was a chance to rethink the boundaries of online learning and what the Inside-Out program could accomplish.

“It was interesting because I got trained in the program last March, right before everything went on lockdown,” said Revier. “To translate it online, I had to find a way to replicate these community building exercises. It’s helped me realize the importance of community learning, and how to mediate discussions.”

As a final project, students had to explore how different forms of art, including music and murals, could impact the criminal justice system, such as rehabilitation and parole. Formerly incarcerated student Freddie Noles said that the discussions around art helped showcase that there are alternatives to incarceration.

“People come away from the Inside-Out program with a lot of memories, even if the inside students never see the college students again,” said Noles. “The impressions continue to be profound. The one thing I hope students took away from this course is that we need young people to be involved in the dynamics of the criminal justice system. They have the opportunity to shape and mold our system in a way that impacts all of us.”

For Criminal Justice major Nicole Bassa Silfa ’21, this course has made her question her whole career path and what the next steps are post-graduation. While she’s always seen herself in the courtroom as a lawyer, now she’s uncertain about whether her involvement in the criminal justice system stops with a verdict. 

“I’ve done internships since the summer after my senior year of high school, but they’ve always been in the courtroom and seeing one side,” said Bassa Silfa, who’s now considering going to graduate school for policy. “This class put a lot of pieces together for me, but also mixed everything up. One of the biggest takeaways for me was that you don’t have to be somebody or have a certain degree to actually impact lives. Freddie is changing lives through this program. Kevin is changing lives through this program. Why can’t I?”

The Inside-Out program was started in 1997 by Temple University Instructor of Criminal Justice Lori Pompa. Arcadia signed on in 2003, and there are now over 150 higher education institutions working with incarcerated individuals through the Inside-Out program. While this spring the course will remain online at Arcadia, Adjunct Professor of Undergraduate and Graduate Studies Celeste Walker will explore the connections between the performing arts and society with Arcadia students and formerly incarcerated students.