I believe that college should be a time for students to get together, despite their differences, and discuss social issues openly. Arcadia offers many courses and programs that align with this idea, but one, in particular, sparked my interest: “Inside-Out from the Outside-In,” a class that’s been offered since 2012.
Last year’s “Inside-Out” class.
In short, “Inside-Out”— led by Arcadia’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice— allows students to take courses with inmates at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center. According to the program’s website, the Inside-Out program “stems from the belief that our society is strengthened when higher education/learning is made widely accessible and, at the same time, when it allows participants to encounter each other as equals, often across profound social barriers.”
The concept was fascinating to me, so I decided to talk to an English professor of mine, Sue Pierce, who has been working with the Inside-Out program since 2011. She taught at the prison in Philadelphia, with the women’s unit at Philadelphia’s Federal Detention Center, and at Riverside Correctional Facility, a women’s facility in Philadelphia.
“Inside-Out has been one of the most profound personal and professional experiences I have ever had,” said professor Pierce. “It changed the way I view teaching and education and has given me insights about criminal justice and corrections in the U.S. that I would never have gotten otherwise. The ‘inside’ students (those in the class who are incarcerated) are some of the most intelligent, funny, warm, and insightful people I have ever met. Despite any mistakes they may have made, they are still people, stuck in a system that treats them as less than human.”
I also interviewed Psychology/Criminal Justice major Brandy Rust ’21, who is taking the “Inside-Out” course:
Why are you taking this course?
Brandy: I took “Acting Behind the Walls” because it is completely out of my comfort zone. I had never been near a prison before, and as Psychology/Criminal Justice major with a minor in Spanish, acting offered a great break from the sciences.
How did you learn about this program, and why do you think students don’t know about it?
B: I learned about this program from my Criminal Justice advisor. I didn’t hear about it on campus, and I hope that, in the future, they advertise it more. It is a great and life-changing experience.
Do you feel intimidated or uncomfortable while you’re there?
B: During my orientation at the prison and our first combined class, we got to take a tour of the prison and walk through the general population. It was very overwhelming. I was also pretty uncomfortable being in front of others and acting, but now I’m always excited to go to class and do exercises.
Is it a “stereotypical” prison setting?
B: Some of the prison itself seemed stereotypical, but it was very orderly and not as crazy [as portrayed in media]. There are always inmates in the hall, walking around— there’s a computer library, TVs, and a gym. Not heaven, but not solitary.
Much like us, the “inside” students are trying to get an education and better themselves for the future. The societal barriers we place around ourselves prevent us from fully engaging in experiences that help us become not just better learners, but better people. Those who participate in this course— even those who read about it— benefit from knowing that we’re part of a community that recognizes and engages in dialogue about human rights.
After talking with Brandy and my professor, I plan to take the class myself and be immersed in this diverse and unique community.