Solidarity Confinement

Cheers for solidarity. Because solitary confinement isn't working.

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Empowered by Perspective

In my 5 years at Drexel I’ve taken 230 credits of coursework and I can safely say that just 3 of those have truly challenged my perspective of this world. Those 3 credits were earned in this classroom, or “library,” with a group of students who challenged me consistently each week to think outside of that box my family and the media created for me.

To the inside guys who helped to change who I am… thank you. I’m a better, more informed person after taking this class. A few weeks ago, one of the inside guys said he felt disempowered after class. He was disempowered because he thought the outside students would leave this class, walk outside and forget all about this journey.  But he forgot something. Because even though I get to leave, fly overseas and say “peace out Drexel,” there’s a part of me that has changed.

The next time I’m walking around Philadelphia and see a bunch of guys outside of a corner store I won’t automatically think—criminal. Instead I’ll wonder what their story is. When Drexel’s financial aid office tries to make my life miserable again, I won’t think, boy my life sucks. Instead I’ll think of how lucky I am to have the opportunity to attend college. Because what I’m really walking away with from this class is…perspective. And that will stay with me.

To Dean Murasko— I ask (nay beg) you to mandate these types of courses to undergraduate students in our college. Drexel and the College of Arts and Sciences will be a better university for it. 

To Mr. Deputy Warden—Thank you for allowing us to enter CFCF weekly. I hope you will continue to encourage universities to partner with CFCF for courses like this in the future.

And finally to the amazing Cyndi—you’re an inspiration to us all and I can’t thank you enough for working hard to make this possible for Drexel students. It was clear from the beginning that you set us all up for success and that yes, we’re leaving with more questions than answers.

Thank you. 

-Written by an Outside student, Stephanie, as her speech for the closing ceremony

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One Final Word

Serendipity. That’s the word that comes to mind when I look around this cement box (aka the “library”) filled with my fellow inside and outside classmates. How lucky are we to have met these wonderful individuals and get to share this extremely emotional and educational experience with each other?

The mood for the past few class sessions have been very somber because at the end of this course, we are essentially contradicting what we were put in this classroom to do – build a collaborative relationship with people that we may never have gotten the pleasure to know. But rather than holding on to sorrow and a sense of separation anxiety, we should rejoice in the fact that each one of us was able to experience something this unique together. Part of the reason why we have separation anxiety when we leave people or places is due to fear of the unknown. Well, before we stepped foot into the “library”, these individuals from the inside was part of the unknown. And boy am I relieved that our fear and anxiety preceding this class did not stop us from being a part of something so wonderful.

One of the rules of this course is that we cannot keep in contact with the inside students once the course is over. I was completely okay with those boundaries and did not see it becoming an issue but now that we’re coming to a close, I start to get nostalgic thinking back on our discussions and how we all helped each other grow as students and as people in this stale, grey room that would otherwise not have been considered a learning center by any means if it were not for the charismatic and inspiring personalities in the class.

But rather than becoming sad, I urge everyone to instead see beauty in the fact that we are here. In this room together. Could you have even imagined this happening or even the wonderful relationships we’ve built together? We may never see each other again as life goes on inside and outside of these walls. We may not even remember each other’s names or faces. But we will always look back and remember back to that time when we took a course inside a cement box that gave all libraries a bad name. And we learned. Whether if it’s about the correctional system or how similar 2 people from completely different groups can be, we learned. We are not inside or outside students. We are not inmates and Drexel students. We are human beings here to respect and celebrate our differences…and I think that’s beautiful, if nothing else.

“Life is not always about establishing certainty, but more importantly about retaining uncertainty and exercising a capacity for wonder.”

-Written by anonymous

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Some say that it’s a person that does something over and over again while expecting a different outcome. For example, a “hustler” selling drugs and getting locked up over and over again, yet expecting different result. Some might classify that as Insanity.

How about shifting the perspective.

Instead of a person, a singular and conscientious being, we analyze a society, government or bureaucratic system, consisting of a numerous amount of people or beings that form a “collective” conscientious through, let’s say, a Democracy.  Now if one or all of these aforementioned “groups” were to react and respond to a number of similar albeit unique, occurrences in the same manner year after year, while perplexedly expecting a different outcome.  An “outcome” that has slightly, if at all, change in the past 40-50 years. Would you classify this, almost identical behavior as Insanity?

Are we Insane or am I just another mindless sheep, goy or piece of cattle being led by my fellow man and “peers” to the slaughter?

“Take the red pill.”

-Written by an Inside Student 5/17/12

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Taking Resources For Granted

Paper. Scissors. Paint. Those items aren’t too hard to come back. Check your local grocery store or classroom and you’ll be sure to find what you need.

But these resources can’t be found in a county jail, for obvious reasons. So when an Inside student wanted to make a “scroll” to present to the Dean at our closing ceremony in a few weeks, it was normal to be curious how it would come to fruition.

Last class, that student presented the first look at the scroll he made. It looked stunning with a darker border to reflect an “aged” look and accents along the side. How did this happen, you ask? Bed sheet. Coffee. Talk about innovation and resourcefulness. Taking part of one’s own bed sheet to use for a present for the Dean proved to me that the class is meaningful on an entirely new level to some of the inside students. The scroll is beautiful and after our closing ceremony (once the signatures of the inmates and the messages are added) I hope to share a picture with all of you.

But the point here is to illustrate two things: 1) how creativity can be stifled in a place like a county jail where little to no resources are provided (in a controlled environment) for inmates to reflect through artistic expression and 2) how much the outside students take simple resources, like paper, for granted.

 -Written by Stephanie, an Outside student

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"Who Am I"

Who am I?
I am Him the sustainer for all of the substance your eye’s can see is why I share equal value to preserve life for Him who created me looking from the outside in on the people who was called by his name 
Losing the moral reason 
Why I exist or never took the time to seek out why I play a major role within the galaxy surrounded by the great “deep blue seas”
Holding the perfect spot in the spinning at a constant speed standing up for the “cause”
For Him keeping me in his solid prayers
Looking forward to the children perpetual promise 
As the evidence for the need of changing the people whom he love first 
Perspective on living for the long hall seeking to use the knowledgable ones to bring the long and found up in the training
Abomination of the creator of the heavens, stars, moon, and all that exists

Who am I?
O Mother Theresa will you save me? 
By guiding the children to a brighter destiny
Transforming them into the same identity of those elected children of the first born whom my God awarded them there attribute  

Who am I?
A stone formed into your world
A man’s best friend 
Seeking for the rest of me without the power to speak
Resuccrected with those who can look at my wounds that provide a clear picture why I cry out Holy, Holy, Holy save me, people, people embrace me.
Love it my necessity
Please with Him who pleas for me

Who am I?
Your World

-Written by an Inside Student 

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Helpless, But Hopeful

Today’s class went well, as I feel most of them do, that is until the end.

I feel I owe it to my classmates, and maybe to some extent myself, to flesh out why it is that at the end of the class when we were asked to give one word to describe how we were feeling, my word was “upset”.

Prior to this, an inmate contributed to a discussion by responding that it is great that we as a class gather and talk about these issues and that we care so much. He acknowledged that our criminal system has a great number of flaws and weaknesses but at the end of the day there “ain’t no one person in this room who is going to be able to do anything about it.” 

I am a very strong willed individual who does not usually take much stock in the opinions of others as more than opinions, and as mentioned before, in this class we assume good intent. It is not that I am upset with the inmate who made this comment in any way, but the impact that his words had on me was immense. As a Drexel student who is getting ready to graduate in five short weeks and go to law school in the fall, I was nearly reduced to tears right there in the classroom.

At first, I wanted to cry for my fellow classmates. Then, I wanted to cry for those who were victims of crime and the criminal justice system, no matter which side they were on. Then I came to the conclusion that I wanted to cry because in that moment I wanted more than anything to tell that young man that that is the exact reason why I am in this class.

Limitations exist in the extent to which you give them power over you.

While I may not be able to reform the entire CJ system, who’s to say I cannot be DA one day if that is what I want to do? Who is to say I cannot be a judge, or at the very least a highly influential attorney?  I’d say it has to start somewhere, and as bluntly as the thought may have entered my mind, as of today, I really would have to say that I believe it starts with me.

-Samantha, an Outside student 5/3/12

Filed under prison jail education inside-out power criminal justice

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An Insider’s Voice: Proving Society Wrong

Who would have ever thoughts that I would be in a college class, especially in a county jail? This class really has me thinking about going further with my education when I am released.

Just being around my outside classmates gives me a positive feeling. They make me realize there’s so much more to life than my HOOD.

It seems my life has been predicted by my society. To prove the society wrong is my goal. This class is teaching me the knowledge and tools to stop the expected and give them the unexpected. Success.

I’m prepared to finish this class and go outside and continue to give my society the unexpected.

-Written by an “Inside” student, 4/26/12

This blog accepts posts from Inside students and will post them as submitted.

Filed under prison education mass incarceration jail college inside-out