California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    Students and inmates take college courses together

    How many students can say that they had the opportunity to take a college course inside a prison?

    California Lutheran University students have this opportunity by participating in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. The program is led by Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Schannae Lucas, who has a doctorate in criminal justice.

    “The program takes incarcerated and traditional students and has them learning together in a nontraditional setting,” Lucas said. “The program is both domestic and international, and over 800 professors from around the world teach Inside-Out courses. The settings range from juvenile to state and federal prisons, as well as women’s and men’s jails.”

    The Inside-Out Program started in 1997 at Temple University and has been continuing for over 20 years. Lucas said she wanted to bring the program to Cal Lutheran because she has always wanted to find a way to give back to the jail community. She said she would take her students on tours of jails so that they could learn about mass incarceration and jail culture but wanted to do more.

    “I was at a conference and there was a panel of students talking about this program and that intrigued my interest, and that was a way to do what I do and give back to the jail community,” Lucas said. “I’ve always believed in redemption, and this program allowed me to cultivate the ways incarcerated students think; it allowed me to take it to the next level rather than just giving tours to students.”

    Lucas said that this program allows both traditional and incarcerated students to learn together and that it breaks down barriers and helps everyone see each other as human beings. She said this allows incarcerated students to think about crime and justice and gain critical thinking and pro-social skills that can aid them in making better life decisions.

    The Cal Lutheran students in this program are known as the “outsiders” and the incarcerated students are the “insiders.” Among the outsiders is Grace Sanchez, a double major in criminal justice and Spanish.

    “For our class, we go to the Todd Road Ventura County Jail in Santa Paula,” Sanchez said. “On the first day of class, everybody averted eyes when we first walked in and we were like, ‘Are we scared of them or are they scared of us?’ But now, every time we see each other, their days are brightened up.”

    Since the class is new and takes places in a jail, both the incarcerated students and the students at Cal Lutheran had to apply and interview for a spot in the course. After the interviews were finished, nine insiders and nine outsiders were selected to take part in the program.

    “I was in Dr. Lucas’ Family Violence class last year and she was talking about this cool opportunity and she would let us know when we could apply,” Sanchez said. “I took a leap of faith and I got in.”

    Sanchez said that this program has taught her that the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is true, and something all students at Cal Lutheran should know is that people in jail should not be equated to bad people.

    “With this program specifically, you think that a criminal justice major is someone looking at something from an outside perspective and this program is exactly opposite,” Sanchez said. “You are seeing how their personalities have changed because of being in the system, so the only way I know how to help is by listening and then trying to make a difference one step at a time.”

    Another student of Cal Lutheran in the program is Lindsay Voss, also a criminal justice major.

    “I like that it’s different. Nobody else can say that they take a class with people in a jail. You immerse yourself into the criminal justice system,” Voss said. “We are learning from Dr. Lucas but also the insiders, and they have taught me more than I have learned my whole time at [Cal Lutheran].”

    Voss said that the program is good for people who want to work in the criminal justice system because it makes you more vulnerable and gives you a greater understanding.

    “We think differently on certain things because they have experienced things that we haven’t,” Voss said.

    Lucas says that the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program has been successful so far and that she has high hopes for the insiders as well as the future of the program.

    “I want to push for them to get [college] credit. They learn to make different and better decisions and they get to see that college students aren’t as different as they are,” Lucas said.

    Ashley Fisher