By Lauren Tenpenny, COM 250 Reporter
Edited by Shelby Newland, COM 303 Editor
ROME, Ga.— This semester, consultants from the Berry College Writing Center haven’t been working with just Berry students. They’ve been working with inmates.
Since January, a small group of consultants, led by the Writing Center’s director Mellissa Mullins, have provided writing assistance to inmates at Floyd County Prison. The group supports a class being taught by Associate Professor of Sociology Sarah Allred.
Taught through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, the Sociology of Disabilities class includes Berry students, or outside students, as well as inmates, or inside students, who meet at the prison for bi-weekly lectures.
The Writing Center has held three workshops in which consultants visit the prison to give the inmates one-on-one assistance on assignments from Allred’s course.
Mullins, as well as one of the student consultants, Hannah Barnes, said the most surprising thing has been the enthusiasm and skill-level of the inside students.
“One guy I worked with was writing on a much higher level than most college students,” Barnes said. “They’ve impressed me.”
Mullins said that through the Inside-Out program, students and writing consultants are met with a reality that differs from common media portrayals of prisons.
“None of us had ever been inside a prison before,” Mullins said. “We went in half-expecting this antagonistic, aggressive, violent environment. From the get-go, we could not have been more wrong about that.”
The Inside-Out website says it allows people to get rid of their misconceptions and cross profound social boundaries by bringing traditional college students and incarcerated students together to experience a learning environment unlike any they’ve encountered previously.
Inside-Out, established in Philadelphia in 1997, trains professionals from colleges all over the country to help them foster productive learning environments and provide inclusive education. Allred has been working with Inside-Out for 12 years and teaches a class at Floyd County Prison on Tuesday afternoons.
To participate in Allred’s Sociology of Disabilities class at Berry, outside students sign a waiver at the beginning of the semester and take part in a training session. Inside students also participate in an informational session, separate from the rest of the class for the first week. For the rest of the semester, the two groups meet together twice a week.
Allred has made it a priority that the class sits in circles, every other chair being an inside student, to promote friendships and a relaxing atmosphere for both inside and outside students.
“It’s amazing to grasp on the one hand how that class experience touches and transforms many people in that class, but not necessarily in the same way,” Allred said. “It’s carried over in ripple effects to the rest of the facility as well.”
Allred said that each semester is closed by an official ceremony held at the prison to acknowledge what was accomplished. The ceremony usually includes words of wisdom and encouragement from the provost as well as gratitude from the warden at the prison. Both inside and outside students are encouraged to share not only what they’ve learned from the material, but also about what they’ve learned about themselves.
Inside students this year will have something new to celebrate, because for the first time, Allred’s course will allow them to earn college credit, a small step toward building their futures.