In Class News

October 15, 2014 at 9:23 am

Student Group Visits Marion Correctional Institution

Students for Law, Justice & Culture, the student organization affiliated with the Center for Law, Justice & Culture, drove up to Marion Correctional Institution, a medium security prison north of Columbus, on Oct. 4 to learn about the prison’s progressive community center for inmates.

The center, called LifeLine, is run by WinWin’s Institute for Response-Able ReEntry (R.A.R.E.). Through LifeLife, R.A.R.E. supports higher education initiatives for prisoners inside Marion Correctional Institution. At LifeLine, prisoners can enroll in classes in computer programming, language skills, poetry and many other topics.

SLJC members and a few wonderful people who support the LifeLine initiative.

SLJC members and a few wonderful people who support the LifeLine initiative.

At Marion Correctional Institution, SLJC met with several R.A.R.E. employees who work directly with LifeLine and had the opportunity to visit the community center and meet with 20 or so inmates who have made LifeLine their home within the prison. Many of these men have designed and now run their own initiatives within LifeLine.

“They proved almost every stereotype wrong,” reflected Jessica Roth, a freshman studying sociology and global studies and a member of SLJC. “They are all intelligent, motivated and respectful men, who spend their time helping others in their situation learn. In my opinion, their jobs are some of the most important in the prison because education is the most effective way to keep people out of prison once they are released.”

The R.A.R.E. Institute’s goal, as its name indicates, is to help prepare prisoners for the often difficult transition from prison to public life. According to the Council of State Government’s Justice Center’s website, more than four in 10 offenders return to state prison within three years of their release. One of the ways to ease this transition and prevent recidivism is to help inmates cultivate marketable skills that can help them find legitimate employment after reentry.

SLJC spent the day in the LifeLine community center, dialoguing with the prisoners about their personal experiences and views on a variety of topics, including religion in prison, solitary confinement and the dynamics between them and the prison guards.

At one point, several of the prisoners performed spoken word poetry that they wrote themselves. One, for example, was about the differences between lies and truth. SLJC also watched one man perform a preview of a talk that was presented on Oct. 11 at TEDxMarionCorrectional, an independent TED Talk conference run out of the prison. This presentation explored what it means on a personal level to be a minor convicted as an adult.

As wonderful as LifeLine and as progressive as Marion Correctional Institution were, SLJC also learned that it is not the norm among American prisons. Many prisons continue to function as they always have, unquestioning of rules that have been in place for years, despite whether or not they make sense.

“Many of these injustices continue because of how stifled prisoners’ voices have become,” Roth explained. “They have been forgotten by the American public. I hope to help bring awareness to these injustices, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of these opportunities in the future.”

The four SLJC students who visited the prison are glad to have done so. On the way home, they excitedly planned future collaborations with the R.A.R.E. Institute and with the inspiring men they met that day.

“The trip was a great opportunity to learn about the realities of prison life and what prison can be like,” said Elizabeth Cychosz, treasurer of SLJC. “We are very grateful to the R.A.R.E. Institute for supporting this trip, and we hope to cultivate this relationship in the future.”

SLJC’s visit falls in line with the Making and Breaking the Law curricular theme’s series “Critical Resistance to Mass Incarceration.” So far this year, other events in the series have included the “Racism, Policing and Struggles for Justice in Ferguson” faculty panel and last week’s “Re-Entry in the Era of Mass Incarceration.”

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