The Inside Out Course and Positive Pathways Partnership are programs run with the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction in nearby Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
The Inside Out Course follows the Inside Out Program model developed at Temple University. In this model, the course consists of an equal number of college students and inmates learning alongside one another in a seminar taught by a college instructor at the correctional institution. A major goal of the course is to facilitate dialogue across difference, potentially developing transformative learning experiences for participants. The program at Williams, begun in 2013 with a course taught by Professor Christian Thorne, was initiated by Gaudino Scholar Magnus Bernhardsson as part of the “Danger Initiative.” It continues now under the guidance of a faculty advisory team (Professors Keith McPartland, Christian Thorne, Jim Nolan, and Kris Kirby) with administration and financial support from the Center for Learning in Action. For more information on the course, contact CLiA Director Dr. Paula Consolini ([email protected]).
The Positive Pathways Partnership (P3) with the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, begun in 2015, supports educational access for those formerly or currently incarcerated in the Berkshire County House of Correction (BCHOC). In fall 2016, when several Williams students attended an orientation and tour of the facility in Pittsfield, some were taken aback by the new environment they had been invited to tutor in. Still, they were inspired to serve by a recognition of the importance of P3’s mission.
From December 2016 to April 2017, Omar Kawam ’20, Diana Sanchez ’17, and Timothy Suh ’18, drove weekly to the 2nd St. Reentry Office in Pittsfield where they taught a recently released individual Writing, Reading, and Math to pass his HiSET exam. Under the supervision of BCHoC staff, tutoring continued through the summer of 2017 in the Pittsfield correctional facility as two inmates sought to work towards their diplomas.
In addition to the tutoring, a small group of Williams students led by Ted McNally ’20, launched a weekly book discussion group at the BCHoC in the Spring of 2017. Within a few years, inmate participation has grown to as many as 16. Williams students facilitate the discussion of books and short stories chosen by the group as a whole. Maus, Legends of the Fall, and Love and War in California have been among the books read and discussed together.
The tutoring and book discussion group initiatives have grown substantially with the addition of another early evening (5:30-7pm) of tutoring to the Thursday slot and more students volunteering to help facilitate the Friday evening book discussions. After additional recruitment to better serve the tutoring needs both in and outside the jail, the Williams’ Director of Quantitative Skills Programs and Peer Support helped the tutors develop tutoring syllabi and a communication system that helps them work more effectively individually and as a team.
When COVID struck, P3 students found a way to continue helping with HISET preparation. Once they heard from the BCHOC education staff about the most challenging content areas of test preparation, they created a series of short tutorial videos to aid those studying for the test. The videos were well received and continue to be used now that the program has returned in person. The videos have since been shared with the Northern Berkshire Adult Basic Education Program.
Even as tutoring and mentoring in this setting may be out of some people’s comfort zone, Williams students and inmates alike are grateful for the rewarding shared learning experiences. Along with the regularly taught Inside-Out Williams course, P3 strives to strengthen relations between the two institutions and offer a larger number of individuals hope in the possibility of new beginnings.
For more information, please contact Ash Bell ([email protected]).