Beginning in January 2008, Berry College, the Floyd County Jail (FCJ), and the Rome community entered into a dynamic partnership by offering a unique college level course in the FCJ. The course, called Social Inequality: Race, Class, and Gender (SOC 335), is an upper level sociology course, and is offered through the efforts of Dr. Sarah Allred, Assistant Professor of Sociology, and Ms. Elizabeth Wallace, class facilitator and Director, and Sheriff Tim Burkhalter.
The course is modeled after a national program called the Inside Out Prison (IO) Exchange Program, and involves learning about social inequality by holding class sessions in the Floyd County Jail. The IO Prison Exchange Program was piloted in 1997 by Program Director, Lori Pompa, with the support of the Philadelphia Prison System and Temple University. Ms. Pompa has developed this program into a model for national replication. To date, this program curriculum has been incorporated into about 125 college level courses across 18 states involving 36 colleges and universities. Dr. Allred’s IO course is the first of this type to be offered in Georgia. The establishment of the course in the FCJ was made possible by the exceptionally positive and practical support offered by two key people affiliated with the criminal justice system in Floyd County: Sheriff Burkhalter and his staff.
Students in this class meet in the FCJ for 2.5 hours a week, and include 15 Berry College Students (Outside Students), 12 FCJ student inmates (Inside students), and 1 student who is a member from the Rome faith community. In addition, Ms. Wallace is also a member from the faith community and says, “I have wanted to deeply engage members of the faith community in an educational and experiential opportunity that creates the best chance for understanding the sociological context of the people they feel called upon to serve.” Dr. Allred says, “this course is consistent with Berry’s tradition of involving the ‘head, heart, and hands’ of students and encouraging learning that involves a mutual relationship of give-and-take in service and learning.”
The overall purpose of the class is to deepen the understanding of inequality, crime, punishment, and justice in America. In its final weeks, the course offers a sociological exploration into the causes and consequences of inequality in contemporary America, with an emphasis on the interface between inequality, crime, punishment, and justice. Several questions they have addressed throughout the semester include: What factors explain social stratification and inequality? How do race, class, and gender fit into theories of crime and social attainment? How is offending related to race, class, and gender? How punishment is differentially experienced? What is the impact of incarceration on social stratification? These topics and others have been discussed within the walls of the Floyd County Jail, among Berry College students, a few members from the Rome community, as well as students who are presently serving time in the institution. The course method of teaching used in this and other IO courses is best described as an experiential learning opportunity, with the potential to impact significantly the lives of all participants. Anonymous quotes from students give an indication of the potential impact of this experience…
When asked “what has IO meant to you?”, students have said the following,
“a change of heart, a change of mind, insight to people I may work with in the future” (Outside student),
“it has meant a lot to me and my kid’s future, it means freedom for me and a new start on life, it’s meant a lot to me to have had the chance to be in and take this class, it’s truly a blessing from God and thanks to Major Daniel and our teachers” (Inside student)
“it is great to see how each and everyone has changed for the positive.” (Outside student)
“I will take information from this class and use this experience to bring former inmates and members of a community together, to build lasting bonds between us all.” (Inside student)
“it has been an honor to be in the first Inside Out class in the state. I hope that our experience makes it possible for this program to become open to many more students. The more chances we have to interact, the better we will understand each other and the more hope we will create for the future.” (Outside student)
“IO means more to me than words can say. Renewal. Rebirth. Reconstruction. Redidicate. Experience. Learn. Grow. Work. Look inside all the answers are there.” (Inside student)
For additional information about the national program Inside Out, please contact Lori Pompa, Temple University. Department of Criminal Justice,Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, http://www.temple.edu/inside-out.