Incarcerated Women and High School Students Attend Class Together: ‘We’re All Americans in One Way or Another’


Paintings executed by one of many ladies in Maine taking “Bridging the Divide.” (Courtesy)

In fall of 2020, distinguished filmmaker Lynn Novick went to her alma mater, unique New York Metropolis prep faculty Horace Mann, to showcase her Emmy-nominated documentary collection, College Behind Bars. A yr later, the documentary—showcasing the Bard College Prison Initiative, which introduced in-person studying and training to jail—impressed Horace Mann senior Simon Schackner to create one thing that seems to have by no means been executed earlier than: a category concurrently taught to 11 college students at his highschool and 6 college students at a minimum-security ladies’s jail in Maine. 

 “I used to be simply amazed by watching the documentary and realized that I really feel like my friends and I form of take our training with no consideration,” Schackner instructed Ms.

Though courses between incarcerated individuals and conventional school college students have occurred in the US, equivalent to Tufts’s Inside/Out program, it appears nothing prefer it has been executed at the highschool degree, creating a possible new motion in training.

In regards to the Class

The category, entitled “Bridging the Divide,” began in September of 2021 and resulted in January 2022. Assembly on Zoom 3 times per week, the category was taught collaboratively between Rebecca Bahr, a trainer from Horace Mann, and Abbie Embry-Turner from the Southern Maine Ladies’s Reentry Heart.

Bahr and Embry-Turner each say the category functioned as a typical Zoom class—all college students listened and took part in discussions about their assigned readings. “Bridging the Divide” included readings in modern American fiction, nonfiction and poetry, in an try and reply the query: What’s the American dream, and what’s the American actuality? A number of visitor authors visited the category, together with Phuc Tran, Silas Hagerty, Arisa White and Rodney Spivey-Jones.

The truth that someone in a privileged place like that would suppose that I’ve one thing to supply is a brand new factor. And I need that to be identified—that we now have loads to supply. Lived expertise is price a lot.

Gwen Wellman, a pupil in a Maine correctional facility

“Bridging the Divide” isn’t being provided this semester, however Bahr and Embry-Turner’s new class referred to as “Monstrous People, Humane Monsters” will probably be attended by most of the identical college students, in addition to some new ones from each the jail and the highschool.

Partnerships and the Creation of “Bridging the Divide”

Though the courses have change into nice successes, with too many college students desirous to be part of the courses than are capable of be part of, creating “Bridging the Divide” within the first place wasn’t straightforward.

“Satirically, Horace Mann was kind of skeptical, as a result of this was nonetheless pre-COVID, concerning the prospects of something on-line,” Schackner stated. Fortunately, the varsity was open to his concept, and later, when Schackner utilized for the Alexander Capulluto Award from Horace Mann, an award that seeks to encourage public service, he was awarded $2,500 to help in creating the course. This funding allowed all the college students the flexibility to have copies and personal all their books. The remainder of the cash will assist bolster the correctional facility’s library.

Schackner additionally reached out to Large Image Academic—a small academic group that works with filmmakers to carry movie and media content material to varsities, communities and universities, who additionally partnered with School Behind Bars. By means of Large Image, Schackner was capable of work with and talk about the creation of “Bridging the Divide” with, amongst different individuals, Lynn Novick.

Kim Birbrower, founding companion of Large Image Academic, stated they had been thrilled to assist. “We frequently get suggestions from academics and college students concerning the impression our movies have had once they’ve watched them. …[‘Bridging the Divide’] is a very nice instance of how one pupil took that inspiration and put it into motion.”

Bahr and Embry-Turner spent numerous hours crafting a syllabus and labored with Washington Neighborhood School and College of Maine-Augusta to supply school credit for the category to the incarcerated women who took the category.

 “I feel there are loads of misconceptions about why our college students are right here, or why they could or could not deserve this sort of alternative,” stated Amanda Nowak, director of jail training partnership on the College of Maine at Augusta. “However I feel individuals don’t understand all the systemic limitations and challenges that our college students have confronted that introduced them up to now. We need to be certain that all the members of our neighborhood have the identical academic rights as a result of training can tremendously scale back the challenges that folks find yourself going through down the highway. From a restorative standpoint, we imagine training has the ability to remodel lives and remodel communities and so it can at all times be price investing in our college students.”

Finally, Commissioner Randall Liberty within the Division of Corrections in Maine, a pacesetter in implementing insurance policies and packages to scale back recidivism, signed off on the course: “When this proposal got here to me, I didn’t hesitate. … Any time that I can expose the individuals which might be below my care to greater training to broader considering to develop their horizons … may be very useful. … Of us who’re incarcerated shouldn’t be thought of throwaways. They’re price investing in and our communities will probably be stronger because of these programmatic efforts.”

Native Maine companies equivalent to Bridgton Books and Reny’s additionally had been concerned within the course of and donated books and provides for the category.

Intentionality Inside the Classroom

Though there have been important variations between the highschool college students at Horace Mann, all of whom are seniors, and the incarcerated ladies, most of whom are moms whose common age is 35, Bahr and Embry-Turner are decided in every class to not give attention to the variations between those that are incarcerated and those that are free. Embry-Turner instructed Ms. the courses are “actually a celebration of mental capabilities within the class. … We’re all People in a technique or one other, and what it means what which means to us individually and collectively and the place you’re coming from [is] the least vital.”

The scholars have felt and understood this intention. “It wasn’t studying about one another. It was studying in tandem,” stated Gwen Wellman, an incarcerated pupil who was in “Bridging the Divide” and is at the moment taking “Monstrous People, Humane Monsters.” Wellman is on observe to complete her bachelor’s diploma in two years and intends to pursue a grasp’s diploma in social work.

Jail training is essential to the best way that [people who are incarcerated] reenter society. Having this chance has given our era a take a look at how we’re price that chance.

Gwen Wellman

“Bridging the Divide” “felt completely different [than other classes] when it comes to listening to views that you just wouldn’t usually hear,” Schackner stated, “but it surely functioned like every English class at Horace Mann usually capabilities … and it prolonged simply past the very fact of ‘incarcerated’ versus ‘not.’ … It hit on so many extra ranges than I actually might have ever actually anticipated.”

Scholar and Trainer Responses

For Wellman, attending “Bridging the Divide” wasn’t straightforward in the beginning: “Realizing that we had been going right into a classroom with harmless younger minds who don’t know our tales and that wasn’t part of the category program—to inform them these tales—and attempting to navigate how you can middle ourselves was a battle at instances.”

Nonetheless, “the great moments have completely outweighed the struggles of it.” Wellman stated a lot of her friends in jail additionally discovered the category cathartic. 

Because of the courses, Wellman stated she’s “constructed some actual, significant connections with the children now.” One, particularly, has stood out to her—a lady at Horace Mann who instructed Wellman she’s amazed by her. “She’s amazed by me, and I’m considering, you realize you’re the wonderful one! The truth that someone in a privileged place like that would suppose that I’ve one thing to supply is a brand new factor,” stated Wellman. “And I need that to be identified—that we now have loads to supply. Lived expertise is price a lot.”

Being within the courses additionally impacted Wellman’s residence life. The mom of a 15-year-old, she discovered herself studying greater than the category materials however about new developments and creating new concepts, which helped her to narrate along with her daughter. Consequently, she stated, it was “just a little bit higher once I referred to as residence.”

Different ladies who’re incarcerated felt equally. “Once I first talked about it to the ladies, the factor that impressed them was: ‘I can’t wait to work with individuals my son’s age, or my daughter’s age. I can’t wait to listen to how they suppose and have interaction in dialog about literature with them,’” Embry-Turner stated. “That was only a actually highly effective factor.”

“Bridging the Divide” additionally has left an enduring impression on the scholars at the highschool. A number of college students referred to as this probably the most profound class they’ve had at Horace Mann, based on Bahr.

The method of educating each courses has additionally been significant for Embry-Turner and Bahr, who stated she was notably impacted by the point she spent with the incarcerated ladies earlier than every class interval began, studying extra about them whereas doing yoga or different actions: “They got here to belief me.”

The Way forward for Schooling

Though the “Monstrous People, Humane Monsters” course will probably be ending on the finish of the spring semester, the way forward for courses between incarcerated college students and highschool college students is much from over. Horace Mann will probably be providing the programs once more subsequent tutorial yr, and Large Image Academic is at the moment talking with three different excessive colleges in New York concerned about implementing comparable packages.

“The objective [of Big Picture Educational] is to create one thing that continues in perpetuity,” stated Birbrower, “to create one thing that may be executed over time and that may be tailored and picked up by individuals sooner or later.”

Liberty is behind this mission: “I’ll assist and am dedicated to supporting any of those packages at both the faculty or highschool degree. … All of this inhabitants deserves the chance to develop and develop and to be higher than once they arrived.” 

Two courses is a small begin, however the courses’ future potential remains to be to be decided. “We’ve got a very lengthy method to go,” stated Embry-Turner, “however my hope is loads of issues. One is that this mannequin might develop, but in addition that it would create just a little extra freedom for people who find themselves incarcerated to soundly be part of communities once more, studying areas.”

“Jail training is essential to the best way that [people who are incarcerated] reenter society,” stated Wellman. “Having this chance has given our era a take a look at how we’re price that chance.”

For extra details about “Bridging the Divide,” School Behind Bars, and different free, film-based academic packages, contact Large Image Ed at [email protected].

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