Teaching about Justice in Jail

Students in Goshen College’s PJCS 220 “Inside-Out: Justice in Our Lives” course discuss the readings for the day. The course takes place inside the Elkhart County Correctional Complex and the roster is composed of 15 ECCC residents and 12 Goshen College students. All students who complete the coursework have the opportunity of earning three Goshen College credits.

Goshen College runs a three-week “May Term” each year in which faculty have opportunity to teach unique courses that don’t fit easily into the regular calendar. This year I am co-teaching a course (along with my colleague Suzanne Ehst from the Education Department) called “Justice in Our Lives” inside the Elkhart County Jail. The course was designed some years ago using the internationally-acclaimed Inside-Out structure that involves holding class inside a correctional facility with part of the students coming from a traditional college/university setting and the other part coming from the residents of that facility. This particular course involves examining the criminal justice system and how it impacts both those enmeshed in it and the communities it is intended to serve. Each day all students complete assigned readings and write in their journals. Additionally, three extended essays are due, one each week of the course. The course meets every day for three hours over three weeks

Reading the journals has alerted us to the fact that there are some excellent writers in the course. Joe, an “inside student” (residing in the Elkhart County Correctional Complex) gave me permission to share this entry on my blog. It reveals both the power inherent in the encounters made possible by this course as well as the freedom unleashed through reflective writing.

Just as a docmaster guides the comings and goings. Just as they cry “Sail!” You have cried “Write!” I left off where I became lost and I would like to thank you for setting me free. This class has spoken to the deepest parts of my soul. What I have read has brought a sense of “I see you” that I have needed, as well as a place to sail. At least four people opted out of this class [ahead of me]. I was the very last choice [on the list]. I believe the ocean was trying to steal from me yet again. But, hope! Beware!

In the distance, two voices cry out “Sail!”

Thanks, Joe, and all of the Inside (and Outside) students for allowing us to join you on the journey in this incredible learning community!