ACE Think Tank poems

By Nina Greene

During one of our think tank Another Chance at Education (ACE)’s June meetings, we created “surrealist poems.” I was inspired to co-lead this activity with Namratha after rereading through my Inside-Out course anthology.

I took Professor Anita Chari’s Autobiography as Political Agency class during spring 2014, with Jordan Wilkie as our Teaching Assistant. As I reread through our anthology, I remembered one of my favorite activities during our class: Jordan leading us in creating “surrealist group poems.”  I outline below the steps to create the poem. After creating the poems in both this class and in ACE, we had each small group pick their favorite poem to read aloud to the larger group, and the room filled at different moments with weight, compassion, and laughter.

Namratha and I divided ACE into groups of four--two inside students and two outside students. Each student with a piece of paper, Namratha and I read the prompt: “I’ll never forget the day when....” Each student responded to the prompt on the line below, writing whatever came to their mind, folded the paper to hide the first line, and then passed their paper to their group member to the right. We continued this way for several more rotations, and produced the “surrealist poems” you’ll read below.


(1) Jimmy, Josh, Keene, and Terrence

I’ll never forget the day when…

I first went to the beach

And witnessed the most amazing sunset


I Bought my first Island

endless ocean between me and the rest of the world

Am I lonely or never alone?


I broke out with them and walked home

free as a kite in the air

Flying high again



(2) Eric, Francisco, Shaul, and Zoë

I’ll never forget the day when…

I turned myself over to the system

and begin to really listen

to learn to embrace the impurities

and find meaning

At least for me, and that’s a start

My life now focused like a dart

clarity revealed and new breaths tasting real

Like mountain air fresh and clear

Speaks to those who clearly have it all

Like a shooting star on its free fall

dancing and twirling, truly falling but with grace


(3) Ben, Kosal, Nina S., and Phoebe

I’ll never forget the day when…

We left Columbus

and told the truth about Christopher

he had been in there for several hours when,

he collapsed against the table, knees crumpling

This is my heart I offer you

It’s all I have so answer me true

If you ever cared for me at all,

you’d know to lock the door behind you

or the wild things will find you

and then you will be wild too

Book Club: John Serbu Youth Campus

By Keene Corbin

    Through our book club meeting for SERBU last week I was reminded how it feels to do the work that we do. The space felt inclusive and we spoke about potential themes that we were fascinated by. Noah spoke about his passion for music, hip hop, and lyrics and the power and beauty of its narrative. Aubrie spoke about her research on gentrification in Portland and how it could present a wholesome topic for the SERBU youth to learn about and formulate ideas and opinions around. We also had an interesting conversation of how the words that we choose to use can have dramatic impacts on the way that people interpret the message.

    For me, I found value in this meeting because it reminded me of the joy that is centered around this work in SERBU. The passion, the laughter, and the smiles fuel the conversations and enhance the important dialogue that is earned from creating such a comfortable and yet challenging space. Through these conversations, I am reminded how enjoyable it is to participate in the SERBU circle.

On Missing Serbu

By Adie

It’s been 35 days since I was inside an Oregon prison. Considering my experiences with Inside-Out over the last year that’s a long time. As a Teacher’s Assistant for a course taught inside Oregon State Correctional Institution and a member of Another Chance at Education inside Oregon State Penitentiary, I quickly became accustomed to being inside once, sometimes twice a week. Like other University of Oregon students who have participated in the Inside-Out program, I have a unique relationship with the stretch of I-5 between Eugene and Salem.

As an Inside-Out alumni I also co-facilitate the Serbu Book Club, but’s been about month since I was inside the Serbu Juvenile Detention Center, too. Earlier this week I made the much shorter drive across the Willamette River to Serbu just to do some logistical work. Rather than entering the detention facility I just went in the front door and up to the main office. I knew right where to go, just who to ask for, and in a way, I felt in my element. Again, my experience was not altogether unique—many Inside-Out students have described a sense of familiarity inside what is typically a very foreign place. It’s a sort of belonging—even comfort—that is very reassuring but equally disturbing.

Over the last few days I’ve been replaying this mini-trip to Serbu in my head over and over, and today I realized part of why it felt so unique. I found myself thinking about how I actually miss Serbu. I’ve been saying it over and over in my head and I told my co-facilitators: “Man, I really miss Serbu.”

Maybe someday I will feel the same about OSCI, but right now I don’t. Sure, I miss being a TA, I miss the class, I miss those guys, I miss making Tolstoy jokes (the class was called “Literature and Ethics: Tolstoy’s War and Peace”). But I do not miss OSCI. And there’s something obviously reassuring about not missing a prison. So I’ve been wondering, why is Serbu different? Why do I miss Serbu?

What makes Inside-Out courses unique is the relationships that students build with one another, of course most notably, the “inside”-“outside” student relationship. With Book Club, there is still an inside-outside relationship, but its terms are very different. The Serbu detention facility population is transient and a new power dynamic is introduced. Inside-Out alumni enter Serbu trained volunteers and trusted to be responsible mentors. I have built many short-lived relationships with kids inside Serbu and returned the next week to discover that they are no longer there. I rarely know why, where they have gone, or anything about their life “outside” (as is typical with Inside-Out programs nationally). But two years ago now, in my first Inside-Out class I spent ten weeks developing a relationship with a man named David. I remember David, and I miss David. I can recall his face and what it felt like to talk to him. I remember our conversations and how the nature of them progressed as I returned each week. I can’t say that about most of the kids that I have worked with inside Serbu, but I do remember Serbu.

I remember what it feels like to sit in a circle inside Serbu’s fishbowl classroom that looks out at sixteen numbered and locked doors. I know what it feels like to read stories while looking out at those doors, knowing that the kids to either side of me will return to one when the all-too-short story ends. I can remember the muted light seeping in through the miniature basketball court, framed with glass panes right next to where the kids sleep. So I return to my original question: Why do I miss this place? 

My experience co-facilitating Book Club has been a huge part of my growth over my final year at the U of O. When people ask me what I want to do after college I know what the answer is now. I don’t always say it eloquently, but it’s all very simple: I want to work with kids, I want to read books, I want to sit in circles, I want to design and lead activities that prompt new and creative thinking. I want to do things like Book Club. So when I imagine Serbu, what comes to mind is a place that I have repeatedly felt what it’s like to have a short, tiny, imperfect interaction with someone, rarely knowing the impact, and doing it anyway. It’s a place where I have reached out into that strange abyss of other people time and time again, and developed a sense of confidence in my work in education. I can’t necessarily recall the person on the other end of all of those interactions with the depth that I can recall David, so instead I recall the place: Serbu.

student reflects on her experiences in our introductory class on incarceration

Nina Greene, here! I facilitate a 10-week class for Honors College freshman around rights, incarceration and American values. Our class meets weekly to discuss these issues and tours Lane County Jail and Oregon State Penitentiary. As our class came to a close, I asked students to reflect on their experiences. Here is one student's reflection. 

By Emma Rosen

"My interest in the incarceration system began during my Senior year of high school, specifically when one of the public forum Speech and Debate topics was “Private Prisons should be banned in the U.S.”. This was the first time I began to learn and research the various flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system, which obviously turned into a sustained investment in the topic and a desire to know more. When I saw the description of our CHIP, it was the only one I wanted to be in, and I was not disappointed at all. This term has taught me not only all about the historical context of the prison system in America, but also given me the ability to better articulate and spread this information to others as well as make connections from these problems to values and systems that are reiterated throughout American culture and society.

One area I want to focus and reflect on in this writing is the connection between the stigma surrounding mental illness and how it overlaps with the prison system. I do not claim to fully understand how these two constructs interact with each other, but I am just going to use the option given that this writing can be a way to reflect on what we’ve learned. I think that the failure of prisons to provide health care, let alone mental health care, was a failure that was discussed multiple times in our CHIP and that I now have a much better understanding of. However I think that if we back up slightly we can see that someone who suffers from mental illness in the U.S. will face stigmatization long before enter the criminal justice system. The unwillingness to talk about or provide support to those facing issue is a problem that is not faced just by those with mental health problems, but any given issue someone might be facing. The stigma prevents those inflicted from reaching out and getting help, or even prevents it from being a public issue that government might offer support for at all. I was reminded of this during Gypsy’s presentation about women who were incarcerated, when she talked about how the majority of women who went to prison for violent crimes were victims of domestic abuse and had tried to reach out for support prior to the incident. In these cases, had the government done more to set up strong programs to help women and their children safely leave these situation, or have mental health programs that were accessible to lower-income people, many of these people's lives would not end in incarceration.

This ties in with another issue I have been thinking about a lot regarding its connection to the prison industrial complex. I touched on this briefly in class, but the differences between a hegemonic and despotic regime is undoubtedly connected to mass incarceration in the US. Specifically, the idea that individuals lose a tremendous amount of bargaining power with their employers when there is not a sufficient welfare state and social safety net outside of their employment. While the US is usually considered a nation with a welfare state, in class we see the rate at which people who are homeless are driven into the prison system either because they view it as the only way to gain food and shelter or because their very homelessness is criminalized. In this case, how can we consider social policy in the United States as sufficient.

Although throughout my time in this CHIP I have learned many concrete facts about the struggles someone who is incarcerated will face in the US, I have even more gained insights into broader issues with domestic policy in the US."

Book Club, The Second Generation


Passing the Torch: The Serbu Book Club Experiences a Turnover of Leadership

Abstract: This blog post, published on Oregon’s Inside-Out website in October 2012, reflects on my participation with a literacy initiative at the local juvenile detention facility.

In the summer of 2010, five university alumni of the Inside-Out Program, which brings students from universities into prisons to participate in college courses side-by-side with incarcerated persons, piloted a literacy initiative at the Juvenile Justice Center in Eugene, OR. The project was a success. In June of this year, the “Phoenix Book Club” celebrated its two-year anniversary at the same time the founding members were graduating from the University of Oregon. The book club made a transition in leadership, and the new facilitators – myself included – ran a summer session that was fraught with difficulty. Now is the time to reflect on the history of our program, study lessons learned, and lay a path forward.

The Juvenile Justice Center runs two secure units, a detention and a treatment program, that bloom out of a central hallway in the shape of a mushroom cap.  Both serve youth who are twelve to seventeen years old. The units are mirror images, each containing a classroom, dining area, sixteen cells arranged on two tiers, and an activity area with a ping pong table and basketball hoop, all arranged around a quarter circle. The detention, where the average length of stay is three days, is painted in shades of gray and holds youth pre-adjudication, i.e. before trial. The behavior and addiction treatment program, called Phoenix, is painted in bright pastels and is designed to graduate youth in four to six months. This is where we run the book club.

For the first year and a half, the book club’s weekly sessions consisted of dialogue based off shared reading. This structure led to rich conversations about, for example, race and offensive language in response to the ‘n-word’ in To Kill a Mockingbird. This format was comfortable for university students, reflecting the style of their education, but it was imposed on, rather than created with, Phoenix youth. Further, the youth’s stays in Phoenix are not aligned with the university’s quarter system, as is the book club, and so youth were leaving or arriving in the middle of books then had a hard time being brought into the fold.

In January of this year, the leaders decided to change strategy. Under the new structure, Phoenix youth nominated and voted on topics that they would be interested in discussing week-by-week. University students vetoed some topics, such as family abuse and drug use, and embraced other suggestions, like solving teen homelessness and preventing bullying. Each week, students would bring in short articles on the topic, or use videos or music to frame the conversation.

For the winter and spring, this format worked beautifully. There was already a good rapport with Phoenix youth and it only grew into a more relaxed and trusting relationship. As youth graduated and new youth entered the program, it was fairly easy to welcome them into the group, as each session stood on its own. When program founders Alex Plattner and Ted Sweeny graduated and left Eugene, it was on a high note.

Summer posed multiple problems. The Juvenile Justice Center suffered severe budget cuts, forcing a reduction in staff and the number of youth housed in Phoenix. The majority of the youth we worked with were prematurely graduated out, and the program became boys only, having a profound effect on classroom dynamics. The employee turnover meant layoffs or rescheduling for the teacher and floor staff we were used to working with, adding to an atmosphere of transition that affected our comfort in the unit and the youth’s sense of stability. Finally, there were changes to school schedules, appointments with parole officers, and visits to family that were not communicated to the university students. Each week, it was a surprise to see how many youth would join us, with their numbers fluctuating from one to eight, often coming or going in the middle of our sessions.

The summer book club, the first with new leaders of the Phoenix Book Club, was not what we hoped it would be. However, reviews from staff and youth surprised us by being entirely positive. The youth enjoyed talking with college students on a peer-to-peer basis, as opposed to the usual hierarchical relationships they had with adults in the treatment center. The youth were given a degree of autonomy they did not experience elsewhere in the program and had fun designing and leading activities on topics of their choices, with guidance from university students. Resulting lessons included using Jenga to practice sportsmanlike conduct, role-playing where youth assumed different gender and racial identities, and practice mediating conflict between friends.

I have learned that the Phoenix book club will survive as long as the university students are respectful and follow the rules. The program, a partnership between the University of Oregon and the Juvenile Justice Center, looks good on paper for the administrators, and staff are given an additional hour of flex time to complete paperwork and other chores. For the inheritors of the book club, this is not enough.

Many University of Oregon students, like myself, have lived stable and privileged lives, particularly in comparison with the youth in Phoenix, whose histories read like Dickens tales of abuse, poverty, and life inside a ten by twelve cell. University students need to practice empathy, and not only while they are in the book club. Combining inexperience, eagerness to relate, and an innocence (or ignorance) of the youth’s lives can lead to gaffes, like saying to a kid who spent the last several days on lock-down in their cell, “I wish somebody would shut me in my room. I might actually get some work done.” The response is to give formal training to incoming student volunteers covering the Juvenile Justice Center’s structure, programs, and purposes, including the reasons and contexts for why youth are incarcerated there. Additionally, at least once per term, student volunteers should discuss lessons learned, and to role-play scenarios that require delicate responses, like kids talking about being bullied during a conversation on school safety.

The book club does not have programmatic infrastructure. There is no mission statement, collection of lessons, log of student volunteers, database of resources, or formal method for recruiting new volunteers. The only historical records are the (sparse) posts on this blog. We do not have a goal for the program beyond bringing university students and incarcerated youth together to read and talk. The book club could be cancelled by the Justice Center tomorrow and we would have scant evidence to show this program ever existed, let alone to share the lessons learned.

Oregon boasts of one of the most progressive departments of juvenile justice in the country. Every student who participates in the book club is a witness to the meaning of progress for young people adjudicated (the juvenile version of convicted) of crimes. As we learned when we entered prison to take classes through Inside-Out, the narrative of the state rarely matches the realities behind the walls or the perceptions of the people kept there. Currently, the Phoenix Book Club provides Lane County’s Juvenile Justice Center with bragging rights for the good things it does for the kids it incarcerates. Without better preparing our student volunteers and building an organization out of an inspired act of good will, our work may amount to little else, while the young people we work with deserve so much more.  


Jordan Wilkie

The Impact of 10 Weeks

Last term I had the pleasure and opportunity to TA an Inside-Out class for Professor Anita Chari. The topic was Autobiography as Political Agency and, as I should have expected, the students - inside and out - blew me away. I am grateful for their willingness to share their stories and their thoughts with me throughout the quarter and I am glad to be able to share two speeches by outside students that were given during our closing ceremony. Although it is hard to summarize or reduce the experience of an Inside-Out course, I hope the words of these students help to describe the temporary community created by each course and the impact this has on each participant. Winter 2015

First of all, I wanted to start off by saying this is the best class I’ve ever taken. I’m going to remember each and every one of you and all the conversations we had, and I wanted to thank all of you for being a part of this amazing experience. I have never taken a class before that I am so passionate about and excited to attend. A lot of times in college we take classes we don’t genuinely care about, but this class is the polar opposite. This is the only class I’ve ever taken where 3 hours feels like 5 minutes; I’m pretty sure the clocks are broken in here because time moves so quickly.

On that note, I wanted to share with you guys why this class was so important to me. I know a few of the people in the class know this, but a majority of the class is unaware that my dad is in prison. He’s been there since I was in 8th grade. I was waiting for the right time to share this with everyone, and I felt discussing what this class means to me is the perfect opportunity. Originally, I was interested in the idea of an Inside-Out class because of my dad; over the past several years, I’ve really struggled with our relationship. When I saw that the inside out class offered winter term was about autobiography as political agency, I knew this was the perfect fit for me. At first, I really had no idea what to expect in terms of how this class would affect me. After taking it, though, I can easily say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Through our writings and interactions, I’ve learned so much about parts of myself that I never even knew existed. I know many of the inside students have children themselves - in talking with you guys about your children and hearing how much you care about them, I realized that even though I might not always agree with my dad's actions, he’s always going to be my father and he’s always going to love me no matter what. I cannot thank everyone in this class enough for allowing me to grow in ways I never thought possible through the unique community an Inside-Out class builds.

Along with these realizations, I discovered that being involved in our justice system is something I want to continue doing for the rest of my life. While I was always interested in our political and justice system before, after taking this class I realized how passionate I truly am about advocating for change. When most people think of prisons, they don’t consider the implications and consequences of what it truly means to put someone behind bars. I want to change the stigma of what it means to be a “prisoner” and how people are treated once they are convicted of a crime. Although I may not have all the answers right now, I know I want to implement change in the best way possible, and I’m determined to figure out my place in changing our current system for the better. So I hope this isn’t goodbye, and that you all still hear from me in the future. Again, thank you all so much for giving me this amazing opportunity.

Along with these realizations, I discovered that being involved in our justice system is something I want to continue doing for the rest of my life. While I was always interested in our political and justice system before, after taking this class I realized how passionate I truly am about advocating for change. When most people think of prisons, they don’t consider the implications and consequences of what it truly means to put someone behind bars. I want to change the stigma of what it means to be a “prisoner” and how people are treated once they are convicted of a crime. Although I may not have all the answers right now, I know I want to implement change in the best way possible, and I’m determined to figure out my place in changing our current system for the better. So I hope this isn’t goodbye, and that you all still hear from me in the future. Again, thank you all so much for giving me this amazing opportunity.

 - Emily

Hello everyone! I feel incredibly honored to have the opportunity to speak for a moment. My name is Gabe and I go to the University of Oregon. I signed up for this class after a friend of mine recommended that I apply; on a whim (last minute really) I turned my application in. The days before the information session, I can’t say that I was actually too excited to take this course. I still have a lot of general education requirements, I was going through a major crisis, and I’m a generally incredibly busy person. After the information session though, I knew I had to take this course. Mainly, I wanted to take this class because of the personal awareness. A lot of times in the traditional education system, students are not really asked to think critically about positionality and personal experience. This is exactly what this course worked for students to do, which made me incredibly nervous and excited. Throughout this class experience, I have never truly realized how powerful experience is, and how it changes in the structures of our society. The material in this class was beautiful. Assata’s strength, Malcolm X’ wit, Kelley’s

Mainly, I wanted to take this class because of the personal awareness. A lot of times in the traditional education system, students are not really asked to think critically about positionality and personal experience. This is exactly what this course worked for students to do, which made me incredibly nervous and excited. Throughout this class experience, I have never truly realized how powerful experience is, and how it changes in the structures of our society. The material in this class was beautiful. Assata’s strength, Malcolm X’ wit, Kelley’s critique-all of these readings were truly transformative, but some of the most impactful moments in the class was what you all did with the material. I am in the presence of some truly powerful classmates, all with unique stories and backgrounds.

I heard a story just this weekend and it really reminds me of our class. Scientists were studying a habitat in a cold climate and found an unusual group of porcupines located in this area. During the winter time when the climate became harsh, scientists observed that the porcupines would travel in incredibly close-knit packs for everything from eating to sleeping. These porcupines could never get too close due to their large quills; if they did, they would stab each other. They would maintain a distance that was not too close but just close enough to huddle for warmth. This act of the porcupines, for me, is very symbolic of our class community. The quills represent our differences- our different walks of life, different backgrounds and different identities. The warmth represents survival and comfort and working with our differences to create something special and something common for all of us.

This class has made me more aware of my quills and more accepting of that warmth. By mere default of being born and developing our own individuality, our existence is resistance. To ignore systems such as white supremacy, institutionalized racism, homophobia, colonialism and other systems (at least to me) will never provide justice and collective liberation for all. I believe that we can truly never have equality unless we learn to appreciate people for their differences before we share the commonality of being human. With that said, being more aware of who you are for yourself and in relation to the world and these systems creates conscious understanding. Lilla Watson once said “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” As abstract as I’m being right now (to the point where I’m almost losing myself), I think that it is important to remember: Keep the warmth we created in this class community with you. I know that it will keep me strong.

It honestly saddens me more than ever that for most of you all, I will not see you on a weekly basis anymore, but if physically I cannot be with you all and you all can't be with me, than at least in spirit and solidarity I keep you all in my hearts. This class has inspired me to be more aware of the quills I and others have as well as the potential warmth we can create if we know our own stories and backgrounds and how that works with others around us.

If I cry today, don’t be alarmed, I’ve never cared much for a masculine exterior anyways. In Sterling’s words, they are tears of protest and tears of compassion in this bittersweet moment. Thank you Professor Chari for your wisdom, thank you OSP for allowing the space and thank you classmates for the world and understanding. You are all beautiful inside and out. Thank you.

- Gabe

Alumni Artwork

I created both of these pieces for an Inside-Out class that I took last year, titled "Autobiography as Political Agency." The class allowed us to explore ideas using different mediums, such as song, photography, and creative writing. I enjoyed these diverse opportunities for expression, because as a student I feel that often I do not get the chance to exercise a different part of my brain. Encaustic

The medium of the art piece is encaustic, which is beeswax. The wax creates many layers, with something at each level, and is fused with a heat gun to bind everything together. The piece is inspired by the layers of the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious. Sigmund Freud believed art was one way to allow the unconscious to reveal itself. I hoped to let go, and allow my mind a chance to unfold.

At the base layer is a self-portrait I drew in the second grade. I went to an arts elementary school which lay the foundations of creativity early on.

The spine is an image of myself, and the film and photo I developed and printed in a dark room. My backbone holds a traumatic experience from my childhood that I have fixated upon. In fifth grade, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, the curvature of the spine, and had to wear a plastic body brace for two years during puberty to prevent further curvature. The photo was taken years later, at age 17. The impacts of the brace may manifest in unknown ways. Perhaps my natural inclination towards baggy, sportier clothing comes from the days when it was necessary for me to hide my plastic back. Only loose clothing could cover the hard, robot-like hunk of plastic. The rigidity the brace commanded from me may be the reason I have a tight running posture.

The compass, in my preconscious, sometimes brought into my conscious, tilts towards the younger period in my life. While I am aware of the directions I want to go in life, I am affected by earlier events I may not remember.

The top layer, my conscious, is the photo of my parents and I. My dad wears the goofy grin he sports often, I am crowded in between, and my mother poses elegantly. This is a recent memory I hold of my family.

The plants are also on the top layer of my conscious, symbolic of my desire to be in constant contact with the outdoors. As a child, I would often go on hikes with my parents. Before I could walk, my dad carried me in a child carrier on his back. As soon as I could walk, I was hiking mountains. The memories from my early childhood are ones I still enjoy with my friends on our own backpacking expeditions.


Hand on Fire is a double exposure black and white film photograph I shot and developed. Reading about injustices in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Assata, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, and uncovering my own agency and stories, I have experienced a great deal of frustration, powerlessness, hurt, anger and vulnerability. The photo captures these mixed emotions I’ve sometimes felt, while pursuing and engaging with these emotionally challenging discussions and tasks.

- Nina Greene, Inside-Out Alumni


Scan-140923-0001 Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata painted by Francisco, ACE Member

"At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality." - Che Guevara

Francisco is an artist and a member of Another Chance at Education, the Inside-Out Think Tank at Oregon State Penitentiary. For the beginning of each meeting, one ACE member volunteers to present on something from which they derive inspiration. Francisco held up this painting, identified its subjects, and spoke on the history of these Mexican revolutionaries who came from poverty, became leaders of men, and remain symbols of heroism. He told of his own family, of his father marching with Cesar Chavez, of his mother's resilience raising children in poverty. Sometimes, Francisco said, it is not the grand actions that are revolutionary, but the ability of so many to make it day-to-day despite all the cards stacked against them.

Inside-Out Alumni on Concertina Wire

Jordan, Althea, and Emory discuss rethinking paradigms, restorative justice, and their Inside-Out classes on Concertina Wire. [audio]

Concertina Wire is broadcast weekly on KWVA 88.1 FM.

Organize for Justice, Part Two!

As those of you who follow the blog may know, our Organize for Justice event was cancelled last month due to inclement weather. Luckily, many of our speakers were able to accommodate rescheduling, and we have another great lineup of tablers and presenters! Tentative Schedule: 5:00: Doors open 5:15: Welcoming Comments 5:20: 1st Presentation - UO Undergrad Tashia Davis presenting the History of Prison Education in Oregon 5:35: Spotlight Presentation and Transition 5:40: 2nd presentation - Kevin Alltucker, UO Assistant Professor in the FHS Department, on the importance of volunteering, service-learning, and the ability to make change 6:00: Spotlight Presentation and Transition 6:05: 3rd Presentation - Jen Jackson of Sponsors, Inc., on mentorship and assisting individuals to re-enter society 6:25: Spotlight Presentation and Transition 6:30: 15 minute intermission and refreshments 6:45: 4th Presentation - Deborah Arthur, professor at PSU, representing The Beat Within, an organization that brings creative writing and arts programs into juvenile detention facilities 7:05: Spotlight Presentation and Transition 7:10: 5th Presentation - John Aarons, Assistant Divisions Manager of Lane County Department of Youth Services, on the juvenile justice system and opportunities for local engagement 7:30: Wrap-up comments, Transition to Open House 7:35 - 9: Networking with Tabling Programs

Spotlight presentations will briefly highlight tabling groups around the room between presentations.

Thhe event will now be held Monday, March 7, 2014 at 5pm in the Fir Room of the EMU.

Ready to Organize for Justice?

Update: due to inclement weather, Organize for Justice has been postponed. We will be announcing its new time and location on the blog soon! This Friday, February 7, the University of Oregon Criminal Justice Network and Inside-Out Alumni will host Organize for Justice, a networking event designed to bring together students and members of the community in their efforts to promote focus on criminal justice.

The event will feature presentations addressing relevant issues and ongoing projects. Presenters from Sponsors, Inc., The Beat Within, and Enlance will discuss the work being done at the forefront of the reintegration and prison divestment movements, as well as new developments in these spheres. John Aarons, Assistant Division Manager of Lane County Department of Youth Services, will give a talk as well.

In addition to live speakers, we will also have tabling from representatives of local and state organizations. Organizations set to participate include 90x30, a community-based initiative aimed at reducing child neglect in Lane County 90% by 2030; the University of Oregon Service-Learning Program; and the Diversity and Inclusion Counsel of the Oregon Department of Corrections. Students can familiarize themselves with upcoming projects, network, and engage with people already involved in the campaign for social opportunity and equality.

If you are an Inside-Out Alum, a community member who is interested in getting involved, or a UO student who is curious about the fight for social justice today, Organize for Justice is your opportunity to show your support. All you have to do is bring your self -- but bonus points if you bring your friends, your resume, and your commitment to a better future, too.

Organize for Justice takes place February 7, 2014, in the Walnut Room of the Erb Memorial Union on campus.

Inside-Out T-Shirt Giveaway Contest

COMPETITION EXTENDED UNTIL SEPTEMBER 1, 12AM PST. Write about your Inside-Out experience AND have the chance to win an AWESOME t-shirt from the (Inter)National Inside-Out Center, courtesy of Oregon Inside-Out intern Jordan W. Here's Jordan's challenge:

Find a piece of art that best summarizes your Inside-Out experience, whether it is Raphael's Sistine Madonna, the graffiti art of Banksy or JR, or that song you listened to every week on the way to and from prison. Submit a statement of 300 words or less to describe why that art was so important to your experience. Be creative!

Have you created art inspired by your Inside-Out experience? Did you make a painting, compose a song, write a creative essay, story, poem, or anything else that can be considered "art" (however you want to define that)? Send it in with an short statement (200 words or less) describing why you made that art, what significance it has for you, and/or what you hope others get from it.

Submit your entries as comments to this post, or email them to by SUNDAY, Sept. 1 at midnight PST. The blog team will select a winning entry (maybe more than one) and we'll mail or hand deliver you a t-shirt (and you'll get major kudos on this blog). Entry is limited to students and instructors who took classes/taught in Oregon.


Three Hours a Week, for Ten Weeks

I’ve often struggled to explain the effect that the Inside Out class I took last term has had on me. It’s easy to tell people that it was the best class I’ve taken in college, or that it was a life changing experience. Although those statements are true, the clichés don’t really capture the most important parts of what I experienced inside the walls of Oregon State Penitentiary. The beauty of Inside Out is that from the very start you are forced, rather than encouraged, to make strong personal connections with all of your classmates. The first day all of the outside students sat approximately 18 inches across from a series of 13 maximum security prison inmates and answered a set of questions that ranged from goofy to deeply personal. This is not an experience that most people can claim they have had. Since that first day I have found myself acutely aware of eye contact; looking into someone’s eyes as I listen and speak to them has become increasingly important to me. Inspired by our first wagon wheel, I strive to make my everyday conversations more real, often by channeling the strong gazes of those inside students whom I met on my first day.

Having such limited class time (only 24 hours in total) I found that each conversation, whether casual or a formal group discussion, suddenly became much more important. I have never felt so engaged with such a large group of people. Our prison classroom was an incredibly safe and open environment, something that is inherently at odds with the whole idea of what a prison is. In my opinion that is the greatest strength of the Inside Out program: it deconstructs preconceived notions about what all of your classmates will be like and allows a space in which all students can act as equals, learning from each other as well as the instructors.

I was lucky to be part of a group of outside students that was enthusiastic about spending time together outside of the program. Most of us wished weekly that we could lengthen the two one-hour van rides, even the 15 minutes spent going through security, but most importantly, by spending more time with our fellow outside students we hoped to make the 3 hours we spent with our entire class last a little longer. If nowhere else, in conversations with each other, and in the memories we will take with us. I will continue to try to make those nine weeks live on through contact with my fellow outside alumni, re-reading my anthology (currently one of my most prized possessions), and continuing to grapple with the things I learned about making personal connections before judgments, the importance of cherishing the time you have with people, and our incredibly ineffective prison system. I have truly come out of my Inside Out experience a different person, and I don’t think I could ever thank all of my fellow classmates, both inside and outside, as well as my instructors, enough for that.


UO Inside-Out Alumna

Newspaper Tables

Last Thursday, I was one night away from turning in the defense draft of my senior thesis. Needless to say, I was not in attendance at our regular Thursday night book club planning meeting. During the drive to the Serbu Center, I was briefed on my role for the day’s session: to lead a small group discussion about how to build a table out of newspaper. I would distribute half-sheets of paper that each contained a few quotes from a relatively complicated article on the utility of the triangle in building prisms, then I would encourage the groups to think about the use of bracing in their table designs. Each group would chat about their experiences with tables, and then start to think through elements of design.

This session fit into our larger goal for the term: to think about the role of education in our lives, and to consider ways to improve our classrooms and schools. During this session, we attempted to meet a single objective (an understanding of how to build a table that would withstand books using only newspaper and tape) using three teaching techniques: lecture, small group discussion, and hands-on experimentation. We talked about the pros and cons of each as we went, and we tried to draw out each person’s reaction to different teaching styles.

Going into the session, we (the outside students) were not sure how the session would go. There were only three of us, instead of our normal eight, because most people were at the Dalai Lama’s lecture on campus. We all agreed it was a creative lesson plan, but it was also one that would either flop or fly, and we didn't know which.

As soon as we brought out the newspaper, however, I knew it would be a success. The first two segments (lecture and discussion) were pretty dry, although some of the youth were already clearly invested in drawing table designs and discussing what would make their tables withstand the most weight. For the last segment, each group got a pile of newspaper and four long pieces of duct-tape, and within minutes, UO students, youth, and the classroom teacher were down on the floor rolling, folding, ripping, and taping.

I heard conversations about bracing, and angles, and material density. Every single person in the room was on their hands and knees, and for almost the entire time, everyone was fully engaged in the activity. I was surprised to see that within twenty minutes, every group had managed to make a table that withstood at least one fat literature textbook and some withstood at least four (I’d guess around 15 pounds).   Even though we ran out of time to have a full conversation about what teaching style worked the best for them, it was clear to all of us that working with materials, experimenting, and moving around caught everyone’s attention.


Inside-Out UO Alumna


Things That Matter

Last term changed my life. I participated in UO's "Inside-Out" program in which UO students take a class along inmates (also students) in Oregon prisons. My class took place at Oregon State Penitentiary, the only maximum security prison in the state. I'd never been in a prison before. What I found in my inside and outside classmates was companionship unlike anything I could have expected. Our relationships grew based on genuine openness and discussion, and through a fascinating sociology curriculum. The only problem is, the class ended. I'm on the outside, and half of my friends from class are on the inside, which will never feel right.

Leaving class I felt "helpless and hopeless." But in the last month I have been able to live more actively and happily despite being hit by occasional sadness thinking about all that's wrong with our world. Never in my life have I been more grateful and, as cheesy as it sounds, the important things in life are as clear to me as ever!

The following are a few simple but important practices that matter.

Honesty. Seems like a no brainer. But being sincere and open particularly about how I feel, as well as hearing the stories of others has made a big difference in my life. I'm currently taking part in a few discussion groups in order to stay tapped into honest conversation. I'm certainly no professional, and it's hard. I have to remind myself that talking isn't always communication.

Being outside. Last week on a run on the coast I was overwhelmed with the memories of the men inside. I tried to capture every glimpse of forest and sea and appreciate it. Since the start of the class, running has been therapy. But we all have our outdoor niche. Lately I've realized how wonderful life is when one day you're trekking through tidepools and the next you're digging in the garden. Whatever gets me outside, I'll do it.

Doing work that's fulfilling. For me, right now, it's learning and working on the coast at Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and educating myself on food issues and gardening at the Urban Farm. The former simply makes me feel happy and excites me. The latter lets me get my hands dirty, contribute to my community, and challenge current ideologies and practices. As I apply for jobs in the "real world" I look for a combination of these characteristics.

I'm so in love with the people in my life, and the places I get to spend my time.

But still, sometimes I feel so devastated. All I can do is honor my friends inside with every person I hug, hill I run, shovel full I dig, and story I share.

-Shannon R.

Outside Alumna, UO

Education Changing Lives

This little article says what every Inside-Out student knows without seeing statistics: education can change lives, inside and out. As we begin a new term here at the UO, I am reminded of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to attain a university education (especially at a school that has programs like Inside-Out). It’s time to see more movement for education inside our nation’s prisons, too.

Before spring break, Colette Peters, the head of Oregon's Department of Corrections came to the University of Oregon to give a talk focusing on education  (and she also gave an overview of Oregon's DOC) as part of the recent Prisons, Compassion, and Peace Conference. She said (and I hope I've got this right ) that while the recidivism rate is around 30% in Oregon, that number reduces to 14% for inmates with an associate's degree, 6% for inmates who attain a bachelor's degree, and 0% for inmates who earn a master's degree or higher.

While the Inside-Out experience is, and should be, measured qualitatively rather than quantitatively, these numbers still speak volumes about the power of education in general, and of course, the importance of programs such as Inside-Out. These numbers echo what many inside classmates have told me: that education gave them a new lens through which to view the world. This, of course, is true for both inside and outside students and is exactly the reason we need to see more educational opportunities for students on both sides of the prison walls.


UO Inside-Out Alumna

Every Night A World Created

With finals winding up/down here at the UO, I hope to have some posts about exciting things going on here and across the state in the next few weeks. In the meantime, Inside-Out classes from the UO had their closing ceremonies last week (more on that soon as well), and I thought I'd share the letter I wrote to the class I   TA'd for, an honors college class called "Culture Wars in America". Here it is:

"In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck writes of the community formed among migrant people on the road, people with a common dream and circumstance but divergent histories, families, and to varying degrees, cultures. He says: “The night draws down. The baby has a cold. Here, take this blanket. It’s wool. It was my mother’s blanket—take it for the baby. This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning—from “I” to “we.”

He’s writing of solidarity among people not for personal gain, but for the sake of connection, generosity of spirit, and interaction. “Every night a world created.” In many ways, I think his words speak to our experience in class. Every Monday night, we create a world in which we can share our experiences despite sometimes diverging beliefs. Our time together is enriched rather than limited by our range of cultures, histories, and identities. I have seen everyone in this room enter with a spirit of generosity, willing to listen and consider what other folks have to say. And I have watched everyone take pleasure in simple human interaction—seeking out commonalities rather than fixating on divisions.

As we have explored the topic of culture wars, we have seen the complex interplay between identity, labels, stereotypes, personal experience, and ideas of self, community, region, and nation. Both John Steinbeck and Junot Díaz tell us that culture wars are not easy to navigate, and they don’t offer us worlds of peace, equality, and unity. Instead, both authors expose the rawness of the human experience—the pain along with the joy, the suffering, the division, but also the human capacity for compassion, connection, and hope.

For me, Inside-Out operates in a similar way. This class has exposed the tensions that can divide people. We have spoken about our fiercely-held beliefs and seen some stark divides. Yet, when “the night draws down” this class has been more about what we have in common then what keeps us apart. I feel lucky to have formed bonds of friendship in this class, and to have witnessed similar bonds in formation.

Steinbeck points out that this transition from “I” to “we” is  “the thing to bomb”. And he’s right that it’s powerful. When we remove ideas of “us” and “them” we create a powerful unity. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we respect and recognize the dignity in each other. The community that we’ve created, bridging divides of all sorts and at least one tangible wall, is a powerful testament to the human ability to form friendships and break down limiting stereotypes when we create a space for dialogue and interaction. When we came together face to face, despite bringing along our histories and our cultures and our biases, seeing each other as humans and as friends was remarkably easy.

I have been honored to have met each of you, and to be a part of this community. I will carry our interactions and my memories of our conversations with me, and I hope that each of you will do the same."


Inside-Out Alumna, UO


For Your Viewing Pleasure

Last week, the UO Prison Justice Working Group; the Cultural Forum; and UO Students for a Sensible Drug Policy put on a two-day film series entitled Smoke Signals: Perspectives on Mass Incarceration. They showed four films, all of which are worth watching if you are interested in learning more about current issues in incarceration, drug policy, and the judicial system. They are:

  • The House I Live In
  • Broken on All Sides
  • In Prison My Whole Life
  • Shakespeare Behind Bars

Earlier in the term, the UO Inside-Out Alumni Group also watched Shakespeare Behind Bars, a documentary film about a theater program inside a penitentiary. If you haven’t already seen this film, it’s a thought-provoking piece and an interesting program to compare and contrast with the Inside-Out model. Well worth a watch for Inside-Out alumni.

If you’re interested in learning more, go to

On another note, the Eugene Opera is premiering the opera version of Sister Helen Prejean’s acclaimed book Dead Man Walking. There are showings of the opera at the Hult Performing Arts Center in Eugene on Friday, March 15 and Sunday, March 17. Get tickets soon if you’re interested in seeing the show:

***The Inside-Out Program encourages continued education for its alumni, but does not endorse any particular political messages. The opinions of individuals interviewed in these films are completely their own.

"Prejean Papers" Donated to DePaul University

Sister Helen Prejean, for those who don’t know, is the leading advocate against the death penalty and the author of the book-turned-movie Dead Man Walking. She has spent the last three decades acting as spiritual advisor to death row inmates, as well as traveling around the U.S. and the world speaking about her experiences. Sister Helen recently donated her vast collection of letters, newspaper clippings, and legal documents to DePaul University in Chicago, IL. The collection includes correspondence between Sister Helen and death row inmates Elmo “Pat” Sonnier, Robert Lee Willie, and Dobie Gillis Williams. There are also many letters of support for Sister Helen, and just as many in opposition. Other highlights include Tim Robbins’ original screenplay along with Sister Helen’s handwritten notes, and props from the movie including Sean Penn’s boots and belt. A guide to the entire collection can be found with the link below, simply scroll down to “Prejean Papers.” <> This is a permanent collection, so if you ever get the opportunity to visit Chicago you should absolutely plan to spend a couple days in the DePaul library.

When you arrive, ask for Helen at the Special Collections’ desk. Coincidentally, Helen is also the name of the librarian who organized and archived the collection. She is intimately familiarly with its contents and will be delighted to share her favorite items with you. One of my personal favorites is a framed illustration of Sister Helen from the Chicago Committee to the Bill of Rights. This drawing in its frame is exactly the same size and shape as the window from Dobie Williams’ trial, which he supposedly climbed through. After reading about Dobie’s case in Sister Helen’s book, The Death of Innocents, I was both amazed and horrified when I actually held that small, narrow frame in my hands. Another poignant moment in my exploration of the “Prejean Papers” was my discovery of Robert Lee Willie’s personal dictionary and hat. I couldn’t believe that I was actually holding a piece of this man’s life in my hands.

Whether you have eagerly devoured the books Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocents, had the incredible experience of meeting Sister Helen Prejean herself, or simply share her abhorrence of the death penalty, this collection will certainly move you.

- Sophie T., UO Inside-Out Alumna