On June 6, 2011, I left Oregon State Penitentiary for what I thought would be the final time. After a brilliant ten weeks of learning, growing, and understanding, the Inside-Out course ended with tearful goodbyes and a sense that many of us would never see each other again. Thankfully, that proved not to be the case. Just over four months later, an opportunity arose for us to return to OSP for continued learning with our ‘inside’ classmates. Thanks to the work of Prof. Shaul Cohen and GTF Katie Dwyer, two visitors from Belfast agreed to speak with the class about their work in the Northern Ireland peace process.
In an unprecedented return visit to OSP, we heard Roise Ni’Bhaoill describe her efforts to provide Irish language education to Catholic children in Northern Ireland. She explained the country’s politicization of language, a largely foreign concept in the United States.
The class also had the opportunity to learn from James Anderson, a visiting professor at the University of Oregon. Anderson spoke about his fascinating research on divided communities, a subject that strongly impacted his childhood years as a minority Protestant in the Republic of Ireland’s County Donegall.
Of course, the session also featured plenty of questions, dialogue, and discussion, both with our guests and with our inside classmates. We shared with one another the highs and lows of our four months apart, resuming old conversations as if no time had passed at all.
As we left the prison that night, we were warmed by the news that two of our ‘inside’ classmates would soon complete their sentences and be released from prison. We were also energized by the realization that our visit marked the beginning of an exciting new era in the Inside-Out success story.
Thanks to the work of the Inside-Out Alumni Group and leaders like Katie, the Inside-Out experience no longer has to end at the conclusion of each term. Empowered by a heightened awareness of the country’s criminal justice system, students can continue to engage in and help shape the program’s mission. These opportunities for continued participation will expand the program’s impact nationwide, creating a corps of committed alumni and allies.
With Inside-Out headed for such big things, it’s exciting to know the state of Oregon is at the center of it all. Just another reason why it’s great to be a Duck!
A proud Inside-Out alumnus, Ben D. University of Oregon