I recently traveled from the University of Oregon to the East Coast to meet with Inside-Out professors, alumni, and think tanks in an effort to build relationships between think tanks and to construct an international alumni infrastructure. In Morgantown, West Virginia, I met Jeri, Delia, and the think tank at Hazelton Federal Penitentiary; I met Barbara in Baltimore to discuss creative writing and Inside-Out; and I met I-O alumni, staff, and the Graterford Think Tank in Philadelphia.
While visiting the I-O Center at Temple, I went to the Youth Study Center (YSC), “the only secure youth detention facility in Philadelphia.” The YSC was located in the heart of North Philadelphia amidst neighborhoods of unfettered poverty. Originally a mental hospital, the building has been transformed into a 105 bed facility “for court-ordered juveniles between the ages of 13-18, who are alleged to have committed a felony type offense and are deemed by the court to be a serious risk to the safety of the community.” I had never seen anything like it.
There is a methodical structure and logic to prisons that help to compartmentalize the shock of walking through their hallways. This was not so for the YSC. The edifice clearly demonstrated that there was no justified reason for how those kids were housed, for the decrepit neighborhoods of North Philly, for the deaths and imprisonment that those kids talked about with such nonchalance, for their preparedness and even excitement for prison, or for any of the destructive realities represented by incarcerating kids.
The YSC is a checkpoint between birth and prison. Inside-Out and think tanks are working to expand carceral education and establish prison to university pathways, yet the reality of the YSC and the 5,000 youth housed each year demonstrates the need to bring education into communities before their children are shipped away. I-O works in prisons, but the problems begin well before incarceration. As we develop the alumni infrastructure, I believe we should take heed of the YSC, of the imperative to disrupt the cradle to prison pipeline by utilizing alumni organization to work with at-risk and incarcerated youth.
UO Inside-Out Alumnus