Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Reflection on the visit to Lunenburg Correctional Facility

Visit to Lunenburg Correctional Facility

 It has been important to me to whole-heartedly dive into the research of established higher education in prison programs.  I genuinely believe that to understand something you have to completely immerse yourself into its depths; its strengths, its weaknesses, vulnerabilities, hardships, successes…everything.

The purpose of each visit myself and my colleagues will make to various prisons is to afford the  individuals associated with the Guilford College Higher Education in Prison Initiative to observe and participate in hands-on, experiential learning and teaching methods with students and administration in a correctional environment.  The information gathered at each facility will be fruitful in establishing a well-rounded and diverse approach to best practices and sustainability in our efforts.  

One of the most enlightening experiences I have had has been the opportunity to see  the unmasking and pure human connection of individuals within the classroom. There is a sense of belonging, a healing element that education brings to everyone involved in its dynamics; students feel the power of the greatest weapon is their spoken word, that the bleeding of their pen pumps life into their mind, reaffirming their own existence.

And the most beautiful element of education is its reciprocity. I have found in each visit, each conversation, in each lesson holds the power to transform. The students I have met have inspired me, they have been my teachers. They continually push me to test my own assumptions of perception and to challenge others to test their own. It is amazing that so many people tend to believe that inmates are so removed from the outer society that they have nothing to contribute to the greater good because they are surrounded by fences.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Sometimes the ones closest are the ones furthest removed.

At Lunenburg, the students involved with the Campus Within Walls Program are earning degrees and certificates to successfully enter back into society with academic and hands on know-how.  The students enrolled into the program live in a dormitory style housing unit where they have the opportunity to live, study and learn with fellow students who see the same value in education. Once having successfully completed courses some of the students move on to tutor other students. The principal of the Campus Within Walls program, Dr. Ann Cavan, has been so impressed with the knowledge and efforts her students have shown ,she has even hired a few to be in house teaching assistants and paid tutors.

Subsequently, a program within the Campus Within Walls program developed designed to target at risk youth in the surrounding Virginia area community. Make it Happen is a mentoring program aimed at bringing in students at the Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) to Lunenburg Correctional Facility. The partnership between SVCC and Lunenburg opens up dialogue between students. Components of the program includes monthly meetings at the correctional facility, book reviews from selected authors and guest speakers who were once inmates, now living in the community. Students at the Lunenburg Facility are active members involved in their community, even behind the obvious barriers of razor fences and iron bars.

The impact of participant involvement from the program has had tremendous effects to moral, social and rehabilitative aspects of community problem solving and community building on the facility campus, college and surrounding community. Make it Happen program participants consistently meet and exceed anticipated program outcomes related to academic achievement as measured by grade point average, retention, and persistence towards goals. Because the inmates are in a confined environment and cannot be involved in day to day efforts on the larger community, per se, it was decided they could contribute to community service projects that could be channeled through the Make It Happen on-campus students.  Bird houses, bat houses, coloring books and writing anthologies are produced and sold for fund raising efforts for numerous Virginia community-related issues.

The intention of this component is to give Make it Happen students and inmates the opportunity to give back to the community, foster a sense of connection and slowly eradicate the misconceptions that all people in prison are “bad” people.

Connection is the reason why we are all here; it is what gives purpose to our lives. Shame, fear of disconnection, and the sense of unworthiness haunts everyone in a daily struggle, these elements try to pry us away from connection to one another. I have found it a sense of obligation to myself, my generation, my community, my children, those who are victims and those incarcerated to bring awareness and advocate for methods of personal and social revival by means of education; to have the courage to face our imperfections, to connect through authenticity, to fully embraced our vulnerabilities and to have compassion for not only ourselves but others.

And with education as our tool, we all have the opportunity to learn and grow…and pay it forward.


“Those having torches will pass them on to others” -Plato
The below link will take you to a video reclection of the visit! Enjoy

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