Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

(music) (music) The prison environment… I’ll isn’t quite with people on the outside might
think it is. There are those people, those cases that might seem harsh, or lost, if you will, lost causes. Generally, most people in prison have strayed away from something positive
in life, people who have lost their way, seeking something to defines themselves with. EJP’s mission is to develop a model college in prison
program. There’s a lot evidence that shows that for re-entering men and
women who go back to the communities from which they come, having a college degree or a college
education, being able to contribute in real, beneficial ways to those places is going to have an impact on those communities, and we’re not just
talking about any communities, we’re talking, typically about the most disadvantaged,
most impoverished, most marginalized, economically and politically. Given a
choice about where we as academics place our attention and put our focus and our energies, it seems
to me so obvious that we ought to be paying
attention to people who are incarcerated, because by
educating them, we make a real impact to our communities and to
the well-being of society at large. So EJP is part of the College of
Education. We believe in higher education for
anybody who wants higher education as a matter of social justice. I think it’s important for change to
always be possible and if any social goods including education are hoarded by any one group or any even few groups, then it makes it harder for
change to ever happen. If I was, I was a concerned citizen, what would I rather have, people in prison doing nothing, occupying their time with the thoughts or habits that they brought from the streets to prison, and allow them to get worse, or actually give a chance for an individual to better himself And give himself freedom, to not just think about himself, but to think about the consequences he has on his community, his
family, and give him the opportunity to become a better person. You get up, if you have dayroom at 8 o’clock in the morning, you come out for dayroom, for an hour from 8-9, then you locked back up, then you go to lunch, you come back, you locked back up If you don’t have no job, of if you’re not in school, then you just in your cell, all the way until they run dinner. You in your cell at least 21 hours out of 24. EJP operates differently than most prison education programs do. It’s more than just courses, it’s more than the students coming to sit in a classroom for 3 hours and then leaving again. They come back to participate in resource
room times, or to participate in student meetings and student committees and extracurricular activities. It’s
possible for a EJP student to spend five days a week, Monday through Friday, in the education building involved in EJP
work. In order to be eligible for EJP, a student has to have sixty credit hours of undergraduate work. We tend to have
students who are not only serving longer sentences, but are towards the end because many were incarcerated when they
were teenagers and have had to work through getting
their GED and getting the 60 credit hours while they’re inside. We’re not offering a light version of the kind of educational
we offer students on the traditional campus at Urbana-Champaign, it’s not a watered-down
version. This is the same level of instruction,
the same quality of instruction that we provide to students at
Urbana-Champaign. OK, it’s act 5 scene 2 – a solemn air. “A solemn air and the best comforter To an unsettled fancy cure thy brains”
We have a theater initiative, which we didn’t expect to have. It grew really organically from one of our course offerings. Carol Symes taught a course called Shakespeare’s
World’s, so she asked her students during the course of the semester to have
some sort of performative assignment. First, the students resisted – they did not want to do anything that involved in reading Shakespeare out loud. They felt awkward with the language, they felt awkward with the genre, but they quickly got over their awkwardness, and soon started asking for more, and by the end of the semester they asked her if they couldn’t continue to meet, and if they couldn’t put on a play. “My brace of lords, were I so minded, I here could pluck his highness’ frown upon you
And justify you traitors: at this time I will tell no tales.” She brought out certain things in us, that many of us probably didn’t realize we had ourselves. We have a lot of instructors that are involved in the program; they’re all-volunteer, and every semester we have between 60 and 70 people on campus who teach in
the program in some capacity, some of them are for-credit instructors, others teach workshops: science, math, or writing
workshops. Others are involved with our English as a
Second Language Program. My name is Orlando Mayorga; I’m part of
the language partners program here at Danville Our program is an ESL program that is teaching non-english speaking
people how to speak English. as part of language partners, my job is to make lessons that are interesting and that are engaging of the students that
we have. An environment were both teaching and
learning occurs between teacher and student is like an ideal environment, and that’s
one of the things that I really enjoy about language partner, is that we’re able to practice that, you know – our
class is more like a family we’ve come to, like, love these guys, you know, we’ve come to love each other, and that’s kinda weird coming from a person who’s in prison, but it just comes naturally, you know,
you come to care for these people. I was doing a twenty year stint. I landed in Danville Correctional Center, and that’s where I met Rebecca Ginsburg, and the alumni staff. I started taking classes there. What I thought it was to me, it showed me my worth. I had been in there
take classes for a long time, you know how things get dormant, then
it was EJP that breathed life back into me. I started
taking more classes, started getting more active in education, and I think it’s a mind changing set program, I think it forces you to engage. I came as a prison not having any direct, not really caring about anything but myself and how my time would affect me, but this program has allowed me see that the world is bigger than just
focusing on self. Most EJP students long ago changes from being teenager that they
were when they committed the act that they are currently incarcerated for to being men who are serious of purpose and quite intent on making up for what their past mistakes have cost them,
cost their families, and cost their communities. What they
seek is the opportunity, the means to be able to become that person Our hope that people will see the possibilities in giving incarcerated men and women an opportunity. Of course many of us have committed crimes, and as penance for those crimes, we are in these place; however, everyone has done something that they’re not proud of, that they’re totally not proud of. One of the EJP instructors once said that he always asked people to think about the worst thing that they’ve ever done, to imagine themselves bring defined for the rest of their lives by the worst thing they’ve ever done, and that’s the experience. So to give a person an opportunity, the same opportunity you would like, to say well listen, I’m gonna give this guy or this woman the benefit of the doubt, and see what they have to offer, because, you know, many of us still have something to offer. Open your eyes, open your hearts, and give people a chance. Everybody makes mistakes. How we get up after, what we do after those mistakes determines where our stars lie.

2 thoughts on “Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign”

  1. Oh how I remember those days behind the bars, my blessing is "ALL", thanks to you Rebecca for putting this program in place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *