Northern Michigan University criminal justice students spent 15 weeks working with prisoners inside Marquette Branch Prison as part of a course called “Inside-Out” that brings college students to a prison to take a college course with inmates, reports the Marquette (MI) Mining Journal. “It’s a good, collaborative learning experience that gives NMU students the opportunity to study as peers with prisoners here at the prison,” said warden Robert Napel. “It was a thoughtful dialogue about social and restorative justice and the impact of crime on society.” Inmates and outside students worked together to complete a semester-ending project, drafting proposals of prison programs that could be beneficial to inmates. Their ideas included allowing pre-scripted video messages to be sent to inmates’ families and training in resume-building to ease the transition back into the working world.
“The first couple classes, personally, I was terrified,” said Gabrielle Loew, a senior majoring in criminal justice. “I had never even met a felon, so I had no idea what to expect, but about two or three classes in, I was so ashamed I had felt that way.” She said some inmates had a new-found confidence in themselves, after realizing they could successfully complete an upper-level college course, with some planning to enroll in college upon their release. Ben Drymon, a junior majoring in criminal justice and accounting, said it took a while for each group to warm up to the other. “At first, the class was really quiet. No one really knew what to say or what to do,” Drymon said. “But as the semester went on, it wasn’t that you were sitting next to an inmate anymore. You were sitting next to a classmate.”