Panel Discusses Education in the Prison System

Professors Nick Vagioni, Glenn Hutcheson, Paul Feigenbaum, Ana Luszczynska, and Tania Lopez speaking at Teaching in the System as part of a three-day event focused on analyzing the prison system. | Alexander Luzula, PantherNOW

Alexander Luzula | Staff Writer

The FIU Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment, in collaboration with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, hosted a lecture event titled Teaching in the System: A Round-Table Discussion on Prison Education in the Green Library  on Wednesday, March 29 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. 

The event was part of Truly Free? Mass Incarceration, Prison Education, and Carceral Justice,a three-day teach-in centered on critiquing the current American prison system.

The discussion focused on education in the prison system and the experiences shared by professors on their work teaching inmates through the program, Exchange For Change, a volunteer program connecting professors and students to help mentor prisoners with literature, creative writing and poetry classes.

Inmates are  to showcase and even publish their work in the annual journal, Don’t Shake the Spoon.

Moderated by Dr. Ana G. Luszczynska, panelists included fellow FIU professors Paul Feigenbaum, Glenn Hutcheson, Tania Lopez, and Nick Vagioni. 

Dr. Luszczynska led the conversation and asked the panelists their perspectives on teaching prisoners and the issues faced within, as well as fielding questions from the audience. 

“Just by going in there and spending an hour, talking to them and realizing the degree to which they want to be heard; they’re really, really craving conversation with people on the outside, so just your presence is already a tremendous act of generosity,” said Dr. Luszczynska.

Fellow panelists referenced their shared experiences, highlighting the eagerness of incarcerated students to be in a classroom

“It’s not really tied to tangible rewards, or the expectations that this is going to lead to something beyond the opportunity to be learning for the sake of learning, and to be intellectually curious, and to express oneself and to try to get one’s voice out to the public,” said Dr. Feigenbaum.

“And as a teacher, a lot of teachers long for the opportunity to teach students who are in your class because they’ve chosen to be there.”

Although the benefits are not tangible, they are real, said Luszczynska, who cited a 40% decrease in recidivism among inmates who participated in classes, compared to those who didn’t.  

Exchange For Change, along with the professors involved, is currently working to expand outreach and encourage students and faculty to get involved in helping inmates’ stories be heard.

“Education is a human right, and there’s no access to education, and this is an opportunity right now for people to volunteer to do it,” said professor Glenn Hutcheson.

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