Ohio State Class Exits Prison
Angela Bryant stands at the lectern, as she has many times before during closing ceremonies for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Southeastern Correctional Institution in Lancaster. This time is different, however: It’s the final Inside-Out class she’ll teach at SCI.
In January 2019, Columbus Monthly covered Bryant’s Sociology 2211 class at Ohio State University’s main and Newark campuses, titled Corrections: An Inside-Out Course. For the past decade, Bryant led the fall semester class comprising OSU students and incarcerated men at SCI through Inside-Out, a program that brings traditional college students and courses to more than 200 correctional institutions in about a dozen countries worldwide.
That changed for Bryant in October, when SCI warden Brian Cook terminated the course and its affiliated think tank of Inside-Out alumni, The Pantheon of Critical Criminologists, or T-POCC.
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A history of SCI’s Inside-Out program prepared by Bryant, her students and T-POCC members alleges that the termination was the result of an insurmountable “personality difference” and Cook’s issues with Bryant’s assigned course readings and projects, which focused on problems surrounding mass incarceration. In an email, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokesperson JoEllen Smith cites “operational reasons” for discontinuing the partnership with Bryant and declined to make Cook available for comment.
Despite her dismay with the decision, Bryant describes ODRC as very supportive of Inside-Out in general. It will continue at SCI through a Denison University philosophy course; ODRC also facilitates Inside-Out classes at several other prisons in Ohio, says Smith. In early January, Bryant learned that she and two OSU colleagues won a grant to train more Inside-Out instructors, with a goal of developing a prison-based associate’s degree program.
Still, Bryant’s SCI class made a deep and lasting impression, which is evident in the prepared remarks made by both inside and outside students at the December closing ceremony.
“The program empowered me to develop a passion for social justice activism,” says Terry Green, a former inside student. Since his release, he’s made a career as a motivational speaker and founded the nonprofit Think Make Live Youth, which aims to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by mentoring at-risk children.
He cites Bryant’s class as a transformative experience, telling her at the closing ceremony that “leaders like you pave the way for people like me.”
Bryant’s class has been life-changing for outside students as well. Mason Russell, who has taken it twice during his time at OSU Newark, says it altered his career path. Before taking the class, he was on a law enforcement track; he signed up to get a better understanding of what happens to people after they are arrested.
But after taking the class for the first time, he knew he didn’t want to contribute to that system. “I want to be able to take the privilege that I have and the opportunity that I have to help elevate those voices … that are never heard,” Russell says. He’s set to graduate this spring with a criminology degree and plans to become a civil rights lawyer.
Bryant hasn’t given up on her Inside-Out class and hopes to offer it at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville this fall. “Postsecondary education is the most effective decarceration strategy we have,” she says. “Prison work is not just a job, not just a paycheck, not just a volunteer opportunity … it’s a fundamental aspect of my identity.”
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