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Peace & Justice Students Learn Inside Galesburg's Correctional Center

During the spring term of 2023, ten Knox students enrolled in a class to learn alongside “inside” students—students who are incarcerated—at Henry Hill Correctional Center. Daniel J. Logan Assistant Professor of Peace and Justice Leanne Trapedo Sims envisioned the course as a profound learning experience for all involved. “The prison system isn’t just. This is a great way for students to be reminded of that first-hand,” she said. 

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

The Knox group worked alongside individuals who are incarcerated in a life-writing course. Based on the ideology of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange program, the course allowed students from Knox and Hill to participate as equals, often across profound social barriers, creating dialogues that transform learning experiences. Those interested in enrolling were required to take a prerequisite course earlier in the year and were screened and interviewed before being selected to participate.

For Joshua Carlos '25, the course provided an opportunity to interact with people who are incarcerated from a different perspective. As a history major, he has found the historical and institutional treatment of minorities to be an area he hopes to transform.

Carlos described his nerves entering Hill on the first day of class, unsure of what to expect. He says students were asked to wear an ID and complete a clearance check at the front gate. After he and the other students had a chance to finally sit and have conversations with the inside students, Carlos says the anxiety started to ease. 

“I think my experience in this course has been my most significant opportunity at Knox so far. Nothing has changed my worldview as much as this,” Carlos said.

Izumi Kitazawa '25 was interested in seeing the American prison system firsthand. A international exchange student, Kitazawa will return to Japan in 2024 where she will major in migration studies. She says the Hill course was a natural fit for her to learn about the American legal system. Ultimately, she hopes to understand how Japan and the United States handle incarcerated members of society. 

Looking back on her experiences, Kitazawa was struck by the heartfelt and, at times, painful stories the inside students shared. She says hearing about their longing for family members and friends was hard but led to personal and moving conversations. 

“The setting widened the scope of what we were able to discuss. Learning from this perspective is something you rarely get in life,” Kitazawa said. “It brings everyone involved to a similar place of understanding.” 

Isabel Oliver '25 admitted that she entered the course fully aware of her privileged background, having never spoken with a person who is incarcerated. She worked to prepare for difficult conversations inside Hill. After spending time inside, she says she had never been in a classroom setting where she felt so challenged. 

Over time, Oliver says the conversations with those involved progressed. She says it was surprising to hear the backgrounds of so many different people of all ages. Despite having never met any of the inside students before, she felt connected to them at the end of their final week and walked away with an experience unlike anything else at Knox.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

Trapedo Sims says she is proud of all the students who took part in this course. Through their commitment, she watched as the inside classroom transformed into a close-knit community.

“Prior to the first combined class with the Hill students, there was a sense of the unknown,” Trapedo Sims said. “As we all sat together—students from the inside and students from the outside—I remember witnessing a palpable transformation in the open faces of all the students in one classroom at Hill Correctional facility.”

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Printed on Wednesday, September 27, 2023