The Prison Education Programming has grown beyond English and can now be found at: https://pep.asu.edu
The ASU Department of English’s Prison Education Programming (PEP—formerly Prison English) begins with a belief that education is a right that inheres within our humanity. It is not a right that stops at a prison’s gates. Education needs to traverse borders and boundaries, including prison boundaries.
Arizona State University espouses community engagement, an effort to reach out from its campuses in order to achieve beneficial and lasting effects. In the words of the university’s vision statement, “ASU strengthens communities by contributing to community dialogue and responding to communities’ needs. We provide an education that’s inclusive rather than exclusive. Our students engage in the world around them.” PEP locates itself squarely within this work of community engagement.
This small program emerged from educational voluntarism – faculty who give their own time in order to assume additional workload – and a belief that prison education has been treated too long as a social leper. The participation of universities can help overcome the stigmatization of such work and push up the effective ceiling of secondary-only education in Arizona prisons.
In his 1837 essay ‘The American Scholar,’ Ralph Waldo Emerson found an auspicious sign in American literature because “the elevation of what was called the lowest class in the state, assumed in literature a very marked and as benign an aspect. Instead of the sublime and beautiful; the near, the low, the common, was explored and poetized...” For Emerson, to be a scholar was to engage with everyday life: “I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low.” The low and the familiar are our prisons. To engage with prison education is to work to become the scholars we hope to be.