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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.
It is crucial to form a university-based support community around prison education to assure its sustained future. There are more than thirty graduate student, faculty, and staff members of the Prison Education Group, and a faculty, staff, and community member advisory committee. We have partnerships with the Arizona Department of Corrections and the New Mexico Corrections Department.
The advisory committee includes:
English 345: Prison Literature, a special topics course taught in-class and online, provides an introduction to selected US prison literature. US prison literature is a rich field, one that extends from textual moments such as Hawthorne’s “Prison Door” chapter opening The Scarlet Letter (1850) to major modern novels such as John Cheever’s Falconer (1977), which emerged from his work as a writing teacher at Sing Sing prison. The course considers prison literature as an integral part of US literary and rhetorical history; as a vehicle for civil disobedience; as an exploration of socially invisible worlds; as resistant autobiography; and as a genre model for US social self-comprehension. The goal is to provide students with a short survey of prison literature – particularly in the US Southwest – and to explore critical ideas about the intersection of incarceration and literature.
Syllabus (2015 online, PDF) - eng345-prison-literature-syllabus-spring-2015.pdf
Syllabus (2014 in-class, PDF) - eng-345-prison-literature-syllabus-spring-2014.pdf
Syllabus (2011 online, PDF) - eng-345-summer-2011-syllabus.pdf
English 484/584: The Pen Project debuted in 2010. It is a prison-university internship organized in cooperation with the New Mexico Corrections Department and the Arizona Department of Corrections. The semester-long internship course occurs in both Fall and Spring and employs a Blackboard management platform as a digital bridge between (a) inmate-writers in New Mexico and Arizona and (b) upper-level Arizona State undergraduates, who provide typed critiques of inmate-produced poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction prose.
Most of the writer-inmates live in maximum-security units, are under lock-down 23 hours per day, and have no access to regular education programs. Handwritten work is collected by prison staff, mailed to ASU instructors, scanned into Blackbloard, and transcribed by the interns. The interns then employ the critical skills they have learned over the course of their undergraduate education to critically comment on the inmates’ writing. This individualized instruction provided by interns is edited by the instructors, transferred through Blackboard back to the prisons, printed in hard copy, and hand-delivered by prison staff directly to prisoners in their cells. ASU writing interns currently coach about 150 inmates who, together with the interns, produce between 1500 and 2000 pages of writing and critique per semester.
English 484/584: The Pen Project is unique. To our current knowledge there is no other writing project in the United States that partners a university with maximum security inmates via online technology. This online internship is a model for development and expansion.
Some of the first Pen Project interns organized the Prison Education Awareness Club (PEAC) to work both within the university community and with the community at large. As part of its awareness mission, PEAC facilitates the Prison Education Conference on the ASU campus each March, now in its fourth year, with attendees from around the state and keynote speakers from around the country. PEAC has hosted, among others, Kyes Stevens (Alabama Prison Arts & Education Project), Judith Tannenbaum (Disguised as a Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin), John Burroughs Medalist Ken Lamberton (Wilderness and Razor Wire: A Naturalist’s Observations from Prison), journalist Alan Elsner (Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America’s Prisons), Hudson Link Executive Director Sean Pica (Zero Percent: A Hudson Link Documentary), retired detective Marshall Frank (Criminal Injustice in America: Essays by a Career Cop), and poet Richard Shelton (Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer).
Syllabus - 484syllabusspring18feb2016.pdf
Application Information - fall2016_penproject_application_info.pdf
Graduate level internships are offered for classes taught once a week at Florence and Eyman State Prisons. Since 2010, the Department of English has provided courses in creative writing, linguistics, history of English, Shakespeare, TESOL and – in cooperation with other departments – also provides courses in art, biology, Chinese, math, philosophy, psychology, and theatre. The internship operates in close cooperation with the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Syllabus - eng-584-syllabus-spring-2011.pdf
ENG 584 Online Portfolio (used w/permission)
The ASU Prison Education Programming (PEP—formerly Prison English) has been associated with developing, supporting, and often providing field supervision for a network of ASU prison education initiatives. These include:
Math: Beginning in fall of 2015, faculty and graduate and undergraduate student interns began tutoring incarcerated persons at all levels of math instruction at Eyman and Florence State Prisons. Supervisor: Prof. Albert Boggess
Theatre: As of 2013, theater MFA students have organized drama workshops at the medium-security Cook Unit of Eyman State Prison. Supervisors: Profs. Stephani Woodson and Erika Hughes
Criminology and Justice Studies (CRJ 494): Debuting January 2016, ten ASU students study with ten incarcerated students at the Florence State Prison in the ASU School of Criminology and Justice Studies' "Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program." Supervisor: Prof. Kevin Wright
Theatre (THE 514 / ENG 584): Beginning January 2015, in cooperation with Pima Prevention Program’s Arizona Collegiate High School, this initiative is developing a community theater pilot project for children of incarcerated parents. Supervisor: Prof. Stephani Woodson
Art (ARP 484/584): The Prison Drawing Project at the ASU Herberger School of Art, modeled after the Pen Project, provides long-distance art education to prisoners at the maximum-security Browning Unit of Eyman State Prison. Supervisor: Prof. Janice Pittsley
Biology (BIO 584): A teaching group of ASU graduate students from the School of Life Sciences organize an introductory biology course at the maximum-security Browning Unit of Eyman State Prison. Supervisor: Prof. Tsafrir Mor
Philosophy (PHI 584): Philosophy graduate students regularly teach an introductory philosophy course at the medium-security Cook Unit of Eyman State Prison. Supervisor: Prof. Thomas Blackson
Psychology (PSY 101): Psychology students teach an introductory psychology course at the medium-security North Unit for Florence State Prison. Supervisor: Prof. Eric Amazeen.
Chinese (CHN 584): Beginning 2013, ASU has offered Chinese language and culture studies at Eyman State Prison. Various faculty supervisors.
The Department of English organizes used book collections and delivers them to prison libraries in Arizona and New Mexico. The department facilitates donation of hundreds of books in shipments made several times a year.
►ASU programs break down barriers within prison walls (The State Press, Mar. 14, 2018)
►ASU instructor enjoys teaching Florence prison inmates (Florence Reminder & Blade-Tribune, Jan. 4, 2018)
►Behind the bars: ASU prison education (The State Press, Feb. 19, 2017)
►Writing a new chapter in prison rehabilitation (ASU Now, Mar. 20, 2016)
►Theater across prison walls: ASU students and Eyman Prison inmates unite for performance (ASU Now, Dec. 1, 2015)
Prison Education News 5:2 (Summer 2018) - prison-education-newsletter-2018.pdf
Prison Education News 5:1 (Summer 2017) - pen-prisonednewslettersummer2017.pdf
Prison Education News 4:1 (Summer 2016) - prison-education-news-summer-2016.pdf
Prison English News 3:1 (Summer 2015) - prison-english-newsletter-summer-2015.pdf
Prison English News 2:1 (Summer 2014) - prison-english-newsletter-summer-2014.pdf
Prison English News 1:1 (Summer 2013) - prison-english-newsletter-summer-2013.pdf
Prison English Brochure - prison-program-brochure.pdf
Talk by Joe Lockard at Sichuan University, China, December 2010. "Reading, Writing and Prisoners: Literature and Prisons in the US Southwest" - sichuan-paper-prisons.pdf