KPU breaks down barriers with prison exchange program

Wed, Jul 5, 2017

Metro Vancouver, B.C. – Criminology students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) and some of those incarcerated at Kwìkwèxwelhp Healing Village in Harrison Mills are taking part in an “outside-the-box” prison exchange program.

The program brings 13 “outside” students from KPU inside the prison to study together with 13 incarcerated “inside” students. The inside students are formally admitted into the university and the credits they earn through the course can be applied towards the completion of a credential upon release from incarceration.

“Giving inside students credit puts them on more equal footing with their outside counterparts and imbues the program with a particularly powerful impact,” said Dr. Wade Deisman, arts faculty associate dean at KPU.

Deisman is one of the driving forces behind the development of the Inside Out model in a Canadian context. “Against the prison setting as the backdrop, and with prisoners as participants in the dialogue, issues of crime and social justice take on a whole new gravity and meaning," he says.

The program is modelled on the U.S.-based Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Temple University. However, as Deisman notes, “we have different penal issues here in Canada, and so we have taken a different approach with a sharply different focus.”

This year that focus was on issues of trauma and transformation.

“Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were the real motivator for this course,” said Dr. Lisa Kitt, the KPU criminology instructor who taught the course this spring. “The students explored what transformation looks like and how healing is possible. While these themes are already being examined in both the post-secondary environment and correctional context, we are coming at the questions with a unique group of people and in a compelling location—a healing lodge and correctional facility.”

The course focus and program were developed through consultation with the Elders at Kwìkwèxwelhp and the local Sts’ailes First Nations. A librarian from KPU was available to provide special support to the inside students and assisted them in accessing academic resources needed to complete their work.

Sujata Bakshi, an “outside” student in the program, was deeply impacted by the experience.

“In that space, we were free. There were no offenders, nor were there any outsiders. We were just people that needed empathy, compassion and warmth.”

Bakshi says classmates connected beyond words, and gained a new understanding of what it means to live with trauma.

“As we read more about it, understanding and defining trauma became more complex, and so the only way we could truly get a sense of it was to draw from our own experiences,” said Bakshi.

The program’s launch was made possible by a generous $10,000 community grant from TELUS, which was presented today.

“Thanks to support from TELUS and BC Corrections, KPU is placing a human face on social justice issues while offering an academic and experiential learning opportunity that demonstrates our unique polytechnic advantage,” said Dr. Diane Purvey, KPU’s arts faculty dean. “This innovative program is rooted in the belief that everyone has a story to tell.”

Images from today’s cheque presentation, in a talking circle format, are available on Flickr.

Story by communications team

About Inside-Out
Inside-Out was founded by Lori Pompa at Temple University with the first class taking place in the Philadelphia Prison System in 1997. The program has grown to include more 1,200 academics and nearly 1,500 Inside-Out courses have been offered since around the world.

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