“I took this class to become a better writer with the hope of helping others soar. It has helped me to become a better father, son, and person as a whole. At the end of the day, I can look in the mirror and be proud of who I am and the direction I’m headed,” said one incarcerated student at his graduation ceremony.
On a Thursday night in mid‑December, the first Odyssey Beyond Bars course at Oakhill Correctional Facility came to a close with a powerful live storytelling event. Twelve incarcerated students each got up in front of an audience of 35 people, all of whom were either fellow students or staff who had supported them over the course of the semester—writing tutors, storytellers, guest instructors, academic and financial advisors, the education director at Oakhill, and the dean of UW’s Division of Continuing Studies. This was their final assignment of the three‑credit UW–Madison English 100 class they had completed with Professor Kevin Mullen. Students had been polishing their stories for the last few weeks with Jen Rubin, the producer of the Moth StorySlam events in Madison, and her team of storytellers. Some stories were sad, others were funny, but all of them were captivating and inspiring.
The evening ended with certificates for each student attesting to their completion of three UW–Madison credits, group photos, and congratulatory conversations between the students and staff members. It was an unforgettable night for students, staff, and audience members, confirming our belief that humanities courses in prison can help bring about transformation. We are excited to expand on the success of this pilot course and offer more credit‑bearing Odyssey Beyond Bars courses in the future.