OBB students Billy, Danny and Mark hold their course materials in front of a blackboard

Odyssey Beyond Bars Approach

Jumpstarting a Journey to a College Degree

(Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

We offer college jumpstart courses to students in prison who are interested in college but not yet enrolled in a degree program. Our core offering is English 100, Introduction to College Composition. The three UW-Madison credits that students earn through English 100 satisfy general education requirements at Wisconsin’s technical colleges and other UW campuses under the Universal Credit Transfer AgreementAbout 50 students have completed one of our credit-bearing courses, and hundreds more have completed one of our noncredit courses.

Our courses are proving effective as a college jumpstart.  Virtually all of our students to date have stated that their experience in Odyssey Beyond Bars has made them want to take more college classes, and many OBB alumni have gone on to enroll in college degree programs.

Building Communication Skills

OBB students Billy, Danny and Mark sit at a table in a prison classroom and talk with with OBB director Peter Moreno in fall 2021

Odyssey Beyond Bars courses help students build new communication skills through narrative essays, oral storytelling, and argumentative writing on social issues. Throughout the semester, we encourage students to reflect on and share their personal life experiences in their written work. A typical English 100 class begins with an in-class writing assignment that students read aloud to each other. Afterward, students engage in conversations regarding each other’s in-class work.

This class has been a safe place for people to come together and share their unique lives, and stories, and if you allow yourself to expand your horizons, you will find that there is a richness in prison that escapes us all every day, simply because we don’t take the time to listen to others, or even to ourselves. When guys in the class tell their stories, they add to the dialogue of empowerment that is so needed within our lives as prisoners, and which is needed in the community as well. –Robert, OBB student, Fall 2021

Wraparound Support for Students and Alumni

OBB student sitting in a corner written 'job center of Wisconsin' at Oakhill Correctional Institution

Individualized tutoring and advising are important parts of the support we offer to Odyssey Beyond Bars students. Students meet weekly with tutors to discuss readings and develop their own sense of voice and perspective. Students also meet periodically with advisors from UW-Madison’s Adult Career and Special Student Services and Office of Student Financial Aid to develop long-term academic plans.

Students who complete at least one Odyssey Beyond Bars course become part of our Onward Odyssey alumni support network and receive individualized support from our OBB alumni support coordinator.  This coordinator helps alumni pursue additional academic opportunities both during and after their time in prison.  Many people have difficulty transitioning back to life in the community after spending time in prison. We are committed to supporting our alumni throughout this process so they can continue working toward their academic goals.