We enter fall and the holidays with keen excitement, thankful to be back to in-person teaching and meeting classrooms full of new students. Some programs suspended during the pandemic are resuming, like UW–Parkside’s Shakespeare Prison Project at Racine Correctional, with strong demand among students. And new technologies developed during the pandemic are allowing more people than ever to contribute to our courses and witness our students’ success.
Odyssey Beyond Bars (OBB) was awarded the Eisenberg Award this year from the Wisconsin State Public Defender Board, along with two other prison education programs at Trinity International University and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. This award is a great honor given annually to organizations and individuals that have made substantial impacts on those living in poverty, especially those in the criminal justice system. We are deeply thankful to the Wisconsin SPD Board for the award and to the multitude of people at the university who have made OBB a reality, especially (but not limited to!) Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Provost Karl Scholz, UW Odyssey Project co-directors Emily Auerbach and Kevin Mullen and co-founder Jean Feraca, OBB Program Manager Lauren Surovi, OBB instructors Craig Werner and Anthony Black, the UW–Madison Division of Continuing Studies, the College of Letters & Science — including the English Department — and of course, the UW System Prison Education Initiative.
The future looks bright, with Pell grants becoming available to more students in prison and certain programs expanding. Thanks to generous funding from UW System and the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation, Odyssey Beyond Bars plans to teach English 100 in three new prisons in spring 2022. Certain partners, like Marquette University, are planning new initiatives for currently and formerly incarcerated students as well, and we’re looking to collaborate.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) continues to provide the anchor of support necessary to make all these programs go. Like many employers, our state prisons are experiencing staff shortages, which place an extra burden on the dedicated DOC staff who work hard to keep our programs going. We thank DOC educational staff in particular for continuing to be excellent partners in the face of challenging circumstances.
Director, Odyssey Beyond Bars
Co-founder, UW Coalition for Higher Education in Prison