Director’s letter

Students at Oakhill share their writing with the class

We wind down the 2020-21 academic year proud of our students and what we have accomplished in the face of adversity. When the pandemic interrupted our face-to-face instruction, Odyssey Beyond Bars (OBB) rose to the occasion, developing new digital teaching tools to engage our students and adding to the courses we offer at Oakhill Correctional Institution. Our students responded with resilience. They adapted to Zoom, used our new learning management system to stay connected and continued to bring a thirst for learning to the classroom.

Now OBB is ready to do more. With funding from the Rennebohm Foundation, UW System and UW Odyssey Project supporters, OBB will offer its introductory writing courses at additional prisons around the state as part of the UW System Prison Education Initiative (see article below). Jean Feraca and her team continue to offer noncredit classes and are expanding their library of video material for incarcerated learners. We are excited to build on two decades of transformational learning in the Odyssey Project and two years of successful teaching at Oakhill Correctional by offering jump-start college courses to incarcerated students statewide.

We’re happy to report that many other UW programs that help justice-involved students have also found ways to adapt and thrive through the pandemic. The Wisconsin Prison Humanities Project (formerly Oakhill Prison Humanities Project) continues to offer noncredit courses at Oakhill remotely and, like OBB, now plans to offer its courses in more prisons. Similarly, Dr. Pajarita Charles’ Family Wellbeing and Justice Lab continues to offer parenting classes to moms and dads in prison, and her team’s efforts have expanded to include a community-based program for formerly incarcerated parents. Email if you know a parent who would like to participate. Way to go, WPHP and Dr. Charles!

We hope to see our students face to face again in the fall, and we look forward to sharing photos of our classrooms at Oakhill and other prisons as our programs grow. There are many more success stories on the horizon, so stay tuned!

Peter Moreno

Director, Odyssey Beyond Bars
Cofounder, UW Coalition for Higher Education in Prison