Inside-Out program changing perspectives at Taycheedah women’s prison

Classic Rosie the Riveter image seen in a jumpsuit, breaking a chain in a chain link fence, while holding a diploma, symbolizing breaking cycles of incarceration through education

“This experience has enabled me to look outside the box that I’ve kept myself securely in for so long. I am not just a number or a lost cause like society has labeled me. I am a survivor, a resilient, strong woman.”

–Emma, “inside” student from Professor Carmen Heider’s Inside-Out course

Each Tuesday, students from UW–Oshkosh traveled to nearby Taycheedah Correctional Institution to take Professor Carmen Heider’s Women, Incarceration and Communication course alongside students imprisoned there. Together, the class tackled challenging questions such as how language shapes our understanding of women in prison and how prison complicates motherhood during incarceration. In the process, stereotypes were smashed, and the students began seeing each other as people sharing a common experience.

Inside-Out courses are unique learning opportunities within higher education, offering students on campus (“outside” students) the opportunity to take classes with students in prison (“inside” students). In Carmen’s view, these types of courses represent experiential learning at its best: “Students are not only exposed to different perspectives on communication, but also have an opportunity to apply what they are learning — and experience it firsthand.”

Carmen offered her Inside-Out course at Taycheedah five times between 2009 and 2017 and hopes to teach there again soon. Each semester held memorable moments of enlightenment and transcendence. “It was so powerful to see change happen, see transformation happen,” she says. “You could see perspectives change and inside students’ sense of being taken seriously and being respected.” As one inside student recounted, “For three hours during the week, I felt like I wasn’t in prison.”