Friday, November 18, 2011

A Trip to Prison


I spent the bulk of the day today at Cheshire Correctional Institution in Connecticut. I visited because I recently joined the advisory board of the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education, an initiative that offers college-level courses to incarcerated students. Today's class was a political philosophy seminar devoted to Albert Camus' "The Rebel." Much of the conversation focused on a passage towards the end of the book in which Camus writes that the task before humanity is "to learn to live and to die, and, in order to be a man, to refuse to be a god." From this jumping off point, the students discussed religion and the nature of justice, bringing in earlier readings from Nietzsche and other philosophers. It was a pretty typical Wesleyan class: an interesting professor challenging a room full of highly engaged, thoughtful students. The only thing different really was the setting: we were behind bars in a windowless classroom and the students had all been convicted of serious crimes, including murder. I left feeling proud of my alma mater for sponsoring such a program -- and with my faith in liberal arts education, and its ability to teach both context and empathy, bolstered. For more information on the Center, check out this New York Times article.