I'm just back from my 25th college reunion at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Despite an ominous forecast, the weather mostly cooperated, allowing me to spend several hours on Foss Hill soaking up the sun and chatting with old friends on Saturday.
Although reunions tend to leave a melancholy aftertaste (the inevitable focus on the aging process and the comparisons to one's younger self can take a toll on me), I had a good time. A huge part of my enjoyment was down to my connection to the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education, a remarkable program created by Wesleyan undergrads five years ago. Built on the model of the Bard Prison Initiative, the program seeks to provide a Wesleyan education to selected inmates at two Connecticut prisons (one for men, one for women).
I'm proud that my alma mater is the kind of place that encourages students to exercise their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to make a difference in the world. I'm also proud that Wesleyan is a place that puts its money where its mouth is. Wesleyan believes so fiercely in the power and importance of a liberal arts education that it is attempting to provide this precious resource not just to the children of the elite, but to everyone across the board, including those who society typically forgets or ignores.
My sense from visiting the classes in prison is that the education that Wesleyan is providing is changing the way that inmates think about themselves and the world. The next challenge is to document that this translates into changed behavior and a changed culture within our penal institutions. I'm optimistic that over time it will.
The Center for Prison Education was a big part of reunion weekend. One of my fellow board members, Ted Shaw, was selected to speak at commencement. In addition, the program put together a panel that featured a range of interesting panelists, including speakers from the Brownsville Community Justice Center and the Vera Institute of Justice. To keep up with what the Center for Prison Education is up to, follow their great Twitter feed.