Blog

Criminal Justice Student Transformed by Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program

By Meaghan Cayer on April 5, 2017
Image

During her first day at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, Eliana Lopes was scared. She sat down for two hours as representatives reviewed the regulations she would have to follow moving forward, and wondered what her time here would be like. 

No, Eliana is not a criminal. She's not even an inmate. Eliana is a student in the Bay State College Criminal Justice program, and she's here to take an academic course. 

It's all made possible through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which brings together "inside (incarcerated) and "outside" students for a semester-long course in a prison setting. Last semester, students from our Taunton location took the course Incarceration, Rehabilitation and Reentry with Bay State College Professor Carolyn Riley. 

"I think we were just as afraid of them as they were afraid of us," shared Eliana. "We didn't know what to expect. But it was a good group of people. We were all very open. There was a lot of sharing about what it's like on the outside and what it's like being on the inside." 

With the Inside-Out Prison Exchange model, classes take a seminar format with plenty of opportunities for students to share their thoughts and opinions. One of the activities that resonated most with Eliana was when students would leave class and write about a certain issue from their perspective, then share it with their classmates the next day. 

"Much of what we shared had to do with how education changed us. How we could have been sitting on their end, but something in our lives took a different path. A lot of these students actually grew up behind bars, but said if they were still on the outside they wouldn't have been the same person because the transformation they had gone through on the inside would not have happened." 

"It changed my whole mindset about what an inmate is. Before, I used to think: you did your crime, you're guilty, you're doing your time. That's it. In the class, you sit down and actually talk with them. You hear them define who they are... they're more than just 'the inmate'. They're the same as us, they've just made some mistakes." 

Eliana's experience fits in with the humanistic goal of the Bay State College Criminal Justice curriculum and will, she believes, have a direct impact on how she approaches her job in the future. 

"I think this whole experience will make me a better police officer. Without going through this program, I would have not understood the other side of the job, the inmate's perspective on life. Anyone in the criminal justice system needs to understand both sides. It's more than just laws that have to be abided by, it's more than just rules and regulations. There's a humanistic aspect of things that I think a lot of criminal justice professionals are missing... I think the Criminal Justice program at Bay State does a great job of humanizing- you're given a face and a story for someone in every aspect of the criminal justice system." 

Interested in our Criminal Justice program? Bay State College offers all of our Criminal Justice programs in the day, evening and online! Click one (or all!) of these links to learn more: B.S. in Criminal Justice, B.S. in Criminal Justice - Domestic and International Security Concentration, A.S. in Criminal Justice

Interested in participating in our next course with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program? It's open to all Bay State College students! Contact Professor Bill Morrissette at wmorrissette@baystate.edu for more information.