Beginning summer 2017, Wayne State University students will have the opportunity to learn side-by-side with incarcerated men and women thanks to a new partnership with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.

The Inside-Out program will provide students with the opportunity to learn behind prison walls alongside people who likely have a different background and perspective than their own. This kind of experience can help students think critically, challenge assumptions and grow personally.

The first Inside-Out course offered through WSU will be a criminal justice class taught at a Wayne County correctional facility.

“It forces you out of your comfort zone by requiring you to break down the foundation of how you make sense of the world and the people in it, including yourself, and then build it up again,” said Matthew Larson, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Wayne State.

An interdisciplinary team of participating College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty members spent a week of intensive training learning about the history, structure and goals of Inside-Out. The training took place in a conference center and the Macomb Correctional Facility. The exercises done in the prison were designed and conducted by inmates who previously participated in Inside-Out classes and are now part of an ongoing educational association called “Theory Group.” WSU students who enroll in the courses will need to attend an orientation before the class to prepare.

According to Larson, after completing the course, students will have gained the ability to understand different perspectives and look at things from a different angle. This skill can help deepen their understanding of not only the coursework but of society as well.

“The depth of awareness and the connection you make with your classmates, both those who return to campus with you and those who have to stay in jail or prison, is indescribable. It really is human connection at its finest. If only we could have the whole world experience Inside-Out, it would be a far more loving and tolerant place.”