Unique program offers ONU students inside look at prison life, corrections system
Ohio Northern University students are going behind the bars and gates of prison to gain invaluable insights for their future endeavors through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. In this program, 10 ONU students, along with 10 inmates, attend class together at the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio.
The class meets once a week, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. each Monday during fall semester. This is the third year that ONU has offered the program, which is part of a national endeavor that began in the 1990s.
The students and inmates attend class together, learning from each other’s perspectives.
“This is part of the effort to provide a dynamic learning experience for our students,” said ONU Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Tristin Kilgallon, who teaches the class and spearheaded the ONU initiative. “Whatever line of work criminal justice majors eventually pursue, these inmates are their clients. This puts faces to the system, as most of our students have never known someone who is incarcerated. It is one way to emphasize diversity and interacting with people of different backgrounds.”
The program is beneficial to both the ONU students and the inmates.
“This provides a frame of reference for our students in their future careers. It also helps the inmates prepare for life after prison and is sanctioned by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections as a way for the prisoners to prepare for re-entry into the outside world,” Kilgallon said.
The ONU students have gained invaluable insights they could not have otherwise obtained.
“I really wanted to get an inside look at the prison system and learn first-hand from prisoners and their views on the system that I hope to one day be a part of,” said Ashlee. “This has helped me learn to communicate better with others, especially those in the prison system.”
Another student, Julie, said, “We can study and read about corrections as much as we want, but the time taken to talk to someone who has been through the system provides a unique perspective that not many people can say they have.”
“Walking into this class, I was scared to be sitting in a room with people who have committed crimes as serious as murder,” Julie said. “However, only a few weeks later, I don’t feel scared or anxious. The biggest realization I’ve had is we need to see the people in our prison system as people rather than the crimes they commit.”
Alaina said, “I learned the inside scope of our corrections system more than I did from just a regular class. This class helped me further realize what goes on throughout corrections. While I do not want to pursue a career in corrections, there are quite a few areas of research that could be of interest.”
While most of the students are criminal justice majors, the class is offered to students of all academic pursuits.
“I like to have students from various academic majors. They bring different perspectives to the discussion,” Kilgallon said.
The course is a collaborative effort. It is facilitated by a prison case manager as well two inmate liaisons.
“Many of the inmates committed serious crimes 20 to 30 years ago, but they have grown and changed since then, and it is important our students realize that,” Kilgallon said.
The students themselves grow from the experience.
“Overall, our ONU students seem uncertain at first, which is not uncommon since this is a completely different dynamic than what they are used to. However, eventually, they get used to it, and it becomes another class,” Kilgallon said.