ALEXANDRIA, VA – This spring 16 students participated in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, an initiative that focuses on social change through transformative education. The Alexandria Sheriff’s Office partnered with the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) which, for the first time, offered a course through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program to its students and to inmates at the Alexandria Detention Center (ADC).
Seven VTS students and nine ADC students participated in the course, Prison Exchange Program: Learning Together, taught by the Reverend Leah Gaskin Fitchue, Ed.D. The basic idea of Inside-Out is that incarcerated students and traditional students might mutually benefit from studying crime, justice, and related social issues together as peers within a correctional facility context.
Before the class met together at the ADC, the seminarians or “outside” students completed a day of training to familiarize themselves with ADC rules and practices. Incarcerated or “inside” students also had a separate briefing at the jail, before all students began attending class together at the jail.
According to Dr. Fitchue, “The goal of the course is to encourage a multidisciplinary approach using practical theology and public policy, in concert with morality and social ethics, to expand understanding of the criminal justice system in order to implement spiritually grounded ministerial and public leadership skills for public square discourse.”
Students completed assigned readings including books and articles, prepared papers and other written work, engaged in classroom discussions, collaborated on group projects, and welcomed guest lecturers.
At the end of the course, all Inside-Out students participated in an April 25 graduation ceremony at the ADC where other inmates were also recognized for their educational and training achievements. Dr. Fitchue presented each of her students – all of whom wore matching-shirts featuring the Inside-Out logo and mission – with a certificate of achievement. The Reverend Melody Knowles, Ph.D. and the Reverend Mitzi Jarrett Budde, D.Min., both of VTS, the Reverend Frederick Gaddy, D.Min., and the Reverend Larry Golemon, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Washington Theological Consortium, joined Dr. Fitchue in congratulating the students.
Inside student Torrance Gardner and outside student Mary Margaret Winn both addressed the audience and discussed the powerful impact of transformative education and how much students had learned from each other, truly becoming peers in the process. The students presented Dr. Fitchue with a gift and thanked her for her insights, guidance, and efforts in developing Alexandria’s first Inside-Out course. Both VTS faculty and Sheriff’s Office staff expressed their appreciation for each other in their commitment and investment in making the program a success.