When the average person imagines life in prison, college-level education is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.
During winter quarter, 15 LSJ students were given the unique opportunity to take Professor Herbert’s Law, Justice, and the Environment class at the Monroe Correctional Complex with 12 University Beyond Bars students who are currently serving time in the prison.
Once a week, the UW students would drive out to Monroe, go through a multitude of security checks, and have class behind the thirty foot high, razor wired prison walls. Yet, despite the seemingly caustic environment, by all accounts, the class was everything that could be possibly expected from an upper-level university class.
LSJ senior Clare Morrison said, “I think the most surprising thing about the class was how normal it felt. While class was in session, it was easy to forget that we were inside of a prison.”
LSJ senior McKenzie Schnell echoed similar sentiments, saying, “Going into LSJ 467, there was definitely some uncertainty, on behalf of everyone, on how the class would evolve. I was pleasantly surprised by how easily the University of Washington students and Monroe students came together to make this class a truly collaborative experience and navigate through understanding the relationship between the law and the environment together.”
Schnell added, “The most surprising aspect of the class was the high degree of intellectual debate that occurred in the classroom. This was by far one of the most intellectually stimulating and rigorous classes I have ever taken.”
Similarly, LSJ senior Mariah Ogden said, “One of the most surprising aspects of the classroom was how well everyone was able to integrate throughout the course as well as the differing approaches taken and offered to solve environmental problems. It quickly became easy to play off each other’s solutions or to challenge possible problems that arose from those solutions.”
Ogden also said, “Going into the class, I expected the intellectual challenge to lie mainly in grasping the copious complexities that surround environmental law. Instead, I was pushed by the inmate’s extensive knowledge of environmental conflicts and topics that I had never been introduced to.”
Similarly, Morrison said that, “When the class started, I realized that this class would be much more demanding academically than any other class I had taken at UW. On the first day of class, I was a little intimidated by how prepared my classmates were. This motivated me to work harder and engage with class readings on a deeper level.”
The University Beyond Bars (UBB) students were similarly impressed with the academic rigor of the course and the high level of discourse, while they also relished the opportunity to demonstrate the human element of prison life.
One UBB said, “The material of the course was extremely thought provoking and quite stimulating. My perspective on environmental law and the issues surrounding it has enlarged drastically.” He added, “Looking past the material, the environment of the class itself was simply amazing. Walking through the doors to the class was like stepping out of prison and into an upper level university classroom—a welcome journey for those of us on this side of the walls.”
Another UBB student said, “What everyone takes away from the experience will hopefully, in some way down the road, affect the people who have the opportunity of crafting policies that manifest themselves in building positive communities.”
Finally, one UBB student closed by saying, “I feel quite privileged to have been given the opportunity to be part of this experience and I am extremely grateful to Professor Herbert, the University of Washington students, University Beyond Bars, and everyone else involved for making the class possible.
Clearly, the mixed enrollment class of Law, Justice, and the Environment at the Monroe Correctional Complex was a tremendous success that had a dramatic impact on both the LSJ and UBB students.
For greater insight into the experience be sure to watch the video below.
This article was written by Chase Beauclair.