Grinnell College is hosting a conference for midwest college students to show them about program where the school’s students teach classes in state prisons. Emily Guenther is a senior from Wisconsin who helped organize the conference to spread the word on the prison program. Guenther says the program originally started with a emeritus professor of religious studies who went into the prisons to teach writing workshops. She says students took over the program the next semester and have since expanded it beyond writing classes.
Guenther says over 25 students teach the classes at the Newton Correctional Facility and the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. Guenther says there are some classes they teach every semester, like writing, art and playwriting. They also have expanded to wide variety of other classes, where students come up with the class plans and submit them to the program coordinator.
While the college students are going out and teaching, Guenther says she doesn’t know of any who are studying to be teachers. She says they are just students who are interested in applying their learning in creative ways and practical and unusual ways. "And it’s really quite an experience to take the things you learn at a liberal arts college, and take them to a prison and talk to people who have a much different range of experiences to you, about the things that you’re learning," Guenther says.
The conventional view of prisons is that of hard core violent offenders, but Guenther says that stereotype hasn’t applied in the people she’s worked with. Guenther says the people who’re in their classes do volunteer and are chosen because of their good behavior. "In my experience, the people who we go in to teach are incredibly enthusiastic, they love that we are there," she says,"they are personally investing in the continuation of the program and they are the most enthusiastic students I have seen in any educational setting."
Guenther says the work put in by the Grinnell students is all donated. She says the college’s community services department and student government does reimburse them for gas and materials, but the time is all volunteer. Guenther says she’s personally gotten a lot out of the program for the time invested. "I mean, it has pretty much changed my life," Guenther says. She says it has given her a new perspective on the prison system and the value of education and how education can affect people’s lives. Guenther says the program helps prisoners and can be a cost savings for the state.
Guenther says it has been show again and again that getting a college degree reduces the chances of recidivism from about 60 to 15 percent. Students and faculty from Buena Vista University, Cornell College, Creighton University, Mt. Mercy College, Simpson College, the University of Iowa, and Macalester College are attending the conference. The conference started Thursday and runs through Saturday on the Grinnell College campus.