Never did I imagine that my nursing education would lead me to the inside of a prison and yet I am so thankful that it did. This semester, myself and other senior nursing students participated in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, a course designed for “outside” Widener students and “inside” State Correctional Institution (SCI) Chester residents to discuss paramount topics such as social justice and advocacy, develop self-advocacy skills, and improve self-expression. This may seem overwhelming to some, and believe me, I had a few doubts myself about the course. What was the inside of a prison like? How would the Inside students respond to us?
My uncertainty would quickly be put to rest after the first class. Interacting with the inside students came so naturally. They acknowledged our initial apprehension and nervousness and countered it with friendly conversation and engagement. The inside students were just as excited for the class as we were!
Inside the prison, the classrooms look much like the same ones here on Widener’s campus, yet ours operated much differently than the traditional lecture-style class most students expect at a university. Our class operated in an inward-facing circle with an arrangement of an Inside student and an outside student seated every other seat, allowing for optimal discussion and interaction with the inside students. This arrangement would change frequently, as we would often find ourselves moving around the classroom, participating in activities that allowed us to view our own privilege, discussions that showcased our vulnerabilities, interactions that broke the stigma, and conversations that challenged how we viewed social justice.
We learned so much about each other and so much about ourselves in this course. The topics covered, which are seldom discussed in the classroom, produced some of the most enriching and valuable experiences in my entire life. My outlook on the incarcerated has completely changed and challenged how I perceive other human beings.
As a nurse, caring for patients of different race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and age is something that will happen every single day. By participating in this course, I learned to have compassion for others, to stand up to injustice, to advocate for the rights of the oppressed, and to have respect for people of all backgrounds. I gained skills that will help me in my career as a nurse and on my journey through life.
To anyone looking to step outside their comfort zone or challenge their way of thinking, I highly recommend participating in an Inside Out course. To those looking to find a way to get involved in social justice, it all starts by having a conversation.
My classmate and fellow nurse-in-training Diamond Waller perfectly summarized our experience: “Now that we know, it can’t be unknown. The question becomes, what will we do with this knowledge?”