Justice means something different for Goshen College students who took a class with inmates at the Elkhart County Jail this May.
The 12 students joined 12 inmates for a three-week class on violence, punishment, the criminal justice system and restorative justice.
It was the first time for such a partnership between the jail and the college, but the class went so well participants say it should continue.
“What struck me is that if I were blindfolded and just walked into this room and heard the conversations and discussions that took place…you would never know you were in a jail,” said Lt. Kris Klosinski, coordinator of inmate educational opportunities for the jail. “You would have thought you were in any college classroom across the country.”
The purpose of the class was to bridge the gap between students on the outside of the jail and students on the inside — an idea that comes from the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program based in Philadelphia.
Goshen professor Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, who taught the class alongside Goshen staffer Glenn Gilbert, emphasized that students came to the class on even ground, even though half of them were incarcerated.
“You would have thought you were in any college classroom across the country.” -- Lt. Kris Klosinski, Elkhart County Jail
“The outside people are not here to study the inside people or do research on them; the people were brought together to study a common course,” she said.
Freshman Peter Paetkau said it’s hard for him to express how valuable the class was.
“Often we are told, and we recite, that we want to be open-minded and hear other people’s viewpoints, but…you surround yourself with people who think the same way as you,” he said. “This was intentionally separating yourself from that.”
The class was two hours long most days of the week but “it never quite felt like that long,” Paetkau said.
Senior Eva Lapp said the class gave the inmates “some humanity, and made me realize that they are just like me and trying to figure out life. They've just had a rougher time figuring it out.”
Klosinski said she’s always looking for educational opportunities for the inmates. “We want these guys to all be successful. Ninety-nine point nine percent of them will be back in our community at some point and we want them to be prepared.”
Goshen College students got three credit hours for the class but inmates didn't pay for the class or receive any college credit, though Schrock-Shenk said that could be an option in the future.