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Event 4. Education for Everyone, Everywhere
Wednesday, Nov 17, 2021
5:00-6:30 p.m. 

  • Recent successful campaigns like “Ban the Box” (removing the “felony” box on student applications) have suggested that Higher Education could be more accessible to formerly incarcerated students. Yet access to funding, navigating technology, finding student housing or confronting new classroom dynamics in the free world is not something prison prepares students for. What can colleges and universities be doing to support students once released? What can students and educators advocate for to make our campuses a supportive space for all students, everywhere? Moderated by Sarah Ross

Join us in conversation with:

Rev. Courtney Carson is Executive Director of External Affairs for Richland Community College and co-creator of EnRich, the award-winning trauma-sensitive workforce training. An ordained Minister at Antioch M.B. Church, Rev. Carson draws on personal experience and expertise to develop strong community relationships that promote dialogue, healing, and connection.

Gregg Gaither is the co-founder and executive director of the Woodlawn Re-Entry Project Chicago (WRPC), a community-based non-profit established in 2013 in response to education reentry needs of youth and adult populations entering and exiting detention and corrections systems. After beginning a brief career as a corrections officer, Gregg later worked as a Chicago Public School social worker, developing transition programs re-engaging student enrollees re-entering local public schools from Cook County Juvenile Detention & Cook County Dept of Corrections facilities. 

James Kilgore is a formerly incarcerated activist and researcher who is the Director of Advocacy and Outreach for FirstFollowers Reentry Program in Champaign and the Director of the Challenging E-carceration Project at Media Justice. He has written widely on issues of mass incarceration, including the award winning Understanding Mass Incarceration and Understanding E-Carceration which will be published by the  New Press in January 2022.

Pablo Mendoza is a proud father, community organizer and aspiring researcher. He has served 22 years in the IL Department of Corrections where he managed to educate himself despite the endless challenges to access higher education in prison. The pinnacle of his academic career was with the University of Illinois’s Education Justice Project (EJP) where he presented the concept of critical pedagogy and provided a platform with which to exercise his agency and advocate for change. Since his release he worked with Parole Illinois as a Lead Organizer and Prison + Neighborhood Art/Education Project. Pablo volunteers with EJP as an advisor on the Reentry Guide Initiative; he is a steering committee member for the Freedom to Learn Campaign and works with Illinois Reentry Alliance for Justice. He is currently a student at Northeastern Illinois University. 

Colette Payne is the Director, Reclamation Project, Women’s Justice Institute. She is an organizer, leader, student, mother, and grandmother. Her passion is to educate families to build healthier communities. Colette has been the Coordinator of the Visible Voices program for CLAIM (Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers), a Program of Cabrini Green Legal Aid. Currently, she serves as the Director of the Reclamation Project for the Women’s Justice Institute. In her role, she helps engage women directly impacted by the criminal legal system to become agents of change and to create solutions to end the incarceration of women and girls. In 2015, Colette joined the delegation to assess women’s prisons in Illinois, becoming the first formerly incarcerated woman to serve in this role in the entire United States.

Event 3 Getting Classes Started
Wednesday, Nov 3, 2021
5:00-6:30 p.m. 

Higher education in IL prisons has had a long but inconsistent history starting in the 1950s. In person and correspondence classes have been offered through community colleges, theatre companies, individual artists, poets and faculty at various universities and more. In 2008  the Education Justice Project out of University of IL Urbana Champaign proposed to build 3000-5000 level classes on top of an existing community college program at Danville prison in central IL. A few years later faculty from DePaul University and faculty from Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project started classes at Stateville Prison. Since that time many other programs have started and educators around the state are interested in learning more. What are the practical steps for developing a new HEP program?

This panel will present a newly developed guide by the Emerging Program ILCHEP committee titled Starting a College-in-Prison Program. Panelists and the moderator will field questions about the successes and challenges of starting classes or a higher education program in prison, and making education accessible to students once they are released.

Join us in conversation with:

Dr. Tim Barnett is Professor of English and Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies at Northeastern Illinois University and a member of the leadership team of PNAP (The Prison+Neighborhood Arts/Education Project). With Erica Meiners and support from PNAP and NEIU, he helped start the University Without Walls degree program at Stateville Prison in 2017. Eight incarcerated students have graduated from NEIU since that time, while five more are working on their degrees; the program will accept 8-10 new students in 2022. UWW awards credit for experiential learning at the college level, and Tim’s interests include expanding on the PLA (Prior Learning Assessment) movement to explore more options for awarding credit to incarcerated students.

Dr. Sharon Varallo is the Violet M. Jaeke Chair of Family Life, is the Executive Director of the Augustana Prison Education Program (APEP), which launched in Fall semester 2021.  In that role, Dr. Varallo coordinates the grant-funded BA degree program to Augustana students incarcerated in the East Moline Correctional Center.  APEP was implemented with generous startup monies from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation.  Her academic interests include the study of higher ed in prison, intercultural competence, cultural approaches to time, family communication, and social action research methods.  During her career, she has published work on the scholarship of teaching and learning and on interpersonal and family communication topics.  She has thoroughly enjoyed teaching and accompanying students in numerous off-campus programs (including in China, Japan, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and the wilderness of Holden Village in Washington’s Cascade mountains).

Vickie Reddy is Assistant Director of the School of Restorative Arts, the prison education program at North Park University in Chicago. NPU currently enrolls 80 inside students at Stateville Correctional Center and 20 students at Logan women’s facility. Vickie also supports Northwestern University’s Prison Education Program at both facilities. Vickie is motivated to change negative stereotyping and harmful narratives that perpetuate division and unjust systems in society and is passionate about the power of education, particularly in marginalized communities to effect change and empower individuals. This includes collaborating to create new and innovative pathways for those impacted by incarceration, seeing rehabilitation, reconciliation and reentry as a community wide responsibility. Vickie is also pursuing a MA in Restorative Justice Ministry alongside a cohort of inside students at Stateville.

Sarah Ross is an educator and artist whose work uses narrative and the body to address spatial concerns as they relate to access, class, anxiety and activism. She co-founded the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project (PNAP), a cultural project that brings together artists, writers and scholars in and outside Stateville prison to create public projects concerning segregation, criminalization and incarceration. She has also worked with local artists, activists, lawyers, torture survivors and scholars on Chicago Torture Justice Memorials—a recent campaign for reparations for survivors of Chicago police torture. Her work has exhibited in Los Angeles, New York, Montreal, Copenhagen, Rio De Janeiro, among other places; Sarah is a Soros Justice Media Fellow and the recipient of grants from the Propeller Fund, Graham Foundation, and the Illinois Art Council. She is an Assistant Professor in Art Education and Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Moderated by Dr. Christina Rivers, is an Associate Professor of Political Science. Dr. Rivers’ teaching and research interests include African-American politics and political thought, civil and voting rights law. Her current work is on mass incarceration, particularly felon disenfranchisement laws and prison-based gerrymanders. Chris teaches in the Inside/Out Program at Depaul and Stateville Prison and facilitates a think-tank.


Event 1 Freedom & Education
Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021
5:00-6:30 p.m

Teaching and learning in state prisons is often experienced as a paradox. Panelists in this discussion will focus on how critical theory and critical race, gender and ethnic studies formed a much needed liberatory pedagogy. How can education emancipate from behind bars? What does one do with such transformative experiences with life or long sentences ahead of them? From the perspective of students and educators, this discussion challenges us to think about teaching and learning in prison as both the same and necessarily something quite different than our on-campus classrooms. 
Join us in conversation with Moderator Chez Rumpf and panelists:

Sandra Brown is an incarcerated survivor at the Fox Valley Adult Transitional Center in Aurora, Illinois. Currently, she works as a visiting scholar with the Women’s Justice Institute and is a doctoral student at California Coast University. Brown is the first incarcerated woman in Illinois history to earn a master’s degree while incarcerated and the second incarcerated woman to earn the Davis-Putter Scholarship. She is also a published poet and essayist whose body of works are included in “Critical Storytelling from Behind Invisible Bars: Undergraduates and Inmates Write Their Way Out.” Upon release, Brown aspires to engage in teaching, advocacy, and public speaking in ways that promote social justice for justice-impacted women.

Johari Jabir is a musician and scholar. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Johari began piano lessons at an early age and was immersed in the expressive culture of St. Louis’ Black working class religious community, which is the foundation for his continued practice as a musician, cultural historian, and contemplative teacher. He is currently director of music at St. George & St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Chicago, IL. Johari has enjoyed an extensive career in church music and musical theatre, including serving as associate conductor of the 1991/1990 Broadway revival of The Wiz. His researching, teaching, and writing includes Prison Abolition, Religion and Spirituality in the African Black Diaspora, Black Music and Social Transformation, and Contemplative Pedagogy and Public Education. His first book, Conjuring Freedom: Music and Masculinity in the Gospel Army of the Civil War (Ohio State University Press, 2017), is a cultural history of the nation’s first Black regiment, the 1 st South Carolina Volunteers. Conjuring Freedom attends to the “spirituals” sung by the regiment in the ring shout as a mode of conjuring the spirit for military aims.

Cedric X Cal came from generational poverty. Descendant from sharecroppers who migrated to the North,raised on the Westside of Chicago. When I was 17 years old was wrongfully convicted and served 28 years of a juvenile natural life sentence. While in prison became a student and follower of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad under the leadership of The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. Took classes under Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs in Poetry.  Also many other college courses in business management, marketing, communications, American history, Poor peoples movement, and Latin American history Now work in The Nation of Islam Prison Reform Ministry and goes to school at Daley College for Advance Manufacturing. 

Event 2 Critical Pedagogy and the Prison Classroom
Wednesday, Oct 20, 2021
5:00-6:30 p.m

Many educators and students experience a common assumption from guards, administrators and our own colleagues and friends: that people in prison are less informed or less interested in the most critical issues of our time. In fact, we know this to not be true as incarcerated students across the nation have written legislation, created policy and formed inside-out organizations that impact their communities. Education scholar Henry Giroux says “All education is an introduction to the future”. This panel will ask what kind of future are we building inside our classrooms in prison? How does the framework of critical pedagogy shape what we teach and learn inside? Moderated by Simone Waller.