In 1995, Lori Pompa took a group of Temple Students to Dallas State Correctional Institution to have them sit down with a panel of incarcerated people. Twenty-two years later, this one class has turned into an international program.
The Inside Out Prison Exchange Program was started by Pompa after an inmate at that first prison suggested she take the one-time experiment and turn it into a semester long class. After that visit, Pompa took a new group of students to Graterford State Correctional Institution in Montgomery County, PA.
At Graterford, she was approached by Tyrone Werts who had participated in the class and was interested in helping get the program started.
Pompa says, “There was a lot of miseducation about crime and justice, and we wanted to do something about that.”
What they did was create a program that focused on interaction between students – the “outside” – and the incarcerated – those on the “inside.”
While Pompa wasn’t sure of what reactions to the program would be, she received support from both students and those inside of the prison, saying, “The stuff that happened in the classroom was beyond anything that I could imagine.”
From the class formed Inside Out Think Tanks, which Werts describes as “groups of insiders and outsiders that meet on a regular basis and they do locally informed projects together.”
Werts is the National Think Tank Coordinator for the program, and works to organize these groups in ten different countries.
John Pace was also a participant of the program, and now works as the Program Assistant to Inside Out. He says one of the biggest changes he’s seen and been a part of since he first started working on Pompa’s team is the program’s expansion.
The program has reached over three hundred schools, and “[they’ve] trained over eight hundred instructors around the world, and probably over thirty thousand students have taken an Inside Out course.”
Pompa, Werts, and Pace all agree that both students and those incarcerated benefit from the program. They know that both sides have preconceived notions, but they’ve seen those quickly dissolve and create a powerful learning environment that makes a difference in everyone.
Pompa even says, “People will say to me, ‘wow Lori, this must be like a dream come true.’ And my response to that is it’s really not because I never dreamed it, which makes it just that much better.”
To find out how to take the class or more about the program in general, visit www.insideoutcenter.org or visit their office located at 1938 Liacourus Walk.