Tag Archive for Center for Prison Education

Center for Prison Education Hosts First Graduation for Incarcerated Students

Clyde Meikle shares a hug with Giulio Gallarotti, professor of government, co-chair of the College of Social Studies, following Meikle’s graduation Aug. 1 at the Cheshire Correctional Institution. Gallarotti is one of several Wesleyan faculty who teach classes through Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

It was a typical graduation on Aug. 1, 2018: tasseled mortarboards and academic gowns, faculty in academic regalia, proud family members, the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” speeches—some recalling challenges; others looking toward further success—diplomas, handshakes, smiles for the cameras, and bear hugs of congratulations.

It was a graduation like none other: held in Cheshire Correctional Institution, it was the first time 18 incarcerated students in the maximum security prison received associate’s degrees through an innovative collaboration between Wesleyan University’s Center for Prison Education and Middlesex Community College.

A week earlier, a similar graduation had taken place in York Correctional Institution, with six women donning caps and gowns to receive their associate’s degree diplomas.

Since 2009, CPE has offered accredited Wesleyan courses to students at Cheshire Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison for men. Wesleyan faculty teach courses ranging from English to biology to philosophy, which have the same rigor and expectations as courses on Wesleyan’s Middletown campus. About 50 Wesleyan students volunteer in the program each semester, working in study halls at the prison or on campus filling research requests and serving as project assistants. The program was expanded to serve incarcerated students at York Correctional Institution in spring 2013.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. The New York Times: Defending Conservatism, and Seeking Converts

President Michael Roth ’78 reviews Roger Scruton’s new book on Conservatism, which he writes provides an “enlightening” background on a variety of important conservative thinkers, but stoops to scapegoating Muslims to “rally the troops.”

2. Hartford Courant: First Group of Students Graduates from Wesleyan’s Prison Education Program

The first-ever Wesleyan Center for Prison Education Program graduation ceremonies, held in partnership with Middlesex Community College at York and Cheshire correctional institutions on July 24 and Aug. 1, respectively, was also featured in The Washington PostABC News, Fox News, among other publications.

Wesleyan Center for Prison Education Awarded $1M Mellon Grant

Photo courtesy of Dave Zajac/Record-Journal

Mathematics teacher Cameron Bishop instructs a calculus class at Cheshire Correctional Institution, Wednesday, August 2, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Dave Zajac, Record-Journal)

Wesleyan has received a $1 million, four-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support operations at the Center for Prison Education (CPE). The grant will allow CPE to expand its advanced course offerings, recruit new faculty, and bolster its partnership with Middlesex Community College (MxCC) and the Connecticut Department of Corrections.

Since 2009, CPE has offered accredited Wesleyan courses to students at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison for men. In 2013, the program expanded to offer the same coursework to students at York Correctional Institution for women. Courses range from English to biology to philosophy, and have the same rigor and expectations as courses on Wesleyan’s Middletown campus.

“The Center for Prison Education is a wonderful example of the commitment by Wesleyan students and faculty to serving our broader community through the transformative power of the liberal arts. CPE has made a powerful difference in the lives of incarcerated people—one I’ve seen firsthand when I’ve lectured at the Cheshire prison,” said President Michael Roth. “This generous grant from Mellon will enable CPE to have an even greater impact, particularly for those students who decide to continue their education beyond our program.”

‘Where We Live’ Features Wesleyan CPE, Doula Project

Two members of the Wesleyan community participated in a discussion on WNPR’s Where We Live focused on “Confronting Social Injustice.”

Bashaun Brown, a former student at Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education who spent more than six years incarcerated at Cheshire Correctional Institution, is now pursuing an entrepreneurial venture called TRAP House.

“All prison experience is pretty bad, but thanks to Wesleyan, I was able to transform my prison space. My prison experience was one of educating myself, and trying to get better and make sure I never make the types of mistakes that I made to get into that situation in the first place. Wesleyan Center for Prison Education allowed me to imagine I was in a college setting throughout four years of my prison sentence,” he said.

There are not many programs available to help inmates work through the issues that got them incarcerated, Brown explained, and the time is wasted for many people. People who run prisons are primarily concerned with safety and security.

“In reality, if you really want to change the people in prison, you focus more on bringing more programming to prison. I think everybody should be able to get the opportunity that I had to take part in a quality, in this case liberal arts, education. If anyone wants to make the case for liberal arts, it should be in the prison,” he said. “Getting a liberal arts education allowed me to really evaluate where I’m at politically, socially, economically on the spectrum. Exactly where do I stand as a black man in America, now as a felon in America? How did we get here, and what can I do to change the situation? There’s something valuable to learning psychology, literature, and mixing and matching all types of education to custom make your experience.”

Later in the show, Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin ’16 discussed the Wesleyan Doula Project, a social entrepreneurship venture that she co-leads.

“The Wesleyan Doula Project is an organization that trains students and a few community members to work as non-medical support people for women receiving abortions,” she explained. There’s a common misperception that doulas only support women going through birth, but the Wesleyan Doula Project is part of a new movement to support women across the “full spectrum” of pregnancy outcomes, from miscarriage to stillbirth to adoption.

“One of the reasons I’ve devoted all of my time as a student to this project is become I think it both hits a level of social justice that’s really important…and helps fix a broken healthcare system, especially around reproductive healthcare, in that we have a problem where the care that is being provided really isn’t meeting the needs of the people who are receiving it.” The Wesleyan Doula Project helps to increase patient safety, open lines of communication, and make the process go more smoothly, she said.

Students Volunteer at Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education

Every year, about 20 Wesleyan students volunteer alongside Wesleyan faculty to teach local inmates through Wesleyan's Center for Prison Education. Pictured are six volunteers at the Cheshire Correctional Institute.

Every year, about 20 Wesleyan students volunteer alongside Wesleyan faculty to teach local inmates through Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education. Pictured are six volunteers (now alumni) at the Cheshire Correctional Institute.

In a study hall of more than two dozen inmates, Liza Bayless ‘16 approached a cluster of men boisterously chatting in the corner. She listened in to see where the conversation had digressed, prepared to shift it back towards the homework. To her surprise, the debate was centered around the book they were reading for class, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and the confines in society that by one reading may have led the protagonist, Edna, to commit suicide.

The Awakening is known for being this stiff novel with a mainly white, upper-class cast, and I was hearing these men talk about how badly they felt for Edna,” Bayless said. “It’s amazing how much empathy they bring to their readings.”

It isn’t every day that Wesleyan students observe prisoners debating the intricacies of feminist theory, or most topics for that matter. In Bayless’s case, however, it’s twice a week. For two hour-and-a-half study halls, she makes the drive to Cheshire Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Connecticut, where she serves as a teaching assistant for visiting faculty Sarah Mahurin’s Imagining the American South.

Bayless is one of about 20 TAs and writing tutors that volunteer for Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education (CPE). The program offers Wesleyan classes and credits to inmates.

Center for Prison Education Awarded 2-Year Grant from The Tow Foundation

In July, the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education (CPE) was awarded a grant from The Tow Foundation of $100,000 over two years in unrestricted funding for general operating expenses. Funds will be used for academic programming, instructional materials and administrative costs of the program.

Now in its sixth year, CPE provides accredited Wesleyan courses to incarcerated students at Cheshire Correctional Institute, a men’s maximum security prison, and York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only women’s facility. Prisoners at MacDougall-Walker CI are also able to apply to the Center, and are transferred to Cheshire CI if admitted. The Center currently serves 40 students, and will hold admissions at both facilities over the summer, bringing its student population to just over 60 students and the number of prisoners who have studied with the Center over the past six years to approximately 100.

The Center currently offers between four and six classes each semester at Cheshire CI and two per semester at York CI, numbers which will grow as the student body continues to grow. Classes are offered in a range of subjects and levels of instruction. When teaching through the Center, professors change neither the content of their courses nor their expectations of students. Every incarcerated student enrolls in two classes per semester and attends a corresponding study hall for each class. Students receive extensive, individualized attention and academic support from the faculty, staff and volunteers who work with the program. Every study hall is staffed by tutors and teaching assistants, who are available to assist students in mastering new material, editing papers and any other academic support that might be necessary. During study halls, students have access to laptops, which not only are used to produce course work, but also have resources for students to perform research, including access to JSTOR, a database of academic articles, and the Wesleyan library catalogue. Students are able to submit research requests for library books, academic papers and various forms of popular media, which are then filled by traditional student volunteers on campus and brought back into the facility for student use. While such access is used primarily for coursework purposes, students are also able to use these services as a means of pursuing their own independent academic interests.

In addition to the core academic offerings, the Center also provides supplemental programming including skill-building workshops, non-credit bearing remedial classes, discussion groups, and lectures by visiting professors. The Center also supports former students in continuing their education post-release, assisting with the application process, applying for financial aid, and ensuring a smooth transition to a new institution of higher education.

Center for Prison Education Receives $300,000 Grant from Ford Foundation

The Center for Prison Education has received a grant of $300,000 from the Ford Foundation, supporting the continuation of the program which has delivered a Wesleyan education to Connecticut prisons since 2009.

The grant will not only help fund the classes taught at the Cheshire and York Correctional Institutions, but also support CPE’s re-entry services, which assist students who complete their sentences in continuing their college education post-release.

“Support from the Ford Foundation recognizes the necessity of bringing educational opportunities to our prisons, the success of the Center for Prison Education’s model for doing so, and the ability of incarcerated students to meet the challenges of even the most demanding liberal arts education,” said Dara Young, manager of the CPE.

Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education Celebrates Expansion to Women’s Prison

Wesleyan's Center for Prison Education hosted a celebration on Jan. 24 in honor of the program expanding to include women at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Conn. On Jan. 28, two Wesleyan professors will begin teaching classes for college credit. Nineteen prisoners have been selected to participate in the classes, out of 90 who applied. Alexis Sturdy '10 (center), Wesleyan's Center for Prison Education program manager, mingles with guests at the celebration.

Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education hosted a celebration on Jan. 24 in honor of the program expanding to include women at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Conn. On Jan. 28, two Wesleyan professors will begin teaching classes for college credit. Nineteen prisoners have been selected to participate in the classes, out of 90 who applied. Alexis Sturdy ’10 (center), Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education program manager, mingles with guests at the celebration.

Center for Prison Education Approved by Wesleyan Faculty


Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education was the topic of the March 21 Academic (Technology) Roundtable discussion held in Olin Library. On March 1, Wesleyan faculty formally approved the program to extend beyond its initial two-year pilot phase to become a long-term facet of the university. Over the next five years, the CPE will admit additional cohorts of incarcerated students at Cheshire Prison, as well as create a second college campus at York Prison for women in 2012.


Perkins ’09 Awarded 2010 Rhodes Scholarship

Russell Perkins ‘09 was awarded a 2010 Rhodes Scholarship.

Russell Perkins '09 was awarded a 2010 Rhodes Scholarship.

Russell Perkins ’09 was awarded a 2010 Rhodes Scholarship.

Perkins, from Evanston, Ill., graduated with high honors from Wesleyan University in May. He majored in the College of Letters (COL) with a senior thesis titled “Violence in Adornian Aesthetics and the Art of Anselm Kiefer;” his advisor was Khachig Tölölyan, professor of English, professor of letters.

Perkins co-founded Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education which offers Wesleyan courses at Connecticut’s Cheshire Correctional Institution. In addition to offering education for selected inmates, the program provides research and volunteer opportunities for Wesleyan students and faculty.

Perkins entered his name into the Rhodes competition, in part because he wanted to study at Oxford University in England.

“Oxford has one of the most exciting philosophy departments in the
world and I was eager for the potential opportunity to take part in
that,” he says.

The process moved forward and during the fall he received notification that he was a finalist. Up to that point cautious optimism had ruled his thinking, but as he drew closer the reality and gravity of his position began to sink in.

“The whole interview process was pretty surreal,” he said. “There was a dinner
party with the finalists and judges the night before and I felt like I couldn’t get a coherent sentence out. That was tough.”

However, he found the final interview less pressure-packed, and “surprisingly fun.” But after he was done, he found himself in a room with all the other finalists. They waited together for several hours until all the interviews were completed.

“And then they came out when it was all finished and informed the individuals who had won right there,” Perkins said. “It was almost like some reality show. I was extremely surprised when I was told I was a winner. The finalists were such an impressive group—anyone could have been chosen and it would’ve made sense. So when they named me, I felt truly fortunate.”

A classical pianist and avid cyclist, he taught a small discussion workshop in philosophy at the Cheshire prison as an undergraduate. Russell plans to do the B.Phil. at Oxford University. And then…?

“I’m taking this one step at a time. I’ve been so fortunate at Wesleyan to have opportunities to learn from such inspiring professors and pursue initiatives like the Prison Program. I can only hope my experience at Oxford will continue in that vein. I intend to continue to work towards democratizing access to educational opportunity—but what form that will take, I don’t know yet.”