The Trinity’s Human Rights Program is a fitting curricular home for Trinity’s prison education outreach efforts since correctional institutions are the result of some of the very social problems central to issues of human rights.  Working within the correctional system invites close examination of justice, equality, gender biases and fair treatment under the law, as well as greater consideration of addiction, domestic violence, and sexual abuse.

Perspectives on Prison and Justice through Human Rights and the Arts

The Human Rights Studies Program offers two arts-related courses that look at the issues that surround incarceration and the impact that the arts can have on populations affected by it. They include HRST 373 Human Rights Through Performance and HRST 348 New Beginnings: Justice Alternatives and the Arts. Both courses offer a significant field study component: HRST 373 includes as many as 3 visits at York Correctional Institution in Niantic—Connecticut’s only state prison— or at other correctional facilities exploring and experiencing directly the impact of arts engagements with the those residing there. In HRST 348, students have another unique hands-on experience facilitating a weekly arts workshop with women who are reentering the community from prison from Community Partners in Action’s Resettlement Program. This 10-week experience entitled New Beginnings culminates in a small sharing of the arts work generated by the women and the students, open to the Trinity Community, the Resettlement Program and invited guests. Many students continue participating in New Beginnings throughout their college careers and it has been a formative experience for their future studies and career choices. Each of these courses offers a rich and varied opportunity for students to investigate the critical issues that arise concerning the existing prison system through reading and discussion joined by an important blend of hands-on experience with the population being considered. The courses complement and support each other, HRST 373 focusing more specifically on the in-prison experience and HRST 348 on the collateral effects of incarceration on youth, families, and those re-entering the community from prison. Both offer an important foundation for students interested in participating in the Trinity Prison Seminar Series.

 Trinity Prison Seminar Series

The Trinity Prison Seminar Series (TPSS) provides post-secondary credit-bearing courses for women incarcerated at the York Correctional Institution.  TPSS is a unique cross-disciplinary offering that provides access to a range of academic disciplines for women who have not previously had college courses or who have just embarked on the process of taking college-level courses at York.  The course functions as an immersion in the multiple disciplines and perspectives of the liberal arts. Since TPSS was first offered for credit in 2013, participating faculty have represented the following disciplines: English, economics, philosophy, Hispanic studies, French studies, psychology, political science, religion, and theater and dance.  Topics for the credit-bearing seminars have included ‘Narrating the Self in a Global World’, ‘Marginalization and Migrations,’ ‘Issues of Gender, Power, and Expression,’ and a summer term  Interdisciplinary Writing Workshop. Up to four Trinity undergraduates with the necessary background in Human Rights Studies courses may enroll in the course, which they attend at York CI.

The goals of TPSS programming are:

  1. to extend educational opportunities to incarcerated women through college-level credit-bearing courses;
  2. to increase the likelihood of successful community reintegration for TPSS students; and,
  3. to engage Trinity students in experiential learning that focuses on the broader challenges of incarceration.

Faculty participating in the Seminar Series are unanimously enthusiastic about the program. As one faculty member points out, “Working with the women… has been a wonderful experience for all involved.  From the standpoint of an instructor, the academic growth among the students is remarkable.  The women are able to make connections across courses because they are so deeply engaged in their courses.  Our traditional Trinity students have also developed a deep appreciation for their fellow classmates and the different perspectives they bring to the course.”

For the Trinity students enrolled in the seminar each year, having the opportunity to attend a class that is located inside a correctional facility provides multiple benefits. These transformative learning opportunities, which begin in the classroom and move into the community, offer invaluable life lessons. The presence of Trinity students has been an enormous benefit to the students from York. Engaging intellectually with traditional college students from a selective liberal arts college fosters increased self-esteem in addition to encouraging their scholastic development.

The York students consistently commend the course:

“The most meaningful part of the program was being able to sit in a classroom environment and be treated like a person, not an inmate.” ~ Cara

“For me, the most meaningful part of the program was to have the opportunity to learn and also the discipline needed to read and write papers, which offers a chance to show myself (and remind myself) of my capabilities.” ~  Yaline

Contact Information for the TPSS Program:
Judy Dworin, New Beginnings:  Justice Alternatives and the Arts
Sheila Fisher, Trinity Prison Seminar Series
Joseph “Joe” Lea, Human Rights through Performance