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Closing Ceremony of Pitt Literature Course Held at Laurel Highlands

January 22, 2020 12:00 AM
By: DOC Staff

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On Dec. 9, 2019, SCI Laurel Highlands held the closing ceremony celebrating the successful completion of an Inside Out Literature course entitled "Imagining Social Justice," led by University of Pittsburgh faculty member Prof. Shalini Puri. Deputy Superintendent for Facilities Management Robert Snyder, who delivered some closing words, as well as Principal Martha Boyer and several teachers in the GED program, were present at the occasion.

Thanking Laurel Highlands' administration, Prof. Puri said: "We are grateful to everyone who has helped realize the vision of the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program, a space where we invite one another to be our best selves, and to honor and develop those selves; a space where we learn the spirit of the post-apartheid South African legal concept Ubuntu: that our own humanity is intertwined with that of others."

Students reflected on what they had learned about reading literature and about writing and on the value of taking a course with a group they would ordinarily not meet. As one inside student put it, "This course has given me the opportunity to rekindle a relationship I thought I lost a long time ago—the relationship with myself."

During the term, students conducted interviews, explored gun violence and practiced representing different points of view. They read a play on apartheid and studied a film about global water scarcity and water privatization. At the closing ceremony, a few students shared a monologue and some haiku poetry. Each student also recited a couplet from a collaborative poem to which every member of the class had contributed. Students spoke of their newfound confidence in writing and focus on education as well as their renewed commitment to social justice. They expressed appreciation for the visitors who had worked with them on writing, public speaking and performance: New York City actor and director Lacresha Berry; poet Gretchen Primack; and Pitt's CB Chernomorets.

A major highlight of the ceremony was when Pitt outside students reported on the public performance by Pitt students of writing by inside students from SCIs Laurel Highlands, Somerset and Fayette. It was the first time the Pitt Prison Education Project had presented the work of inside students to a public beyond Pitt. The performance took place on Dec. 4, 2019, at the City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, a major center of the arts in the city. More than 150 people attended. At the closing ceremony students heard some of the City of Asylum audience's enthusiastic responses to their writing.

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