On April 16, the most-recently offered 12-week Inside-Out course "Literature of the Americas: Maps of the Missing" held its graduation ceremony.
The "graduates" were 16 outside undergraduate students from the University of Pittsburgh and 15 inside SCI Fayette inmate students. Along with the "graduates," SCI Fayette staff and others participated, such as Principal Bohna, Education Guidance Counselor Kimmel, Superintendent Capozza and Deputy Superintendent Armel). University of Pittsburgh staff in attendance included Professor Puri and Provost Ann Cudd. Finally, Dr. Ervin Dyer, senior editor for Pittsburgh Magazine attended the graduation.
At the ceremony, Dr. Shalini Puri said:
"It's really not that long ago that a few faculty at Pitt –– Professors Cory Holding, Nancy Glazener, Chris Bonneau, and myself –– met for the first time to see if we could get together to teach in prisons. We didn't even have a name for our idea then. But in late 2016 we started calling ourselves the Pitt Prison Education Project. We approached Superintendent Capozza, who was then at SCI Pittsburgh, about bringing some Inside-Out college courses there. We approached him because we knew his reputation as someone who had brought a number of progressive programs to SCI Pittsburgh. Then, as we were all set for students to register, SCI Pittsburgh closed. What now?
Well, we contacted Principal Bohna and Deputy Superintendent Armel at SCI Fayette –– and we were stunned at the incredible speed with which they said 'yes' and just made it happen. In further good fortune, Superintendent Capozza, who had been a key part of our hopes and planning from the start, became the head of SCI Fayette. My deepest appreciation to all of you.
Then in 2018, a Pitt faculty member donated substantial funding. And the Chancellor of Pitt, Patrick Gallagher, threw his support behind our program, awarding us a generous grant. And this year, well this year, you all know what happened. At the direction of Provost Ann Cudd, inside students will receive Pitt credit for the work they have done. There is no single person at Pitt who has done more to make PPEP an official institutional reality for inside students than the Provost. It is my very great pleasure and honor to welcome her here now.
What I want to say is that this program has taken root and grown because everyone who has come in contact with it has supported it. So, each term there are more people to thank: In addition to the people I've already named, and from the very start: Ms. Brittany Kimmel, for the counseling of inside students, her advice, and attention to detail that has made everything run so smoothly; Myrissa Lang, Anjuli Swords, and again Ms. Kimmel who, especially after the new security protocols, have processed and photocopied mountains of paper. And Mr. Bohna, for … everything. They and the entire upper administration of Fayette have helped us through complicated logistics. Major Trempis and the COs have led many a prison tour, and patiently answered many questions from us. To Deputy Armel, Deputy Adams, Major Trempis, and the COs: I know we are assigned different roles in this prison education project, but your role is just as crucial to its success as ours.
We're very grateful to you.
At Pitt, more faculty have joined PPEP: Prof Gabby Yearwood became an integral part of the team; several faculty have led guest sessions in the 'Discovery Series' course for inside students; more faculty are training this coming year. A team of graduate students, led by CB Chernomorets, volunteered as tutors every other week; they vastly extended the impact of our classes. CB helped both envision and coordinate PPEP's efforts over the last year. Fayette students have been ambassadors of the program, offering their skill and encouragement to new students. Previous Pitt students have energetically gotten the word out on the program. Dr. Ervin Dyer, senior editor of Pitt Magazine, has been working on a feature on the Prison Education Project, visiting Fayette many times over the past year. And in the Fall, we will start offering courses at SCI Somerset and SCI Laurel Highlands –– because as one of the inside students here said: knowledge is not for hoarding.
Something about this experience is magical; maybe it just provides the vehicle for the desires each of already us has to make the world a little better.
For me, it's an example of what is possible when you bring together in a room people who in good faith want to understand each other and to learn from each other.
So, to each and every inside student and outside student: You are the living heart of this program, its reason, its pride, and its delight.
We're gathered here today to celebrate your work –– individual and collective –– in our Course 'Literature of the Americas: Maps for the Missing.'"