Creativity in “the Fishbowl”

A friend of mine, Nicole Coonradt, is a professor of English literature at Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts college in Michigan. But where she really finds fulfillment is in helping inmates at Cotton Correctional Facility, a nearby state prison, to discover tools of self-expression to transform their lives. It’s the work of people like Nicole, teaching a creative writing course as part of an opportunity for inmates to earn an Associate of Arts degree, that help put the “correction” back into a euphemistically named institution in a world often more concerned with punishment than rehabilitation. Recently her work was described in the campus newspaper, The Collegian:

The syllabus is standard for an entry-level writing class: the students read memoirs and analyze George Orwell’s essay on the “6 Rules for Writers.” They write rhetorical analyses and personal essays, and they take midterms and finals. But they do all this in what is called the “fishbowl,” a cluster of classrooms with glass walls and a prison guard always on patrol. The students are inmates in Cotton Correctional Facility, and their professor is Hillsdale College’s adjunct professor of English Nicole Coonradt, who teaches Writing 131 as part of the Prison Education Initiative (PEI), a program run through Jackson College.

“I’ve been teaching through PEI since 2015,” Coonradt said. “I was nervous my first day. It’s scary for anyone, when you have to walk across the yard. That’s the part I like the least. But I’ve never felt threatened or worried about being in the classroom.”

PEI offers area inmates a chance to earn an associate degree while serving time at prison. For Coonradt’s students, the program has given them a written voice with which to express and transcend the struggles that brought them to her classroom — and to craft excellent writing in the process.

Jackson College has supported prison education programs since the early 1990s, [ . . . ]

Read the rest of the article here.

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