As a Criminal Justice major, I have taken a lot of classes that involved learning about the United States’ Criminal Justice System. I never thought that I would have an opportunity to actually experience the system first hand but then I learned of the Inside-Out Program that SJU offers. When I read the course description that said that the class would study the Criminal Justice System with female inmates inside the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center, I knew I had to enroll.
On the first day we were to enter the Federal Detention Center, or FDC, I started to second-guess my decision of taking the class. I was freaking out and thought about everything that could possibly go wrong. I pictured the female inmates or “inside students” as they are known, as being standoffish and wanting nothing to do with Saint Joe’s students. As soon as I saw the metal detector, my worries increased and I just wanted to turn around and go home. I encouraged myself to keep going and I started to relax a bit the moment that I passed through the metal detector.
When we walked into the visiting room, where the class was to take place, I saw the inside students already seated and waiting for us to join them. I tried to remain calm as I took a seat next to one of the women, who smiled at me and introduced herself. The professor then announced that we would be partaking in icebreakers to get to know each other better, so everyone was to arrange their seats accordingly. As soon as I began talking to some of the inside students, I immediately felt better. All of my thoughts about how scary the inside students were going to be could not have been more wrong. These women were some of the kindest, funniest women that I have ever met and I instantly felt a bond with them.
With each passing week spent at the FDC, we all learned about the U.S. Criminal Justice System from the perspective of people who are directly experiencing it and from those who have studied it. It is a great way to incorporate textbook readings with real-life experiences, and to also learn about various people’s points of view. During one of the classes, we went on a tour of the facility and it was so different than the dark prison cells that I am used to seeing on TV. Although it is still a prison and an uncomfortable place to be, the fact that we had our friends, the inside students, show us around, made the environment appear more inviting. One inside student told us about how they sing karaoke and play card games on Saturday nights. Seeing how they live made me feel like although they are in a difficult situation and place, they try to make the best out of it.
I have found this class to be extremely eye-opening and I have built true friendships with many of the inside students. It makes me happy to hear that many of them thank us for coming to the FDC every week and that we have changed their outlook on life and that they want to be better people because of the class.
Melanie Wright is a senior Criminal Justice major, English minor from Long Island, New York. She is the President of The Criminal Justice Honor Society, a member of Alpha Phi Sorority, and a participant in Weekly Service. She loves hanging out with her fellow Hawks, whether it be at the library, Starbucks, or basketball games.