Learning Alongside Inmates: My Inside-Out Experience

Watching the documentary 13th and learning about the mass incarceration of Americans, especially people of color, sparked my interest in the justice system. The documentary allowed me to learn about the adult prison system, but this class gave me a more in-depth look at the juvenile system. The class content tied well to my experience in working with youth and the need for children to have positive role models in their life. 


I’ve always been curious about what lies behind the walls of a prison and who lives behind them. After the first class, my nerves began to ease after a comforting environment. Quickly I realized that my inside classmates were human just like me, not monsters that society depicts them to be. The class material gave me a more comprehensive understanding of how juveniles are treated upon arriving in the legal system.


What I didn’t know before the class was that most youth who commit crimes grow out of that stage of their life. It makes sense, though, because after reflecting, I realized that I, too, had grown out of committing crimes. Youth need opportunities to develop relationships with trusted peers who have gone through similar experiences. 


I always knew that kids need positive role models in their life. However, before the class, I was naive, thinking a quality education would solve all inequities. I learned that it’s much more complicated than the school system itself. It starts in the home, whether a child lives in a low or high functioning family. Reading about early family intervention gave me a new perspective on how America can lower crime rates.


Furthermore, the government has to address the issue of the disproportionate amount of people of color incarcerated. Many laws have been created that predominantly affect poor Blacks and Latinos in urban areas. I’ve always known the system is institutionally racist. However, I did not realize the extent of the adverse effects some policies had. 


Not only has the content we’ve been reading help broaden my perspectives but also conversations with my classmates. Listening to everyone’s experience inside has given me a better understanding of what life is actually like inside, even though I’ll never honestly know. I empathize with those who are striving to do their best every day but don’t know if they will ever get released. I can’t imagine the defeating feeling of not being able ever to be free again.


I know that I’m an idealist, but if the government could provide programs and resources for families that need it most, the crime rate can be reduced. With the crime rate being reduced, there would be more functioning citizens working to make our world a better place


It’s hard to believe that some of our classmates have made poor choices that have hurt other people. However, this class has shown me that one can make a horrendous mistake and then still turn their life around. All humans need love, especially those who act with hate towards others and society.



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Email: justin@thebetterworldchallenge.com

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