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Entire class of Lipscomb students sent to state prison — to learn

Lipscomb professor Richard Goode, who developed the program, said he believes it will provide academic and character-building benefits for the inmates and Lipscomb students.
“One of the things that tends to happen in our criminal justice system is that the inmates become dehumanized,” said Goode, chairman of the history, politics and philosophy department at Lipscomb.
“We never see the inmates, so we develop certain perceptions about them, most of which are false. When we all get in a room together, it humanizes the situation.”
Stunkle said he was surprised to learn, for example, that the inmates in the class were just as nervous as the Lipscomb students.
“When we all got together in a circle, talking about why we wanted to take the class and how nervous we all were, they were really honest and friendly,” he said.
More than 100 inmates expressed an interest in the program at an initial informational meeting, prison principal Connie Seabrooks said.
To apply for the 15 spots available, inmates were required to have passed the General Educational Development test.
They also needed clean behavioral records and at least two years left on their sentences, since it will take that long to move through the six courses planned.
Future course topics will include ethics, literature of prisoners and the modern history of politics and reconciliation, Goode said.
Inmates who complete the program will end up with 18 hours of standard liberal arts credits they can transfer to a university. That’s not to mention the self-confidence, life experience and study habits that the program should engender, he said.
“This program at Lipscomb University gives the incarcerated a second chance toward becoming productive citizens,” said Sharmilla Patel, director of education for the Tennessee Department of Correction.
And the Lipscomb undergraduates joining the inmates in their studies get to expand their experience of the world through discussion and interaction with people who have very different life experiences.
Class instructor Shipp, a Lipscomb adjunct professor, said he hopes to encourage growth in all the students through lots of conversation about criminal justice issues.
The inmates are enrolled as Lipscomb students and even assigned Lipscomb ID numbers, Goode said. But actual enrollment means actual tuition.
So in addition to working out logistics and developing curriculum, Goode has been raising money for scholarships. University officials agreed to allow inmates to attend a three-hour class and receive books for $450, a considerable savings from standard tuition. Scholarship money is still needed.
“This is an important effort in assisting inmates in the challenging transition back into society,” said George M. Little, Tennessee correction commissioner.
“The Department of Correction greatly values David Lipscomb University for helping to give the inmates another insight into what it means to successfully function in society,” he added.
Jim Cosby, the state’s assistant correction commissioner, said that about 97 percent of the state’s 19,000 inmates eventually will leave prison, so they need rehabilitation.
“So the question is,” Cosby told The Tennessean, “how do you want to prepare them to be your neighbor?”

Filed under: Partners Staff Reports

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