Westville Correctional Facility podcast gives voice and new perspective to incarcerated men

Dave Lassen, Ph.D., Director, Community-Engaged Learning Program

April 14, 2022

The Moreau College Initiative (MCI) is an academic collaboration between Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame that provides opportunities for the incarcerated at Westville Correctional Facility in northwestern Indiana to earn college credit towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts. MCI is built on the conviction that fighting inequality, crime, and poverty in our communities must begin with making quality education accessible to everyone, especially to those who are most socioeconomically disenfranchised. A central part of the MCI liberal arts curriculum is an emphasis on the journey of education as a process of personal and spiritual growth. MCI instructors assist students in creating and documenting their educational journeys through different narrative and artistic media such as storytelling, poetry, and personal essays. Many of these experiences occur through conversation, dialogue, and listening. In 2019, MCI students and staff therefore developed plans for a podcast workshop, an opportunity for students to reflect on their lives and raise their voices beyond Westville’s walls. The podcast got off the ground with a Community Impact Grant from the Center for Social Concerns used to purchase the necessary equipment to record and produce it.

The workshop is designed to offer students a creative and intellectually fulfilling means to explore and document their academic and spiritual journeys. Through this process, students also identify the potential power of the podcast format to enact social and ethical change at both small and large scales. The workshop is built on the belief that student voices can help foster a culture of listening and informed discussion, including around divisive issues related to incarceration. Sadat, a student leader in the workshop, said that he hoped the podcast would allow him to “persuade with power those who have made this system what it is.” Consistently optimistic about the possibilities around the podcast form, Sadat also views podcasts as a way to “plant a seed in people’s minds that there are solutions” to the problems of mass incarceration.

The podcast workshop has now become fully a part of the MCI student experience, with many incorporating conversations with group members and the storytelling structure of a podcast in their coursework and senior capstone projects. Interest continues to grow around the project, with an increasing number of students participating each week. To date, students have recorded nearly 100 hours of content, with much more scheduled. Plans are also being developed to release episodes publicly so members of the general public can better understand MCI students’ experiences and insights. No matter the future shape and distribution of the podcast, the students have already found significant value in the experience. When asked what surprised him the most about the workshop, for example, Sadat answered simply: “that we are allowed to do it. This has opened my eyes to the world in new ways.”

 

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