Like students who came before them, Mac Hudson and David Baxter found themselves enthralled by lessons about global genocide during classes taught by Clark sociology Professor Shelly Tenenbaum. The difference is that Hudson and Baxter took their courses entirely inside one of the state’s medium security prisons, not on a college campus.
Tenenbaum teaches courses to incarcerated students through the Emerson Prison Initiative, which offers students at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord a pathway to receive a bachelor’s degree. “Teaching in prison, I learned what real serious intellectual engagement is,” Tenenbaum says. “Teaching in prison is really about the transformative power of ideas, confronting very serious ethical questions, grappling with morality, debates, and different perspectives.”
For Hudson and Baxter, the student experience strengthened their sense of identity. “It was a test of our intelligence, and it was a way of validating that we can compete in society,” Hudson says. “Each class that went by, each time we passed, each grade we got, that was significant.”
Tenenbaum authored a chapter in “Education Behind the Wall: Why and How We Teach College in Prison,” a book edited by Mneesha Gellman, the founder and director of EPI. She is also a professor in Clark’s Liberal Arts for Returning Citizens program, which we featured in an episode last month.