Class Leads Workshop at Correctional Facility
An Alma College instructor created a four-week long creative writing workshop at a local prison to teach her psychology students about group facilitation.
Students in Jodi Petersen’s Group Facilitation course visited St. Louis Correctional Facility and met with male prisoners to explore poetry and other forms of creative writing. The class was divided into four teams who worked with groups of eight to 15 prisoners, she says.
“The main purpose of the class was to learn how to create good group dynamics and how to define the purpose of a group, set up boundaries and facilitate the group process,” she says. “It also was less about building the prisoners’ writing skills and more about creating an environment where they could give each other constructive criticism, be vulnerable and open up and share.”
The result was positive. Both students and prison employees found the project to be beneficial, says Petersen. The men at the prison also enjoyed the experience. At the end of the project, they were given a book of their completed creative writing.
“The men at the prison liked meeting the students and getting to know them,” she says. “Because they found other people who like to write within the prison, they also felt like had a new peer group with whom they could share that activity.”
Petersen says she choose a prison as the project location because there are many factors of the structure that work against creating a good group setting. She also has a history with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), which aims to expand and deepen creative arts work with incarcerated adults, court-involved youth, and returning citizens.
“I was involved with PCAP as a student at the University of Michigan,” she says. “It was one of the most beneficial experiences that I had as an undergrad, so I wondered if Alma students would be interested in it as well. The timing was perfect because PCAP had received a grant to do statewide outreach, so they were looking for colleges to do something like this.”
In addition to understanding more about group facilitation, Petersen hopes spending time at the prison challenged some of the preconceived ideas that her students may have had about prison, she says.
“Based on TV and stories, we think we know a lot about what the prison system is like, but once you’re there, you realize that it isn’t actually that scary,” she says. “We talked about the social issues surrounding prisons and the way that the system itself is set up: Is it working?”
Petersen recently spoke on a panel at the 2012 Grand Rapids ArtPrize event and discussed the process of the class. She would love the opportunity to teach the class again in the future, she says.
“The students really liked it,” she says. “Their only complaint was that as a seven-week course, it was too short. It’s an experience that I would like to repeat on a regular basis, as I think it would work most effectively that way for everyone.”
Posted: Tue, October 23rd, 2012 at 10:43AM