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Westminster College Students and Assistant Professor Teach Course in Pennsylvania Prison

Posted on Friday, September 7, 2012

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. - Westminster students Jennifer Cantella and Joseph Ritchie taught a Sociology of Families course alongside Dr. Kristenne Robison, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice studies, at an all-women's prison in Cambridge Springs.

To prepare to teach the course Robison enrolled in the week long Inside-Out Program. She enrolled based on the idea of taking 15 outside (Westminster) students to learn alongside 15 inside (incarcerated individuals). While the class at the Cambridge Springs Prison was not quite an Inside-Out course, Robison used many of the techniques she learned in the training during the class at Cambridge Springs. She plans to teach an Inside-Out class at Cambridge Springs next fall as well.

During the week-long training Robison learned about curriculum development, institutional relationships and interactive pedagogical approaches. She also spent two days working with a group of Inside-Out alumni.

"The training program was literally life changing," Robison said. "Part of the training happens inside a men's prison where the men train us to work with a prison population. I let my guard down to hear the stories of the amazing men who trained us and I shared my own stories with them. It was a very humanizing experience."

The sociology class at Cambridge Springs ran once a week from the first week of June through the first week of August. Cantella and Ritchie did not get paid to work at the prison, but instead volunteered their time. In addition, Cantella interned at the Beaver County Detective's Bureau and Ritchie interned at the Lawrence County Community Action Partnership. The students, however, have no regrets about how they spent their summer break from college.

"My experience at Cambridge Springs this summer was truly a blessing," Cantella said. "I was a little nervous at first but as the weeks went on I got to know the students more and more and was able to see how much they love to learn. However, they taught me so much more than I taught them.  I'm extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to meet these women.  It was an amazing experience and I will never forget them."

Cantella, a senior sociology and criminal justice major, is a daughter of Robert Cantella and Colleen Cantella of Conway and a graduate of Freedom Area High School.

Ritchie, a senior biology and sociology and criminal justice major, is a son of Carmen and Elizabeth Ritchie of New Castle and a graduate of Kennedy Catholic High School.

"When the inmates asked me what I expected when I went to Cambridge Springs I said that I thought it would be a mix between Escape from Alcatraz and Cool Hand Luke, Ritchie said. "However, my experience at Cambridge Springs was far more gratifying than I could have imagined.  I worked in an environment where individuals were eager to learn and discuss and the students were open minded, inquisitive, intelligent, and hard working.  I know that I was able to help the inmates learn about the sociology of the family, however, I feel that the lessons they taught me and the experiences that I walked away with were life altering and priceless.  I was honored to be a part of this experience."

Robison, who joined the Westminster faculty in 2009, earned an undergraduate degree from Baldwin-Wallace College, master's degrees from The Ohio State University and Syracuse University, and Ph.D. from Syracuse University.

According to the Inside-Out program website, "Inside-Out is an opportunity for college students to go behind the walls to reconsider what they have come to know about crime and justice. At the same time, it is also an opportunity for those inside prison to place their life experiences in a larger framework. Inside-Out creates a paradigm shift for participants, encouraging transformation and change agency in individuals and, in so doing, serves as an engine for social change. Through college classes and community exchanges, individuals on both sides of prison walls are able to engage in a collaborative, dialogic examination of issues of social significance through the particular lens that is the ‘prism of prison.' "

Contact Robison at (724) 946-6033 or email for additional information.

Dr. Kristenne Robison, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice studies