An Unusual Reunion

Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 12:46 pm

Alumni of Grinnell’s First Year of College Program understand the true value of a liberal arts education.

The incarcerated students in the prison-based program face strong competition. If accepted, they take rigorous courses taught by Grinnell faculty members. The accredited program is equivalent to an introductory year at Grinnell, and prepares the students for further higher education upon their release.

Several alumni from the program joined their professors and student mentors at Grinnell College’s Reunion.

They shared their experiences and the change the program made in their lives.

Ricky Miller

All the things that I've learned in the Grinnell program have been transferable.

I took an electrical vocational course and got nothing out of it. I can wire a house, but it didn't change the way I felt about life.

When I got transferred to Newton, I took a class and it made me question every book I ever read. It changed the whole way I see life.

After this program, I feel like there's nothing I can't do. I can learn anything. It's really knocked down all the barriers. I don't fear anything at this point.

Kyle Orth

[The program] teaches you how to learn. Bottom line.

The prison system tries to deal with behavior extrinsically. They use either punishment or incentives to try to change people. But I think the truest way to try to change behavior is to change the way people think and feel and believe.

Where vocational classes deal with the external, liberal arts deals with the internal. And that's the biggest thing for me. It's dealt with my heart, and the way I see the world, and my filters.

Michael Cosby

My speech class taught me how to speak to 50 people, so one is a breeze.

[With] poetry you learn how to put sentences together. Your grammar is better; your structure's better.

Statistics helps me with everything. I got [a position with a robotics company] because I could tell the correlation between the x, y, and z axes better than anyone who had ever applied. They said, "Do you even know how to run a robot?" I said, "No, but I’ll give it a shot."

Literary analysis? If you give it to me, I'm going to tear it apart and get my own opinion of it, my own facts for my own self. It teaches you how to think.

My liberal arts education opened avenues. I didn't know what I was learning would be that valuable until I got out. And I tell people that. It's me against y'all, and I'm not losing.

Josh Anderson:

When I first applied, I thought I was wasting everyone's time, including my own.

Through all the classes, my approach to prison life completely changed. It helped prepare me for when I was released.

Now I'm going to Kirkwood, and I stride through those halls to get to class. I'm not at all intimidated. And I'm very grateful for the program.

I knew I needed to change my life, and if it weren't for the program I guarantee that I would not be here. I would not have this attitude. I can't say thanks enough to everybody.

Jim Mayfield

A liberal arts education teaches you to think and find knowledge on your own.

In everyday life, it teaches you a different way of looking at everything that's coming at you. There are learning experiences all the time. It doesn't have to be in school. You don't have to be in a classroom. You can pick up a book.

Like Mike said, literary analysis — how to pick things apart, different ways to look at things and form your own opinion. It teaches you to think and different ways to look at the world, which you don't get with just knowledge.

The Liberal Arts in Prison Program, which oversees the First Year of College Program, is one of Grinnell’s most popular programs with students and faculty alike.

For this fall’s First Year of College Program, three Grinnell professors are teaching courses on ancient Greek literature, college writing, and statistics.

Approximately 40 Grinnell students will teach not-for-credit workshops on topics such as philosophy, computer literacy, psychology, and ecology, and tutor writing and math at the Newton Correctional Facility, Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, and the Iowa Juvenile Home.