The Forgotten Humanity of Prisoners

The Forgotten Humanity of Prisoners
(UNXD-404)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously wrote that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” This course will prepare a select group of Georgetown seniors for life after graduation by exposing them to this forgotten and ignored element of our humanity.

Course Details

Tuesdays, 2:00 – 6:00 PM

On Campus Meeting: Jan 28 (shorter session)
DC Jail Trips: Feb 11, 25; March 17, 24

Why Take This Course?

NOTE: The course is listed as 2-6pm, but we will never meet for that full time. The January 28 session at Georgetown will be held 4-6pm. The sessions at the DC Jail will begin at 3pm, but we have built in time for transportation to the jail, so that students will arrive on time, and will be back on campus by 6pm. Note also that transportation costs (ride-shares) will be covered by the Red House.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously wrote that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Yet today it is almost impossible for members of free society to go inside of prison walls, much less to interact with incarcerated people as human beings. This 1- credit UNXD course will prepare a select group of Georgetown seniors for life after graduation by exposing them to this forgotten and ignored element of our humanity. It is an extraordinary experience that they will cherish and that will inspire them for the rest of their lives.

The course will consist of 5 Tuesday meetings between 2-6 PM:

  • 1 on-campus class meeting at Georgetown (1/28) and
  • 4 class meetings at the DC Jail (2/11, 2/25, 3/17, & 3/24).

The readings—which will consist of several prison-related memoirs, including Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Wilbert Rideau’s In the Place of Justice, and Shon Hopwood’s Law Man—will prepare students to understand the background surrounding poverty, crime, race, and incarceration, as well as the dynamics of prison life.

During the sessions in a carceral facility, the students will work to identify possible avenues of reform—covering before, during, and after prison. Final projects will consist of a reflection paper addressing what students have experienced and learned, and how the course has changed their perspectives, as well as (if possible) a joint small project (TBD) to be carried out in conjunction with an incarcerated student.

Marc Morjé Howard is Professor of Government and Law at Georgetown University. He is the founding Director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, which brings together scholars, practitioners, and students to examine the problem of mass incarceration from multiple perspectives. He also teaches regularly in the Prison Scholars Program at the Jessup Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in Maryland. His work addresses the deep challenges of contemporary democracy and the tragedy of criminal justice and prisons in America. His most recent book is Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment, and the Real American Exceptionalism (Oxford University Press, 2017).