“I knew that I wanted the opportunity to get a college education; I just didn’t realize that it would be so much more.”
Such were the sentiments of Shayne Lovera, one of 15 inmates at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPFW), who has earned 18 undergraduate credit hours at Lipscomb University over the past two years through an innovative program that brings traditional students and the inmates of the prison together to study a liberal arts topic.
Lipscomb president L. Randolph Lowry met the 14 members of the Lipscomb class who still reside at TPFW on Wednesday and congratulated them for all their hard work and dedication.
“In the larger picture of life, there are only a few things that make a great difference, and an education is one of them,” Lowry told the students in a special meeting before the 2008 commencement ceremony for TPFW, where 52 graduates who earned their General Education Diploma and various vocational certificates were honored in addition to the Lipscomb students.
Lowry served as keynote speaker for the ceremony, reminding the inmates that in order to get somewhere in life, you can’t simply stay where you are. Everyone must have a vision for moving forward, he told the audience, using the story of Don Quixote and Dulcinea as a metaphor for the power that one individual’s belief in another can hold.
Click here to see Lowry telling the whole story of Man of La Mancha.
President Randy Lowry visits with Lipscomb students at TPFW.
At the commencement ceremony, the Lipscomb students received a special certificate for completing the 18 credit hour series of courses in the Lipscomb Initiative for Education (LIFE) program, but their education isn’t complete yet. The students have enjoyed the program so much, they talked coordinator Richard Goode, Lipscomb history professor, into continuing to offer them new classes even though a second cohort of 15 will begin this spring with the original set of 18 credit hours.
The inmates benefit not only by expanding their minds, but by earning college credit that is transferable to any college they wish to attend upon re-entering society. The inmates’ tuition is paid for through individual contributions and grants. Benefactors pay $450 per inmate per class, to cover Lipscomb’s heavily discounted tuition and books.
“It is truly an honor to be teaching in the LIFE program,” said Laura Lake Smith, assistant professor of art who is currently teaching the students art appreciation. They have also studied criminal law and procedure, literature, ethics and judicial process.
“If more professors knew the rewards of it, we might have a waiting list for those wanting to teach,” Smith said. “The program is beneficial and enriching in so many ways for the women inside and for our own Lipscomb students. It is wonderful to see us all become a family as well as a cohort in learning.”
Before the ceremony, Lovera represented the students by greeting Lowry with a speech that touched the hearts of all the Lipscomb and Department of Corrections officials present.
“Due to budget constraints, among other things, educational opportunities in prison have been limited to the basics, G.E.D. and a few vocational classes. The partnership established between Lipscomb University and the Tennessee Department of Corrections not only offers access to higher education but also to hope,” she told the Lipscomb visitors.
“The classes each week give us something to look forward to. It helps us breathe a little better. It’s so refreshing,” one student told Lowry.
Another raved about how fun it is to attend classes with traditional students who are much younger than most of the inmates. “They hear your story and realize they are not so different,” she said.
Each semester 15 on-campus students enroll in the LIFE course and travel once a week to the prison, along with their professor, to study together with the inmates.
“I think this class has opened my eyes to seeing how strong and how wonderful these women at the prison are. I love going to class and learning with them, and the teacher makes learning really fun!” said Kendall Shaw, a senior family and consumer science major at Lipscomb, who is currently enrolled in the class.
The Lipscomb University community is invited to a forum to discuss service learning and the Lipscomb Initiative for Education (LIFE), which brings Lipscomb students and inmates at the Tennessee Prison for Women together to study a liberal arts topic each semester.
Information session on the LIFE program on Dec. 8
Lipscomb students can learn more about the LIFE courses at TPFW and opportunities to enroll in future courses, at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 8, in the Doris Swang Chapel in the Ezell Center.
The “Reframing Community” forum, sponsored by The SALT Center, will feature students currently enrolled in the LIFE course at the prison describing their experiences and what they have learned.
This semester’s LIFE course is a service-learning course, so the students are holding this information session to fulfill their service-learning component.
President Lowry's speech at the ceremony
Shayne Lovera’s speech for President Lowry
It is often said that the goal of incarceration is rehabilitation, but what does that mean? Isn’t rehabilitation simply changing the way one thinks? For some, landing behind bars is enough to prompt change, but for most, major obstacles, such as anger, resentment, fear, or lack of self worth and education keep not only the body, but the mind imprisoned.
Due to budget constraints, among other things, educational opportunities in prison have been limited to the basics, G.E.D. and a few vocational classes. The partnership established between Lipscomb University and the Tennessee Department of Correction not only offers access to higher education but also to hope.
Hope is a precious commodity to prisoners and the Lipscomb collaboration continues to make it attainable through curricula and coursework, by doubling the available scholarships and providing amazing, unbelievably supportive educators.
From day one, I have felt like I was on equal footing with the “traditional” students -- no condescension, and no judgment. These kids have been a revelation and a joy. The unique setting has allowed for development of unexpected friendships and the discovery of surprising commonalities. I knew that I wanted the opportunity to get a college education; I just didn’t realize that it would be so much more.
I can’t think of a better time than this season of thanksgiving and gift giving to express my gratitude. Rehabilitation may not be easy to recognize but education is the gift that keeps on giving. So I want to say thank you to everyone at Lipscomb for your dedication to this program and to us.