The humanities have a unique responsibility to engage with all segments of society, offering intellectual tools for broad social understanding and critical integration into society. That reach encompasses our imprisoned population. Presently, the Council supports two prison education programs, the Prison-to-College Pipeline and the Prison Writes Initiative.
The Prison-to-College Pipeline is a college-level course for prisoners who hold high school diplomas or GEDs, with course content designed around inmates’ interests. Prisoners who participate in the course have the opportunity to earn college credit, and perhaps more important, to prove to themselves they have the ability to pursue a college education after their release. Professor Patrick Alexander launched the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman in June 2014 with a grant from the University of Mississippi’s College of Liberal Arts. After two successful summers at Parchman, history professors Otis Pickett (Mississippi College) and Stephanie Rolph (Millsaps College) brought the program to women incarcerated at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl with support from the Mississippi Humanities Council and Mississippi College.
The Prison Writes Initiative is an 18-week course that begins with inmates learning to engage with classical literature by the likes of Eudora Welty, Langston Hughes, Samuel Beckett, Malcom X and Ernest Hemingway. In the second half of the course, students apply their learning to pen their own memoirs which are then compiled and published in a collection titled “In Our Own Words: Writing From Parchman Prison,” now in its third edition. Led by Louis Bourgeois, the course is now taught at several state and private prison facilities across Mississippi.