By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Durham College is giving incarcerated individuals the opportunity to earn college credits while serving their sentence through the Walls to Bridges (W2B) program.
The local post-secondary institute recently announced it is the first college in Canada to provide courses to prisoners through the W2B program.
Professor Dale Burt is one of the college’s instructors leading the charge as she teaches her Resiliency in Society: the Bridges and Barriers course at the Warkworth Correctional Institution in Warkworth, Ont., north of Cobourg and Belleville.
Every week, Burt and eight Durham College students travel to the correctional facility to work with a group of “inside students,” as Burt calls them.
“It’s going so great… I feel like what’s happening in the [W2B] classroom is magic,” she says. “Their tagline is ‘We are one, not the other’… the concept behind that tagline is that we might start out the journey thinking there’s us, and then there’s them, and then as we start to get more comfortable… we start to realize we’re connecting as a learning community, and we’re not so different.”
She notes while everyone in the class has different life experiences and backgrounds, they’re all learning together as peers.
“We’re connecting as learners, and that’s really powerful,” says Burt.
Burt says she first learned of the program when she visited her daughter’s W2B class at university, and the idea had been in the back of her mind for some time.
“I was just blown away, I knew I was witnessing something special, and I just became completely obsessed with getting this experiential learning opportunity to Durham College,” she says.
For Burt, there’s a quote written on a wall in Durham College which captures how she feels about the project.
“The quote goes something like, ‘The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you,’” she says.
Burt says the students are handling things well.
“The really neat thing about this project, this approach, is that the inside students and the outside students are all peers,” she explains. “The fact that we start day one, psychologically we’re all probably thinking ‘Are they going to judge me?’ The inside students are worried about being judged by the outside students, and [vice versa], but at the end of the first day, it was already clear that everybody was quite comfortable.”
Durham student Meaghan O’Hara is enrolled in the one-year alternate dispute resolution mediation course. She feels it’s been great working with the inside students, but admits there were some worries.
“I was a little nervous when it started, just because I had never been in a prison before, so I wasn’t sure what the learning environment would be like, but once we’re in that classroom, there’s no real difference between learning side-by-side with inside students, or the students who come from Durham College,” she says.
Durham students participating in the W2B program attend the alternate dispute resolution mediation program and the victimology program.
Those interested in taking part in the W2B program have to apply and be interviewed to gain acceptance.
The final class will be held on April 15 at the prison, and students will present a project on what they have learned in the course.