Learn about “Topics in Pre-Law, Inside-Out”

By Kendall Westgate, WestgateK@Findlay.edu

The University of Findlay offers many different hands-on, interactive classes for the different majors; yet, many do not know that going to the Oak Allen Correctional Institution each Monday is also offered as a class.

I did not create this class, the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program (https://www.insideoutcenter.org/) was started in the 1990’s at Temple University,” Associate Professor of Pre-Law and History Tristin Kilgallon said over email. “In 2013, I was working at Ohio Northern University and learned about the program from a television program. As a former law enforcement officer, and at that time Criminal Justice professor, I thought this looked like a great opportunity for my students to learn about the CJ system in action. Most of my students wanted to be police officers, lawyers, or other CJ professionals, but they had limited experience with the actual CJ system. I thought this was a great way to introduce them to corrections and to speak with incarcerated individuals, who many would be working with down the road in their professional capacity. When I came to UF, I brought the program with me and hope to provide UF students with the same experiential learning opportunity.”

This course meets every Monday from 5-7:15 p.m. at the Oak Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio.  About 10 “outside” students and 10 “inside” students attend the class each week; these students discuss issues in groups, like why do people commit crime, what is the purpose of prisons, myths and realities of life in prison, and legal issues relating to policing and corrections. 

I suppose what I hope to achieve is to have my students gain a better understanding of how our legal system actually works. We are constantly bombarded by images and news stories about crime and punishment, but how accurate are those representations? As someone with experience in the criminal justice field, as well as a legal education, I know a lot of what we see in the media is misleading or flat out wrong,” Kilgallon said. “By going into the prison and working closely with these incarcerated individuals, our students get first hand experience learning and working in this challenging environment.  They come to understand that the decisions made by police officers, lawyers, probation officers, correctional officers, and politicians have a real world impact on the men and women under the control of the justice system, as well as on victims, their families and the community in general.” 

 UF student Megan Hite decided to join this class after taking a course with Kilgallon last semester, who explained what this class is about. Since she majors in pre-law in hopes to become a lawyer, this class suits her schedule to help prepare for experience in the legal system. She shared her favorite part of the class thus far.

“With the class starting up we haven’t had too many class sessions yet but so far my favorite part of the class is getting to meet the people (prisoners) in the class,” Hite said. “There are 10 ‘inside’ individuals in the class that have been in there ranging from a few months to years. Their convictions range to all different defenses but everyone in the class is there to better themselves. They have worked to earn the trust and privilege and want to focus on becoming a better member of society. Many in the class are trying to further their education and being able to talk to some of them and hear their stories of why they did what they did and a lot talk about how when they get out they want to help prevent crimes like what they did from happening.”

Despite this course being more geared to Criminal Justice or Pre-Law majors, any student at UF is welcome to take this course.

“The biggest struggle I have faced is marketing the class to students. I am relatively new, as this is only my second year at UF, so not many students know me,” Kilgallon said. “Also, many think the class is only for CJ or Pre-Law majors, although it is open to all UF students. As more students take the class, I am confident others will learn about this unique opportunity and enroll in the course.”

Since this class takes place at a correctional facility, there are rules in place to keep the students safe. 

“The rules for the class are interesting and there are quite a few rules; but the main ones are, we can’t wear any tight-fitting clothes or jewelry, they even suggest we don’t wear underwire bras,” Hite said. “We also aren’t allowed to have our phones, book bags, notebooks with metal spirals, or even something as simple as chapstick. I also found it interesting that they suggested we go by an alias name or spell our name differently than what we normally do.”

Kilgallon explained his favorite part of this class is watching students come together to work on the group projects.

“While these students in the class have certainly taken different paths in life, they always manage to put that aside, and work collectively on some really impressive projects,” Kilgallon said. “The students learn from each other and contribute different things to the group. No two projects have been the same and I am thankful for that, as it keeps the class fresh and exciting.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the class, contact Professor Kilgallon at Tristin.Kilgallon@Findlay.edu.