Wayland- Hawaii taking on new student population in prisons

Release Date: August 1, 2008

HAWAII – With 13 campuses spread across the country, Wayland Baptist University is no stranger to taking its educational services outside the “home campus” in Texas and into nontraditional locations.

So when the Hawaii state Department of Public Safety approached the campus in Aiea about bringing classes into the correctional facilities, it didn’t seem too much out of the ordinary.

Nearly a year later, the university has completed its third term of classes at the Waiawa Correctional Facility in Honolulu, a minimum-security prison that focuses on transitioning inmates back into the community with work skills, education and substance abuse programs.

Ironing out all the details in the beginning took the most time, but since then, the courses have had smooth sailing. Henrique Regina, assistant to the executive director and campus dean Dr. Steven Reid, has been the driving force behind the program.

“Mary Jane Dorsey (of the state office) knew about Wayland and called to ask if we would do the higher education program for them,” Regina recalled. “I thought it was a unique market for us and a real benefit to increase someone’s education and also build their confidence because someone cares about them enough to make this happen.”

With the cost differential between WBU and other schools, the Hawaii campus approached Wayland officials about offering a discounted rate to the inmates who would be enrolled in the courses on a voluntary basis. The administration supported the effort and allowed the discount rate, which helps since the state and federal grants cover the cost of educating inmates.

From there, the main hurdle was learning how to function in a completely different teaching and learning environment. While Wayland professors – many of whom are adjuncts who either work in their teaching field or teach elsewhere full-time – are attuned to working with adult students in the one-night-per-week class setting. But this was a whole ‘nother ball game.

“It’s a completely different situation out there,” Regina said. “I expected to hear about being careful about other items used as weapons and things like that, but what caught my attention was the psychology of the inmate, the way they deal with you. They warn you to be careful not to share too much information or let them get to close to you so they don’t use you for some other purpose.

“It’s a real challenge when you’re there, because you know not all of them are like that.”

The challenge also lies in being less open and approachable personally, which is a totally different atmosphere than Wayland’s campuses promote with their students and faculty and part of the appeal for many.

But in the prison environment, safety is as important as the material and lessons. But for the teachers who’ve tried the experience, the challenges can be overcome.

“I wasn’t aware of all the limitations up front, but I have adapted easily,” said John Walsh, a political science instructor who taught the first class for Wayland at Waiawa and another term since. “The challenge was getting used to the control by the guards, like when you can go in and what you can take in. Everything has to be approved. They did at least have laptops there, so I could bring my lectures on PowerPoint on a flash drive.”

Walsh said some of the typical assignments associated with the course had to be modified since inmates have no Internet access, and other limitations of the students meant being a little more flexible. But he said overall the experience has been rewarding.

“This is worth it for the students who really want to change their lives. They look at this as an opportunity to do something productive and move on instead of winding up in jail again,” Walsh said. “It’s always nice to have a few students who want to do better for themselves.”

Walsh’s Federal and State Government course is one of three WBU has offered as part of its commitment to providing general education courses that will work for Wayland or transfer to any other college once inmates are released and choose to continue their education. The school has also offered two basic history courses, taught by longtime adjunct Pam Lucas, all following the same 11-week schedule the campus follows.

Regina, who takes care of all the paperwork and registration for the inmates before each term, said future plans include conducting placement tests so inmates can be placed in English and math classes based on proficiency. And future terms will offer religion courses under the humanities category, a source of excitement for Regina as is the entire program.

“Seeing the light in their eyes when they’re learning things is great,” he said.

Reid echoed that sentiment, adding that instructors have also grown from the experience.

“It has been heartening to see that some inmate students honestly give their best effort and are looking to have a new start upon release,” he said.

In terms of the future, Reid added that the campus hopes to expand its services to other facilities on Oahu and throughout the state. He also said that with the transfer of Hawaiian prisoners to Arizona facilities due to space constraints, negotiations are underway for a similar arrangement for those inmates with Wayland’s Phoenix campus under the guidance of executive director and campus dean Dr. Glenn Simmons. All of this reflects the positive feelings of the state.

“In one word, it’s been awesome,” said Maureen Tito, corrections education program manager for the state of Hawaii. “We have had the most wonderful experience and nothing but positive feedback from our students. The people (from WBU) are so mission-focused, and they’re great to work with.

“These (inmates) have to transform their whole lives, and they’re beginning to see that college is their ticket off the streets. I think the people Wayland sends as teachers are very good role models for the men in that area.”