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SPAN 303 SL Students Learn with Prisoners

Boise State students visit the Idaho State Correctional Center as part of their Service Learning Advanced Spanish Conversation and Composition class.

 The Boise State Advanced Spanish and Conversation students visited the Idaho State Correctional Center last Thursday April 9th, 2015 in order to learn about the education programs that take place there and also to meet the prisoners who worked on their Service Learning project.

Prision 1

From left to right:  Priscilla Stone (teacher at the ISCC), Izaskun Kortazar (BSU Spanish lecturer), Guadalupe Fonseca, Rosalba Loera, Maddie Cullen and Isaac Helton (BSU students).

BSU students translated letters written by Hispanic inmates so they can be published in English on the American Prison Writing Archive webpage, a project initiated by Professor Doran Larsen who has already published a book with the writings of incarcerated people. The book is called Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America. The American Prison Writing Archive webpage allows researchers and citizens the opportunity to take an inside look into the reality of the incarceration system in the Unites States. The goal of the project is to challenge common stereotypes and allow researchers, lawmakers, and legal advocates the ability to make more informed decisions about the prison system.

Students learned about an accredited industry-based education program that provides inmates a variety of job skills so when they leave the prison, they will have less difficulty finding employment in trade industries. Inmates also receive help creating a resume and learning about job interview skills.

Students also visited the library where they have 16,000 books (mostly donated from libraries and schools). However, the librarian let us know they were lacking language books. That is why the department of World Languages donated books in several languages to the correctional institution.

Prison 2

Nicole Dewey, Alejandro Hortet, Connor Skibeness. Behind on the right corner: John Stull

Prison 3

Left to right: Izaskun Kortazar and Guadalupe Fonseca.

In addition to the trade program, inmates can attend English language classes in order to attend general education classes in English. These classes go from primary school to the GED diploma. (The Pell Grant program that allowed inmates to study at the University level was banned in 1994 with the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act). In these classes, the teachers train more proficient inmates to help less proficient inmates and that way they get one-to-one instruction and practice. From what I observed, they were very dedicated tutors committed to the success of the program.

Prison 4

Left to right: Miguel Juárez and Ashley Potzernitz

Two of the students, Ashley Potzernitz and John Stull also received the ¨Best of Show¨ award for their reflections about this experience at the BSU Service Learning Faculty/Community Partner Mixer.


From left to right: Izaskun Kortazar and Ashley Potzernitz  (Best of Show Poster)

prision 6

From left to right: Izaskun Kortazar and John Stull

Izaskun Kortazar received the Outstanding Faculty Award for this project.

prison 7

Left to right: David Mehlhaff (ISCC Education Program Manager), Izaskun Kortazar (Spanish Lecturer at BSU), Priscilla Stone (English teacher at the ISCC). At the back: Mike Stefancic (Service Learning Coordinator at BSU)

I would like to end with a reflection of a BSU student and a ISCC student:

I would admit that I fell into the stereotypical mindset that people in prison are somehow different from other people who populate society, that the majority of them are probably reckless and dangerous criminals. My experience with Service Learning has shown me how wrong I was. Something about translating the exact words of fellow human beings breaking a cultural and societal barrier by relying their thoughts and struggles in another language, has proven to be quite enlightening. I am grateful to have the opportunity to help speak for others who are in need of a voice. Not only has it helped me improve my Spanish skills but it has shaped my mindset and challenged stereotypes. It has given me a new lens to view the situation through.

At the beginning of this course I had a very limited knowledge of the prison system in the USA and therefore I did not really have any grounds to form an opinion on; nor did I have any ideas for how to improve their circumstances.

Now that I have translated letters and learned more about what Service Learning really is, I feel that education is really the key to better the lives of those in prison who really do want another chance in life and who simply made mistakes.   By Nicole Dewey, Spanish 303, BSU

A student of the ISCC:

Prison 8




by Izaskun Kortazar

Lecturer of Spanish Advanced Conversation and Composition at BSU



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