Flying University unique opportunity for students and community
Security concerns within Lemon Creek Correctional Center are visible. Students bring nothing but class materials, which are checked by prison staff. Everyone is screened by a metal detector and go through a series of gates to get to the classroom.
Twenty students are enrolled in Flying University, a series of classes taught by Associate Professor of English Sol Neely at the LCCC.
One-hundred forty Juneau students have gone through the program since it began in 2012.
Flying University is part of the Learning Inside Out Network of prison education programs spanning Oregon, California and Alaska that bring students inside the prison to study alongside inmates.
At the April LION symposium, students inside LCCC told members of the public and prison administrators how important Flying University had become to them.
“During my incarceration I have seen lack of education impacting the mental health and the recidivism rate of the guys here,” an inside student said.
Another longtime inmate said an education will “help us aspire to live healthy. All I know is jail, and I want more. I look forward to class so much I avoid trouble for the first time since being in here.”
Another striking commonality was the idea that the program was strengthening bonds behind bars.
Marcos Galindo participated in the first three semesters of Flying University while incarcerated at LCCC. When he left prison, he enrolled at UAS, participated in the Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social science with a concentration in political science. Galindo is currently studying to get his Masters of Public Administration at UAS.
Galindo shared his experience of how his participation in Flying University encouraged him to help his fellow prisoners.
Galindo feels that if he got this opportunity then everyone should get it.
“I don’t feel complete unless I’m trying to help somebody, I wouldn’t do my own work unless I was on my buddies to get their work done,” he said.
Galindo had positive views toward the students from UAS.
“The outside students were just amazing,” Galindo said.
“We dug them, I don’t think there were problems with any of the outside students which I think makes the Flying University pretty cool,” he said.
Galindo offered this advice to UAS students interested in the program: “Do it, it will totally
change your life. You will realize that these are just normal guys who got caught up.”
UAS student James Holzenburg participated in Flying University for the first time this semester.
“I was kind of intimidated, there is a social stigma towards prisoners that definitely exists,” Holzenburg said.
After participating in Flying University, Holzenburg said much of that stigma was uncalled for, and the classroom felt very safe.
“Honestly having class in the prison is no different than here on campus, other than some of your classmates are wearing jumpsuits and some aren’t,” he said.
Safety in the classroom is a priority to both the prison administration and the participants.
“The Correctional Officers at LCCC do a great job of making a safe environment for us,” Holzenburg said.
Holzenberg recommends the class to anyone who might be interested.
Flying University was started by Professor Neely after he experienced the war on drugs in Georgia. After witnessing his peers get arrested for minor drug offences, Neely was inspired to reach out to inmates.
Flying University classes are tightly structured to maximize available time. Class starts with a short lecture and a discussion of the assignment.
Then the class breaks into small groups to discuss questions posed by an inside student and an outside student. These small discussion groups allow inside and outside students to interact and critically engage the class material.
At the end of the class discussion, leads for the next class are chosen and everything is wrapped up with a poem presented by an inside student. Neely got this idea when he participated in a similar program in Nashville.
“On the institutional side, it would be nice if it could be better integrated on the curriculum, said Professor Neely about what he would like to see in the future.
LION hopes to expand classes offered in LCCC.
This semester University of Alaska Fairbanks program designer Kandell Newman-Sadiik and UAS student Rosie Ainza have started a women’s writing workshop bringing outside female writers from the community into the prison to work with female inmates.
Sadiik and Neely hope to expand the classes taught in the prison and give credit to the participants.
Through the Flying University Scholarship fund, full college credits have been offered to a number of inside students and Neely hopes to expand that number.
Students who are interested in Flying University should contact Sol Neely about how to participate in the class.
Students can do an independent study or align it with a particular class to meet different course requirements.
Alternative ways to get involved with classes inside are to donate to the Flying University Scholarship Fund by texting “Flying” to 41444.
Female students interested in the women’s writing workshop can contact Kendell Newman-Sadiik at firstname.lastname@example.org or attend a meet up at Heritage Coffee