Prison program turns inmates into intellectuals

By Ginia Bellafante
New York Times
May 30, 2014

Otisville Correctional Facility is a medium-security state prison, 79 miles northwest of Manhattan, on the site of a former tuberculosis sanitarium — with an equalizing element of portent, near the town of Mount Hope. Many of its prisoners are serving life sentences; they are men whom time, as one guard put it “has mellowed out.” Nearby, but unrelated, is the Otisville federal prison, named by Forbes Magazine as one of America’s “cushiest” incarcerators. Observers have likened it to a college, which is not an analogy you would easily draw at the state prison, where inmates rely largely on encyclopedias for the retrieval of information, in volumes that look as if they were last current when the nation was debating the merits of Dan Quayle.

Still, an intellectual firmament has taken hold. On a recent afternoon, 10 men gathered under the tutelage of Baz Dreisinger, a professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to share some of their writing and to talk about the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

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