Jenifer Drew helps with education from behind bars Reply

Kristina KaufmannPhoto Editor

The Boston University Prison Education Program aims to transform the lives of prisoners, and Lasell Associate Professor of Sociology, Jenifer Drew, is helping them do it. As Director of the BU Prison Program, Drew’s mission is to provide prisoners with education to better their future, families, and communities. 

The Prison Program is completely funded by Boston University and offers classes in English, biology, sociology, acting, and various languages. After the completion of the program, prisoners are able to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Liberal Studies in Interdisciplinary Studies.

Classes are offered at two different state prisons, MCI Norfolk and the women’s prison MCI Framingham. Both prisons have one classroom designated to the program.

“Each semester I hire between 12 and 15 professors to teach in one of two institutions, sometimes the professors will teach in both institutions,” Drew said. “Some people just want to teach the women and some people just want to teach the men.”

Drew has taught extensively at both

institutions, where prisoners took courses that are also offered at Lasell, like justice, race, gender and class, sociology, and writing. Since Drew has become the Director, she now overseas a Spanish program.

“A few years ago I recruited three native Spanish speaking prisoners, and I teach them how to teach,” she said. “They take a course, which is basically the Sociology of Education; we talk about the relationship with the teacher and the students.”

Drew administrates the classroom as the three Spanish-speaking prisoners lead the class, and she even takes the midterms and finals. “They do everything, including giving me grades, which is quite radical,” said Drew.

Currently the Spanish program is in its fifth cohort and Assistant Professor of Spanish at Lasell, Jose Guzman, has come taught Spanish 5 to the students in the program.

Prisoners applying to the BU Prison Program must have a high school diploma or GED and must sign up to take a test and pay ten dollars.

“Ten dollars, which can be a lot of money in prison,” said Drew.

Drew explained how around 60 men will sign up to take the test, but only 45 will complete the test.

“It is an all day thing, it’s grammar and reading compression and math,” said Drew. Prisoners who earned a B- on the test or above are then are eligible for an interview by Drew and two other professor of the program. Out of the 20 interviewed, between nine and 12 are admitted to the program.

After the students complete the BU Prison Program, and are released from prison, some go on to earn PhD’s, work in human services agencies or work towards a career in counseling.

“They get jobs, they don’t go back to prison,” said Drew. “It’s a good thing.”

Professor Drew first became in- volved in the BU Prison Program in 1999, around the same time she first started teaching at Lasell.

“The woman who was my mentor in graduate school was involved in the prison program, and she invited me to co-teach an intro to society course,” Drew said. “I did, and I never looked back.”

After teaching, Drew became the program coordinator, and three years ago she became the director of the BU Prison Program.

Drew also brings the students she teaches at Lasell to MCI Norfolk Prison to participate in a program called Project Youth, where prisoners share their stories and students can experience the differing culture and norms of prisons.

“When students go there, the truth just hits them square in the face and all the stereotypes just drops away,” she said. “They find it [to be] a joyful experience to have removed from themselves this pocket of hatefulness.”

Drew is also teaching a class this semester at Lasell called Prison Pups, where students are researching the impact of a dog training program at MCI Framingham. The students talk to prisoners, guards, administrators, and observe dog training. Six students have enrolled in the class and will present the research they found at the Connected Learning Symposium this month.

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