Teaching Points– Ghettos and Prisons: Dynamics of Privilege, Stigma and Segregation in Society

Inside-Out Exchange

Editor’s Note: Continuing our back-to-school series, we today invite you to consider the innovative teaching associated with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. “Ghettos and Prisons” is a class created by Paul Draus, Associate Professor of Sociology and Health Policy Studies in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, who for many years was a public health field worker specializing in tuberculosis control, first in New York City and then in Chicago.  Draus is the author of Consumed in the City: Observing Tuberculosis at Century’s End (Temple University Press, 2004), and has written on health issues, behaviors and social contexts related to substance abuse in rural areas.  His current research focuses on community contexts, social networks and work patterns of daily heroin users, former street sex workers and ex-offenders in the city of Detroit.

This course offers a unique opportunity for students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and students at the Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit to meet on a weekly basis and explore issues of vital concern to society in a dialogical format.  We will be examining the related issues of segregation and confinement in society, in terms of both processes and places—the ways people are segregated, and the social and physical spaces where they are confined.  As many poets and philosophers have observed, there is more than one way to be imprisoned. According to Rousseau, “man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Or consider the following passage from The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell’s account of life in an English coal-mining community, which deals with the oppressive nature of social class in British society:

This business of petty inconvenience and indignity, of being kept waiting about, of having to do everything at other people’s convenience, is inherent in working-class life. A thousand influences constantly press a working man down into a passive role. He does not act, he is acted upon. He feels himself the slave of mysterious authority and has a firm conviction that ‘they’ will never allow him to do this, that, and the other.

In this class we shall consider the case of American ghettos and American prisons, both as social and historical realities in themselves, and as reflections or products of broader tendencies within our society.  In so doing, we will necessarily have to consider the function or purpose of prisons and ghettos, their relationship to other social institutions, their internal cultures and hierarchies, as well as their effects on their inhabitants and on the society as a whole.   Finally, we will consider the question of how segregation and confinement in society may be overcome, and whether or not they should.  In other words, we will ask if change is needed, and if so, what kind?

Read more