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Sophomores learn about incarceration through May Term

Some sophomores will visit local prisons as a part of their May Term class. Creative Commons image: sophiahussain on Flickr.

By Brooke Hodge

This upcoming May Term, sophomores are going to learn about the California incarceration system through visiting courthouses, prisons and a rehabilitation center, while also learning about other local social issues such as housing and education. According the Director of Community and Civic Engagement Jessie Brugos, the focus of this portion of May Term is to educate sophomores about how the local criminal justice system contributes to the cycle of poverty.

 During the week, Sophomores will split into four groups. Two of the groups will be visiting San Quentin State Prison while the other two groups visit San Mateo County Jail and the Redwood City Courthouse. At the end of the week, the entire sophomore class will visit Delancey Street Rehabilitation Center.

Brugos said that during the week, sophomores are going to learn about the school-to-prison pipeline which is defined as “the disproportionate tendency of minors and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to become incarcerated.” The students will then see first-hand how the prison system contributes to the cycle of poverty. “There’s a real sad statistic about how where you go to school makes it that much more likely you might end up in the prison system. That’s just not a reality for the Menlo Community. To understand that and to see that is very different than to read numbers,” Brugos said.

Some sophomores described how stereotypes in media and television have generated their understanding about the incarceration system and prison environments. “I’ve never been to a prison, the only impression I have of it is from what I’ve seen in movies or on TV, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what a jail is really like,” sophomore Eavan Murray said.

Furthermore, many students are eager to learn about incarceration and criminal injustices and expand their perspective. “I’d like to learn about the racial injustices of the prison-industrial complex in the United States. I hope the school doesn’t avoid those tough conversations,” sophomore Alex Morgan said.

Similarly, sophomore Sophie Golub is looking forward to attaining a more truthful understanding of prisoners. “I think there are a lot of stereotypes about prisoners that are not always true, so I think it is such an amazing experience to be able to either confirm or deny those stereotypes,” she said.

Brugos says that sophomores are visiting these institutions because experiential learning gives individuals a very different understanding of issues than sitting in a classroom. She recalled seeing an arraignment during Knight School last year. “In the hour we were there, we saw an arraignment and we saw groups of [about] 12 –almost all– men of color brought in to be arraigned, and they were handcuffed, [wearing...] orange suits, and there was this sense of so much dehumanizing,” Brugos said.

“One of the people had his fiance or wife or girlfriend in the room and she was pregnant. [...] Personally seeing that is so different than a statistic. And to think about that child being brought into this reality, [...] there was a lot of sadness there. Just to see beyond the numbers and to put a face to the numbers is pretty powerful.”
Golub hopes to be able to meet some inmates during the visit to either the jail or prison. “I am looking forward to becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable because I think that meeting with inmates will help us have tough conversations about life and making mistakes and recovering from those mistakes, which I think will be super amazing,” said Golub.

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