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Students go inside prison in ‘eye-opening’ B.C. university course

Surrey Pretrial is a remand centre for inmates awaiting trial or sentencing
The Surrey Pretrial Centre in Surrey on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The course includes equal numbers of students from outside and inside the Surrey Pretrial Centre. (Photo by Anna Burns/Surrey Now-Leader)

It’s not every day that a student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) takes a course inside a jail.

Once a year, KPU offers ARTS 3200: Inside- Out, which is taught inside the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre in Surrey. Surrey Pretrial is a remand centre for inmates awaiting trial or sentencing related to criminal charges and anywhere from 400 to 500 people are incarcerated there at any given time.

The course “invites students into the prison for an education quite unlike what a traditional classroom can offer,” reads a post on The students include equal numbers of “outside” and “inside” students from Surrey pretrial.

Luca Santamaria took the class in 2022 and said it was incredible.

“It’s a shake-up compared to your normal university classes,” Santamaria said. “Half your classmates are incarcerated, there’s lots of security protocols to remember, and it’s inside a pretrial centre.”

Once inside the centre, outside students are escorted to a multipurpose room where students sit in a circle, alternating between “inside and outside students.”

“In each four-hour class day, students connect with each other through activities and sharing personal stories,” reads the post.

“It was definitely eye-opening,” Santamaria said.

“We all carry around some sociological baggage with regard to how we view people who are incarcerated,” Santamaria said. “Notions of justice, conflict, and healing are not broad blankets we can just drape over each other. Every single human in that building had a story and perspective wholly their own.”

In the course this year, “students are examining issues related to identity and inequality, study and practice communication, develop emotional literacy, and learn to communicate and navigate conflict.”

The course teaches students to examine how they communicate and how that can affect their relationships- both positively or negatively.

Dr. Wade Deisman, a KPU criminology instructor and Inside Out organizer said the program is guided by the belief that society is strengthened when more people have access to higher education.

“It’s an intractable problem in criminology — students come in and they believe people who are convicted of crimes are somehow different than the rest of society. So we spend a lot of time disabusing them of that myth, reminding them that they have committed crimes that they weren’t prosecuted for,” Deisman said. “They’re re-humanized through this process.”

Students are selected through an application and interview process and receive six university credits upon completion.

The course is taught by instructors from various disciplines. Journalism instructor Lubna Moosa and criminology instructor Michael Ma are leading the 2024 course.

The idea for the Inside Out program came from Lori Pompa, who started it in 1997 at Temple University in Philadelphia. Since then, universities across the globe have offered the course. KPU was the first Canadian university to offer the Inside Out program in 2011.

-With files from Tom Zytaruk

Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I cover health care, non-profits and social issues-related topics for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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