we’re celebrating a new ph.d. in the department, after heather hlavka’s successful defense of her dissertation, the trouble with telling: children’s constructions of sexual abuse.

dr. hlavka analyzed ten years of case files and videotaped forensic interviews with children seen for suspected cases of sexual abuse. the diss is powerful stuff, rendered with great care, sensitivity, and sophistication. she shows how the meaning of sexual abuse is negotiated in interaction with adults, but keeps the children’s voices front-and-center throughout. a systematic research design yields clear (and disturbing) generalizations about social power and barriers to disclosure. in short, she’s got me questioning just about everything we (think we) know about the age, race, class, and gender distribution of child sexual abuse.

dr. hlavka will be professin’ at marquette university this fall, where she will join darren wheelock, a fellow minnversity sociologist.

i gave my final lecture today, to a much-loved group of 55 students that i’m gonna miss every tues and thurs at 12:45. every couple years, a teacher gets a class that’s a little more fun/serious/intense/honest than yer average collection of students. this one laughed at most of my jokes, didn’t complain when lectures went a little long, and asked good hard questions. they even caught the li’l musical intros i played before class. more importantly, of course, they thought hard about sociological criminology and put some good work in on their papers and exams.

i can understand how they might’ve heard air or al green before, but how does a twenty-year-old know all the words to a song by the sonics, tony joe white, or the seeds? anyway, this was a pretty cool group of future sociologists, cops, social workers, lawyers, probation officers, and journalists. i hope they crush on the final.

hillary clinton unveiled an ambitious $4 billion proposal to halve the homicide rate in major american cities. the plan involves adding 100,000 new police officers and targeting gangs, drug markets, and illegal gun trafficking.

you might recognize (all of?) these elements from the 1992 clinton crime bill. this is great news for my teaching, since i can now dust off a killer essay question on the anticipated impact of 100,000 officers on the perceived certainty of apprehension and punishment. i’m also intrigued by the weapons interdiction aspects of the proposal. if you click on the chart above, you’ll see how gun homicide rates have fluctuated wildly relative to non-gun rates over the past three decades.

is it possible to make a difference in a student’s education in just one day? i guess it depends on the day.

having taught three inside-out classes in the oregon state penitentiary, i can say with absolute certainty that spending a quarter learning inside a maximum-security prison can change a life. i’ve seen it happen with my students, both inside (inmates) and outside (osu students). they learn about each other and from each other in ways that forever change their perspectives about crime, conformity, punishment, and prisons.

the challenge for me lately is to figure out if i can extend that kind of learning opportunity to more students in my larger on-campus classes. the first experiment took place this week when i took a dozen osu students into the penitentiary to meet with the lifer’s club. for me, the main goal was to humanize the other — to let the two groups interact and ask each other questions in a relatively informal setting (there were ground rules, of course, including strict limits as to the personal information exchanged. i was in no way bringing a dating pool into the prison). i wasn’t sure how much would be accomplished in one 2-hour session, but the students and the lifers were eager for the opportunity to meet. after getting through all the red tape, i was happy to facilitate the meeting between the two groups.

so what was the result? i asked the osu students for feedback and here are excerpts from some of their comments:

Thank you so much for giving me and the other students the opportunity to have an experience such as this one. It has definitely been one of the highlights of my college career. I appreciate it. I thought the lifers were great. I think it’s only natural for everyone to be a little nervous at first so I don’t know how to get around that, but they were all very open and respectful, and most were very eager to have discussion after a little warming up. I got so many different perspectives and insights from them, it was very beneficial.

The time we spent with the lifers was really life changing on how I now view prisons and inmates. I had never been to a prison before and definitely have never spoken to a big room of convicts. Every single inmate that I was able to talk with was very respectful of me and the other students in my group. I was surprised that so many had a positive outlook on life, even after being locked up for years and having many years to go until they had a chance of parole and some not even having that chance.

I went into this thinking these are all going to be bad guys with no personality, very mean, no remorse. I was really nervous when they all walked out. But after talking to a lot of them you realize they are humans too.

I would just really encourage those who participated to share with others what you saw, what you experienced, and encourage people to open their eyes and hearts to the idea that these men are PEOPLE, people who have paid a huge debt for their crimes and should be forgiven and given a chance to succeed in life.

so, i guess you can make a significant difference and push the limits of education in one day. it’s good to know. tomorrow morning i have a meeting at a correctional facility for girls and young women to discuss ways that my delinquency and sociology of education students might work with them in service-learning projects spring quarter (as in later this month). it will be an enormous amount of work to set it up, but it just may be worth it.

on another note, this blog will be moving to a new address shortly and it looks like we may be gaining new friends and readers in the process. stay tuned…

i enjoy playing with anagrams, rearranging my kids’ names to fit some aspect of their personalities. for example, tor stanley uggen has the same letters as both gentle guy on star and let’s not anger guy. yeah, that sounds about right.

it won’t surprise my students to learn that christopher uggen is actually code for hog-sprung heretic, and, given my minnesota biases, gopher guts enrich. wondering whether similar magic applies for the sociological criminologists i’ve been teaching in my delinquency class this year, i came up with the following variations without too much trouble. i’m self-censoring here, because some of the really funny ones seemed too cruel or unfair. i trust you can figure them out on your own, if so inclined.

let’s start with the classics. cesare lombroso whose criminal man connected primitive features with criminality in 1870, can be nicely anagramed into a slob score more. hmm. that rather nicely sums up atavistic theory, doesn’t it?

it is tougher to reconcile clifford shaw’s great work with his name. somehow scaffold whir or lads chow riff fail to capture the essence of social disorganization theory. how about my intellectual great grandfather, learning theorist edwin a. sutherland? it pains me to say so, but his critics might view he did learn, was nut or, more charitably, he did learn, aw nuts as all-too-appropriate alternative monikers.

speaking of professor sutherland’s critics, i couldn’t do much with social control theory’s travis hirschi (stir a rich shiv or chris ravish it) or anomie’s robert k. merton (torment broker and broken term rot are a little better). i had better luck with howard s. becker, who wrote a classic on marijuana use (saw herb rocked or sacred herb wok) and offered insightful critiques of mainstream sociology (bored whackers).

this week my students are reading meda chesney-lind on feminist criminology and juvenile Justice, so her new moniker (she demand nicely) might seem fitting. i couldn’t work the “q” into james q. wilson, but the brilliant conservative who wrote thinking about crime can otherwise be cruelly rearranged as jowls is mean.

ok, that’s where i draw the line. in fairness, i should also note that christopher uggen can be cruelly rearranged as pure hogs retching. though my personal anagrams can’t rival, say, mr. mojo risin’, i guess i’d prefer hog-sprung heretic to pure hogs retching.

we finally had a relatively healthy group and all 30 students made it to our inside-out class on wednesday night. the oregon department of corrections is currently in the news as the food buyer for all oregon prisons is accused shady dealings and of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. the story broke earlier in the week and i thought it might be useful to give our inside students a chance to comment.

they seemed to believe that the DOC is guilty of nepotism on a large scale, and they were very well-informed as to the details of the current case. as the oregonian reports, fred monem appeared to have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars, reducing the system’s daily meal costs by 40 percent: “Under special procurement rules, Monem aggressively pursued distressed and bulk foods on the spot market. The savings have helped Oregon regularly rank among the lowest in the nation for per-inmate food costs.” monem also apparently thought quite well of himself. in his 2005 performance review, he gave himself very high marks: “Continually striving to exceed professional and ethical standards,” he wrote of his work, “as well as setting the highest measurement as a role model for fellow staff members.”

hmm. unfortunately, it seems that while buying distressed and expiring food for inmate consumption, monem collected more than $600,000 in kickbacks over the last 5 years. while his state salary was around $75,000, monem was driving a $77,000 BMW; when federal agents searched monem’s home and safe deposit box, they found more than $530,000 in cash.

so, i thought it important to give our inside students a chance to talk about prison food and air their indignation. they took the opportunity and shared many stories about the food and problems with the system with the outside students. a piece that i have heard now from three different sources (including the oregonian story) is that inmates were repeatedly fed bait fish from boxes clearly marked “not fit for human consumption.”

the monem case led into the question of why individuals commit crime and we discussed in small groups some of the theories/explanations (social learning, social control, etc.) for such behavior. i’m pleased to say that the inside students — most of whom have no background in sociology or criminology at all — are struggling through the academic readings and doing a very good job of making connections between the theories and their own evidence and understanding of causes of crime. in fact, one of my inside students wrote a sophisticated essay discussing four different theories — above and beyond what was required in the assignment and by far the best paper of the week. they are making the most of this opportunity.

finally, for now, because the prison water is a bit suspect, the administration arranged for us to share bottled water during class. the first 2 weeks we had a couple of gallon jugs waiting for us; this week, there were 31 individual bottles along with a note saying that i needed to make sure we got back all 31 bottles before anyone left. apparently, they can be used to make “pruno” in the cells, so the administation wanted to make sure none of our inside students left with contraband.

in our closing circle, one of the men made the week’s most memorable statement when he said: “i knew about bottled water, but i’ve been in since 1983 and this is my first ever bottle of water.”

small privileges and a lot to think about. wednesdays have become nearly all of the oregon inside-outers’ favorite night. i’ll say it again: i can’t wait for next week!

we had our first full-class meeting inside the oregon state penitentiary on wednesday night. i didn’t try to cover too much in terms of content; instead, i tried to set the tone and create a comfortable space for all of the students who will share these 10 weeks together. in separate meetings on monday and tuesday, i had asked both the outside (OSU) and the inside (OSP) students to do a little self-assessment and write a page or two for me detailing how they were feeling and what they were thinking going into the first combined class session. many of my inside students are not used to writing much, so they were teasing me already, joking that: “she thinks 2 pages is short.” i emphasized that thoughtfulness was more important than length and left it at that.

their essays were, in fact, thoughtful and interesting and i’ve promised to return them to their writers before our last class so they can compare their early ideas to their thoughts after the course. in general, most of the outside students had never been in a prison and didn’t quite know what to expect — their images of prisons and inmates came mostly from the media, so they were nervous and excited to get a reality check. my inside students were also excited and eager for the opportunity to interact with people from the outside world. some were also anxious that after serving a number of years in prison, they may have forgotton how to communicate with “free” people.

while i was able to select my 15 inside students and 15 outside students from motivated pools of potential classmates, i had no control over the correctional officer we would be working with. i cannot express how grateful i am to have the good fortune to work with a patient and friendly officer for these 10 weeks. the OSU students and i met at the penitentiary at 5:30 and our officer spent the next half hour going over IDs, taking us all through the metal detectors, sign-ins, and many locked gates up to the education hall. once there, she showed us to our classroom and then, while clearly nearby if/when we needed her, she left us alone. at the end of our course, she patiently led us out.

so how did the class itself go? we had 30 chairs in a circle. the outside students and i arrived first, so i asked them to sit in every other chair. as our inside students filtered in from their various cell blocks, they took a seat and made small talk while we waited for all to arrive. we got started a bit late, because several of our inside students were sent back to their cells to put on their more formal shirts for the occasion — something we had not anticipated. i guess next time we’ll know. once everyone had arrived, we put on nametags and then spent about an hour on an icebreaker where every inside student spent 2-3 minutes talking to every outside student. the noise was incredible (as i can attest since i was responsible for interrupting them and getting them moving) and it proved a very effective way for the students to all meet each other. even those of us who hate icebreakers, had to admit this one really worked.

after that, we took a break and shared some water — something we had to get special permission to do. the small talk continued throughout the break and then i asked everyone to get back in their every-other-inside-outside circle and together we came up with guidelines for the class. one of our guidelines/rules is that we can talk about the course as long as we protect the confidentiality of the participants. i’m taking that as the rule for this blog, too. i’ll share the basics without identifying specifics.

finally, from the inside-out curriculum, i wrote a quote by dostoyevsky on a whiteboard and asked them to get into small groups to discuss it. the quote is: “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” each group discussed what they thought it meant or what it made them think of and then i brought the class back together for a full-group discussion. the students had a lot to say and it took us to the end of the class when the inside students had to go back for counts.

i thought it was a successful first class because we had created a comfort zone in which to share ideas and perspectives and i think everyone is looking forward to the next nine weeks. the feedback that i am getting from my outside (OSU) students is that they are surprised at how much they have in common with the inside students. OSP administrators told me that they had heard nothing but wonderful comments from the inside students about the first class. while some mentioned they were nervous at first, one said it was the best experience he has had since coming to prison, “it was a positive ray of light.”

now that we have the first class out of the way, i can breathe a little easier. we’ll hit the academic content very seriously over the next eight weeks (and then have a big graduation/celebration/chance to say goodbye in our last class). i’m thrilled to hear that some of my inside students have already asked permission to get together to form small study groups–they are definitely going to make the most of this opportunity.

i can’t wait for next week’s class!

after nearly a year and a half of training, planning, and negotiating with administrators from the oregon department of corrections, i’m teaching my first inside-out course in the oregon state penitentiary this quarter. the inside-out program brings university students inside prisons to study for a quarter or semester with inmates — it’s a true collaborative learning experience to help to “break down the walls” between the inside students and the outside students.

my course is a special topics course on “crime, Justice, and public policy” and will include 12 senior-level undergraduates and 3 graduate students from oregon state university. with very little advertising, i had nearly 40 students who were interested in taking the class and i had to make difficult decisions to choose only 15. assuming all goes well, i am planning to repeat the course in summer, and i have 15 students waiting to take it then.

i also had to choose 15 inside students. after advertising the class in the prison, there were 36 men who were interested and met the eligibilty requirements (including have to spend their scarce resources to buy the text books used in the course). i met with them all in two large sessions, talked about the class, answered their questions, and had them write short answers about why they wanted to take the class, what they hoped to get from it, etc. again, after choosing 15 for next quarter, i have nearly 15 more planning to take the course in the summer. the 15 inside students have varied circumstances: 6 are serving life sentences, two have release dates in 2008, and the rest fall somewhere in between. at least one of the inside students has served more than 20 years. another was a first-time offender incarcerated at 17, so prison is most of what he knows about the world. one common feature these men share is that they are all so excited for this opportunity, so anxious to learn, and eager to try to improve themselves.

this will be a fascinating quarter. our first class meets on january 10th, although i ‘ve got two big training sessions for the department of corrections and the penitentiary between now and then. the set-up has taken an incredible amount of time, but i’ve had incredible support from both oregon state university and the oregon state penitentiary. we’ll be the first inside out class in a men’s prison (and, in fact, the only maximum-security prison in the state) on the west coast, so i do feel a lot of pressure to make sure it goes well.

in a way, this post is a good match for chris’s last post on soc of deviance in the real world. while he was able to reflect on what his students took from his deviance course to use in their lives outside of the classroom, i’m anticipating all of the life experiences that my varied group of students will bring into my course. i suspect i’ll learn at least as much as they do.

because this feels like an important form of public criminology, i’ll try to post updates on the blog for anyone who is interested. comments, suggestions, and feedback are all welcome!