“In 2017, I saw an announcement in the pre-med newsletter that the Prison Education Project was starting and they needed volunteers. My mom is a school teacher, so education is pretty important in my family, and I thought it’d be a good thing to get involved in.
I’ve had experiences prior to joining the program with previously incarcerated people, and you wouldn’t know most of them were in prison if you didn’t know them on a personal level.
I feel like some people aren’t OK with providing a free service to incarcerated people because they think they don’t deserve it, but that’s just not the best way to think about it, in my opinion.
Humans crave intellectual stimulation and the students we work with in the prisons don’t always get that elsewhere. We have a pretty wide range of students, which creates a pretty cool classroom environment. You have people around my age on up to senior citizens. Some people are from Utah, some not, and many are military veterans. For me, facilitating their access to knowledge is the most rewarding.
We’re currently working with about 12 students in the men’s facility and another 12 in the women’s. We definitely want to see more students participate, but many have their own unique barriers that make accessing postsecondary education difficult. Contrary to what many people believe, our incarcerated students are busy. Sometimes students will take a break for a semester because they’re also working a full-time job, volunteer by teaching other incarcerated people English—among other things—so, making their own education a priority is often difficult.
Volunteering in this setting and with these students isn’t for everyone and that’s just fine. It’s hard to step out of our comfort zone sometimes. But if someone has the time and can set aside their preconceived notions to do this work, why not? I keep participating in the program and going to the facilities because of the relationships I’ve built with the students. I find it really rewarding.”
—Grayson Hull, volunteer, University of Utah Prison Education Project, psychology and anthropology major with a health emphasis, will graduate in 2020