The Non-Traditional Classroom: Where Education & Criminal Justice Reform Intersect

By Mansi Shah (pictured left, ’20, SAS/HC/DRC)
Mansi ('20, SAS/HC) with her Honors College friends

Unlike the cloudy skies that welcomed me into the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women that first February morning, my experiences tutoring incarcerated women have been crystal clear. I was an eager freshman at the start, inspired by the opportunity to learn from those facing different challenges than my own. My first time tutoring at New Jersey’s only female prison took me by surprise. I passed by a woodworking class, a library, and even a gymnasium - reminding me much of my own high school in Paramus, New Jersey. I was led into a classroom, where I would meet my students. I noticed bright posters along the walls that read, “Attend Today. Achieve Tomorrow” and “What Will You Do to Make Today Great?” Reading the banners, I sensed that the posters would only go as far as the resources and support systems available to the individuals reading them. I thought about the differences in upbringings, and how my role as a tutor allows two divergent paths to briefly converge. Like the women in that prison classroom, there are other individuals whose voices are not heard. Checking one specific box on a job or housing application has wrongfully come to define them.

Since my freshman year at Rutgers, I have been a tutor with the Petey Greene Program, an organization that advocates for access to quality education services for incarcerated people. Among other things, the Petey Greene Program helps supplement already existing educational services in prisons and jails. Whether it’s helping a student understand a math concept or develop writing skills, I’ve come to realize just how important the interaction can be.

Tutoring at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility has added a new dimension to my dreams of becoming a physician. My passion for healthcare equity has informed my work in correctional medicine, a field that addresses the healthcare needs of incarcerated individuals. Above all, I have learned to brush aside any preconceptions I may have of the individuals I work with. Like their dreams, their stories are unique. From the Honors College and beyond, I look forward to seeing how my classroom will transform over the years - and how the lessons learned will grow along the way.

Also in the photo are Aasha (center, ’20, SAS/HC/DRC) and Peter (’19, SAS/HC)

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