Only Connect: The Growth of Relationship when Prisoners and College Students Study Together


  • Dr. Eleanor Novek Monmouth University



This essay describes a class in a maximum-security prison that brought civilian college students and incarcerated learners together. The authors, one a professor of communication and one a sociologist, team-taught the class as a cross-disciplinary and cross-community partnership, designed to promote greater understanding between prisons and higher education communities. Students explored the two faces of education in the U.S.: on one hand, as a public good that spreads knowledge and opens doors to social mobility, and on the other, as an institution that reproduces social inequalities (such as the school-to-prison pipeline). The professors anticipated that these encounters would spark critical consciousness and a desire to work for social justice. However, the most salient part of the experience for both groups of learners turned out to be the affirmation their own humanity and the humanity of others through interactions that built a sense of community and caring.

Author Biography

Dr. Eleanor Novek, Monmouth University

Eleanor Novek is Professor Emerita of Communication at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ. She has volunteered in prisons since 2001 and is state coordinator for the Alternatives to Violence Project, a nonprofit organization that offers workshops on conflict transformation in prisons and community settings.