Connect with YPEI
Founded in 2016, the Yale Prison Education Initiative (YPEI), a signature program of Dwight Hall, has spent four years offering Yale courses and programming to students incarcerated in Connecticut prisons. This year, YPEI is expanding its program to offer credit-bearing Yale and University of New Haven courses to incarcerated women at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. According to Founding Director Zelda Roland ’08, ’16 Ph.D., this expansion has been a years-long process. “Even as early as 2018 or 2019…we were contacted by someone at the federal prison in Danbury, who just cold-called us and said, ‘We really need something like what you’re offering,’” recalled Zelda. While YPEI did not have the resources to create a Danbury program at the time, by 2021 it was seriously considering a new program, and in October 2022 YPEI officially began classes at the Danbury site.
Rare among prison education programs, YPEI aims to bring a liberal arts education to students in prison. Its classes, which are taught by Yale and University of New Haven faculty and aim to replicate the classes taught at those institutions, cover a vast array of subjects, from math to creative writing to Ethnicity, Race, and Migration. Through a partnership with the University of New Haven, students are matriculated in a University of New Haven Associate of Arts degree and graduates have the opportunity to enroll in a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. Ultimately, the goal is to combine what faculty want to teach and what students want to learn.
The impact of these classes extends far beyond the students enrolled in the class. Zelda described how students will share what they have learned in class with others in the facility, creating reading groups, and transforming the culture of the prison. Furthermore, students share their discoveries with friends and family outside the facility.
In summer 2022, Tracy Westmoreland joined Zelda and Assistant Director Vanessa Estimé UNH ’14 on the YPEI staff. Tracy, the Site Director at Danbury, described how one new student at Danbury was motivated to apply in part by her daughter. “[The student] said that they’re looking forward to doing college level math homework with their daughter. If she can’t figure something out, she’ll consult with her, and they’re going to support each other.” Tracy also expressed immense hope for the future of the program. “That’s just the beginning of some of the good stories you’re going to hear,” he said.
Indeed, the work of the Danbury program is only just beginning. On October 17th, the Danbury site held orientation for its selected students. The students were not informed of their acceptance into the program until they arrived, and Tracy described the elation that filled the room when they realized why they had been called. “I’m just really happy to help these students get on their way, get their degrees, and rebuild their lives,” he said.
Classes at the facility began on October 19th. To find out more and learn how to support YPEI, its website is https://www.yaleprisoneducationinitiative.org/. You may make a direct contribution to YPEI at this link.