Behind the closed and locked doors of the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (ERDCC) in Bonne Terre, Missouri, is the Saint Louis University Prison Program. This is a unique prison education program in that it is Jesuit inspired and not only provides degree programs to incarcerated prisoners, nut also to employees and staff of ERDCC.
Founded in 2008, the Saint Louis University Prison Program began by offering certification in Theological Studies to a mere 15 male prisoners incarcerated at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center. The first class graduated in 2010. And even during these difficult and tumultuous economic times, a grant from the Hearst Foundation in 2010 enabled the Saint Louis University Prison Program to offer an Associate of Arts Degree to both prisoners and prison staff. This is a very generous and heart-felt grant.
"I quickly realized this was less about how I could benefit personally, and more about what I could do with the education I’m receiving and how I could help others to help themselves….What if we, the bottom rung of society, could have a positive effect, not only on other prisoners, but on the very society we have been removed from?" – Incarcerated Student in the SLU Prison Program
The philosophy behind awarding AA degrees to prisoners is to help prisoners improve basic reading and writing skills, social skills, to be able to think critically about their future and in general be able to reenter society with positive attitudes and skills to help them incorporate into civilian society. And adding to this, offering AA degrees to prison staff can help them advance their carrears, and to also understand the powerful impact that prison education has on reducing recidivism.
In addition to the Associate of Arts Degree program offered at Saint Louis University Prison Program, is the Arts & Education Program which consists of four primary components.
1.) Inside Out Speaker Series: this is a series of talks, presentations, readings and programs presented by Saint Louis University staff, students and volunteers. Included are theatrical performances, poetry readings and discussions of Theological matter.
2.) Video-in-Prison Project: this is a great part of the program. Educational material is facilitated by student volunteers from the main campus of Saint Louis University and is then rebroadcast on the prison's closed-circuit television station. This material is then made available to the entire prison population.
3.) The Prison Arts Project: brings performance and studio and other styles of art programming to the inmates of Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center.
4.) The Beautiful Prison: is an annual book or colloquium that encompasses the works of incarcerated prisoners on their transformation through the program. These works are then offered in a beautifully bound edited collection.
The Saint Louis University Prison Program is funded by generous contributions, gifts and grants from private donors and are tax deductible. For more information, please read further here.