Frank Campanell feels at home in prison.
He grew up on a horse farm in rural Maryland and had never entered a prison prior to enrolling in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, a criminal justice course through the College of Liberal Arts, when he was 22 years old.
“For some reason, I felt like I belonged in that space, and I didn’t really feel like I belonged in many spaces,” Campanell, now 29, said of being in prison.
Campanell said his involvement with the Inside-Out program, which places undergraduates in a class with inmates, altered the course of his career and his life. After the program, Campanell switched his major from biochemistry to criminal justice and devoted his efforts to helping incarcerated youth and adults.
“The experience, as a whole, fundamentally changed the way I saw myself in relation to the world,” said Campanell, who is now a program associate at Inside-Out. “In every way, shape, or form – it really changed me.”
The Inside-Out program, which was founded at Temple and has been modeled around the world, is a semester-long course in which half the class is made up of college students and inmates.
Students travel to the prison for a seminar class once a week. There are no tests – students write papers and collaborate for a group project toward the end of the semester.
Campanell said his interaction with the inmates in the class shattered the common perceptions the public has of prisoners.
“Some of the people were the smartest, most eloquent, educated people I ever met in my life,” Campanell said. “People were authentic in a way most people outside of prison are not.”
Jonathan McIntyre was one of the incarcerated students Campanell connected with at Graterford Prison. McIntyre was serving a 12-year term for attempted murder, assault and firearms and narcotic trafficking.
“He wasn’t scared to say what was on his mind,” McIntyre said of Campanell. “He was genuine.”
The two connected intellectually, McIntyre said, and worked together on the final group project. Since being released in 2011, McIntyre has been pursuing a degree in sociology at Temple.
Both McIntyre and Campanell said they believe inmates are often dehumanized. McIntyre said during his stay, the prison staff did not view the prisoners as people, but as objects, while Campanell said he believes the public also plays a role in dehumanizing the incarcerated.
Campanell said he often thinks of an exercise created by his instructor, Lori Pompa, the director of Inside-Out. Pompa wanted students to “imagine being defined by the worst thing you ever did in your life – that’s how prisoners feel.”
“It’s wrong, on every level, to judge somebody by something you think they did, by one moment in time,” Campanell said.
Campanell said his time at Graterford made him think about the importance of “language and labeling” and how they affect prisoners.
“One of the biggest things is labeling [someone as a prisoner] and having the stigma associated with those labels,” Campanell said. “After those physical bars and shackles are released from you, you have figurative ones that you have to battle.”
In addition to his role at the Inside-Out Center, Campanell works as a family resource specialist at JusticeWorks YouthCare in King of Prussia, where he helps youth in the juvenile and prison systems to stay out of trouble.
However, Campanell said he believes that simply preventing recidivism sets the bar too low.
“I think most people judge success in this country for anybody getting out of prison to just not reoffend,” Campanell said. “I think that’s stifling because that dismisses the opportunity to have anything else for the rest of your life.”
Like Campanell, Cynthia Zuidema’s interest in helping prisoners also began at Inside-Out. Before signing up for the program, Zuidema said she had no knowledge of the criminal justice system and lived what she calls a “sheltered lifestyle.”
“I learned about prison by being inside one,” she said.
Zuidema is now working as the Reentry Coordinator for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She helps incarcerated individuals reintegrate into society after being released.
“[Inside-Out] changed my career path,” Zuidema said. “It was life-changing.”
Zuidema said prisoners face a plethora of issues when they leave jail, like healthcare, family issues, employment, education and mental health.
“It’s everything we take for granted,” she said.
Zuidema, who worked for Inside-Out for four-and-a-half years before landing her current job, called Campanell “extremely driven” and said he “pours himself into his work.”
Ultimately, in Campanell’s mind, Inside-Out is about bringing people –sometimes very different people – together.
“We’re not here to help anybody,” Campanell said. “We’re not here to teach. We’re not here to do charity. We’re not here to change the system. We’re here to work with people and to educate and humanize individuals.”
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org