OHIO — Making an impact beyond the campus of Ohio State University is at the forefront as professors and staff work to expand prison education.

The efforts are a part of the university’s Ohio Prison Education Exchange Project where the incarcerated can take part in courses offered by the university regardless of whether they are getting out or behind bars for life.

What You Need To Know

  • OSU professors note OPEEP is a way to connect the campus to the community

  • The goal of the program is to create a society in which prisons are unnecessary

  • One professor hopes that by engaging in higher education in prison, they’ll be able to reach those in underserved communities

  • OPEEP is launching a bachelor's degree program, in the fall of this year at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Women's Gender and Sexuality studies

“We’re really trying to shift the culture at OSU to ensure that OSU is more welcoming in terms of employment and educational opportunities for justice-involved individuals,” said Dr. Tiyi Morris, co-director of the program.

Classes have become an inspiration for many, including those at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Lynn Smith has been in prison for 21 years. She said since professors don’t make it easy for them with assignments or grading, she’s grateful because it’s helped her and her peers take pride in their work. 

“By far is the most challenging, inspirational and educational program that I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “They hold us accountable on every aspect of everything, and they take the time to make sure we know and are learning the correct curriculum.”

It’s the curriculum this time around that Smith said has helped her to become a better activist and to think further about how she can be a part of solutions and change. 

“I’m a lifer here at ORW and this has changed me to where I am grateful,” said Ariana Cannon. “When I wake up every day, it doesn’t matter where I spend the rest of my life. I have a purpose.”

That purpose includes empowering other people through the art of creation. One way she’s doing that is by developing workshop material to help teach OSU professors best practices for prison education. Ready to pour into other people, Cannon is excited about being able to make an impact in a way she hadn’t fully imagined. 

“The primary goal through OPEEP is to create a society in which prisons are not necessary, for people to create a more just and equitable society as the pathway to again, establishing a society where everybody has what they need, where criminal behavior doesn’t become a pathway to being able to survive, where mental health issues and a drug addiction issues can be addressed in non-punitive measures,” Morris said.