My first experience entering into a correctional facility was an awakening to even greater interest in studying corrections as a scholarly discipline. This experience was a primary reason that eventually led me to pursue this interest as a doctoral student, and finally an educator and academic. I hope to create pathways such as this so that my students will have similar experiences and opportunities for them to discover their own interests and passions. Essentially, these understandings are what can generate directions in regard to their career choices. For those students interested in careers pertaining to corrections, exposing them to the operations of a correctional institution and the lives of incarcerated populations is essential to their expectations and preparation.
On October 10, 2014 I took a small group of students to tour Lowell Correctional Institution, a women’s prison located in Ocala, FL. Lowell CI is the oldest facility for women in the state of Florida. Once an institution for wayward girls, it now houses women convicted of the most heinous crimes committed against society. Lowell CI operates the only state boot camp program for female youthful offenders, provides separate housing units for pregnant inmates, and houses Florida’s death row for female inmates.
The Florida Department of Corrections currently houses five death row female inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution. As we toured the unit housing these women, we walked by the cells of those condemned women. Unaware of our presence, we peered into their cells and caught a glimpse of their confined lives. At that moment I wondered what the students were thinking about this unique experience. For me, for a brief moment, I tried to comprehend the finality of the sentences.
Students engaged in conversation with some of the women housed in the honors dorms who were participating in the “W.O.O.F.” (Women Offering Obedience & Friendship) program. Participation in this program offers the inmates an opportunity to give back to the community by training shelter dogs the basic skills needed for socialization and obedience that would make them eligible for adoption as family pets. I felt the interaction gained at this stop on the tour was a priceless learning opportunity that could not be experienced in the classroom. I had hoped that the students could view these inmates as women taking steps to give back to the community and showing signs of remorse for their past crimes.
American corrections and punishment has long been conducted primarily behind closed walls. Opening correctional facilities for tours creates transparency between the community and the department of corrections. This practice certainly opens opportunities for the education of our future correctional staff, administrators, and academics.
Lisa M. Carter, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Criminology
Florida Southern College