Author Archive for Lily Hodges

What I Can Do Over a Summer

This summer I hope to get approval from Solano Community College (SCC) and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), either through the Voluntary Education Program or the Office of Community Partnerships, to administer study hall and writing and math workshops for students in California State Prison, Solano. Both SCC and the CDCR have bureaucratic hurdles I need to clear, which is proving slower and more arduous that I had imagined. This says more about my aspirations than the bureaucracy itself— the dreamer who applied for the Mellon Public Scholars now has two feet firmly on the ground.

Though I had hoped to start either the study hall or the writing and math workshops early this summer, I see now that they will more realistically start at the beginning of SCC’s fall semester, in August. My goal is to prepare thoroughly for this possibility while keep two fingers crossed for a summer start.

Should I be unable to start an educational program in prison this summer, I can work to create a space on campus for students who were formerly incarcerated. I would model these after UC Berkeley’s Underground Scholars and San Francisco State University’s Project Rebound. I would also want to extend the “ban the box” movement to Davis’ campus. I believe UC Davis could do more for students coming out of prisons and jails who want to continue their education.

If I am unable to start a program, I will also have the time to help the Essie Justice Group draft a policy report on the effects of mass incarceration on women with an incarcerated loved one. I have committed to this project but would be able to spend more quality time on it if I am unable to start the prison program.

This is all to say, I’m hoping for the best but planning for bureaucracies to stand in the way. It’s possible that after my attempts contact and persuade the CDCR and SCC I might just ultimately receive a big fat NO to the project. I will continue with my original goals, but should they become unreachable, I will switch courses.

Some Thoughts on Fiction

We live in a world full of fiction. That is, at least, according to a reporter named Walter Lippmann writing in the 1920s. He coined the term “pseudo-environment” to describe a kind of fiction that people use every day to navigate the nuances of life. The reduced version I’m going with: The stories we tell ourselves make a complex world easier to digest. In seminar, we touched briefly on how the word “fiction” can hold negative connotations when applied to real lives, a thought I agree with. However, instead of debating Lippmann’s theoretical work as a white man of means a century ago, and for the sake of this blog post, I considered the kinds of publics I encounter with my work and how I cross paths with their fictions.

Some folks want to believe that hard work and individual responsibility is the way to social advancement for themselves and their kids. For this public, free education, health care and services for inmates disturbs their fiction.

Some folks want to believe that people who commit crimes are scary, evil or worthless. For this public, treating inmates humanely disturbs their fiction.

Some folks want to believe that Lady Justice wears a blindfold. For this public, interaction with the legal system disturbs their fiction.

Some folks want to believe an education is the way towards a better life, but without the means to pay for it, find themselves working for a job that only requires a GED, such as a correctional officer. For this public, free education for inmates disturbs their fiction.

Some folks want to believe that people who commit crimes are in need of rehabilitation. For this public, a society without prisons disturbs their fiction.

These are just some examples I came up with while thinking of the publics I encounter by engaging the prison industrial complex. They include conservatives and liberal politicians, the mass media, working class folks, rich folks, state government officials, college professors and activists, among others. Through the lens of my Lippmann Lite, each of these publics brings a different perspective on how the world works and where they are situated within in it. Thus, the realm of mass incarceration holds many fictions to navigate.

Why I Am Here: Education Behind Bars

The word “criminal” holds a lot of moral judgment. Only “bad” people get arrested and go to prison, right? Wrong.

Statements like these fail to explain why people of color and poor people are disproportionately represented in prisons in the United States. Those without the privileges of claiming whiteness aren’t disproportionately immoral. Nor are those without the means to hire a lawyer more likely to be guilty. Instead, they are constantly trapped in a cycle beyond their control. I am here as a Mellon Public Scholar because I have made a commitment to serve those who have the most experience with marginalization and the least access to justice. This summer, in pursuit of helping this population, I hope to extend the resources of UC Davis to a prison or jail near campus.

Getting caught breaking a law has little to do with morality, and more to do with power and access. I used to think the law was fair, but have come to believe that it really just works for those with money and connections. Inequalities in the creation and enforcement of laws have unraveled my faith in this country’s system of justice. As an educator, I try to challenge this flawed system by using my time to teach incarcerated students. As a public scholar, I aim to reimagine “criminals” as students who have a different knowledge to be shared, a knowledge that we should all learn from. I don’t want to condemn our poor and our people of color to a life without the option of taking college classes.

The last time I taught a class in San Quentin, my students wrote on an essay either in favor of or against the humanities. The assignment served as a tool to practice writing thesis statements and topic sentences. However, the students’ first question after introducing the assignment sailed over writing style. They were more interested in this: What are the humanities? I still don’t have a clear answer to that question, or to who constitutes the public. They’re questions that are wracking classrooms these days, and often leave me scratching my head.

In spite of this, I have a visceral belief that the public humanities will be a necessary part of solving the United States’ justice problem. After debating those topics for a while in closed classrooms on campus, I turn to practice to dig deeper for the answers and solutions. By extending UC Davis’s resources beyond our campus and into spaces typically excluded from this kind of education, I hope to begin (re)imagining what a public humanities solution to mass incarceration might look like.

I think an important part of our society is being left out of these conversation. Maybe these guys will have the all answers, after all.