Recently, I attended a talk entitled “Concrete Mama: Revisited.” The impetus for this talk was the publication of a second edition of the book Concrete Mama: Prison Profiles from Walla Walla. This book was first published in 1981 and was remarkable in that it depicted a very intimate of prison life within the Washington State Penitentiary at time when the prison was undergoing a period of radical change. Over the course of the talk, a panel of speakers, including the author of the book, answered questions about the penitentiary and shared their knowledge about different aspects of the incarceration system. The talk was well attended by students and professors, as well as community members who were interested in the subject or had some connection to the penitentiary, and it was really neat to see all these different groups of people all brought together in one room to discuss a subject that they cared about and were interested in. For me, this talk also built on a lot of the subjects that I have been interested in and exploring since I started attending Whitman last year.
Last spring, I went on a Spring Break Engagement Trip, a sort of alternate spring break program that is run through Whitman’s Student Engagement Center. These trips are held each year, and focus on some sort of issue, especially if it pertains to Walla Walla and the surrounding region. The trip that I went on last year was centered on incarceration, a very relevant topic for our community, as Walla Walla is home to the Washington State Penitentiary, the second largest prison in Washington. During this trip, we visited several different detention facilities,including the Penitentiary, and also met with local community organizations that also dealt, in some way, with incarcerated individuals. I learned so much on this trip, especially about how much incarceration affects not just incarcerated individuals, but their families and communities.
After going on the Engagement Trip, I wanted to learn more. Last fall, I took a sociology class called Crime and Delinquency. It was definitely one of my favorite classes I have taken at Whitman. We spent time looking at a variety at crime from a variety of different angles and tackled a variety of different issues, such mass incarceration, gun violence, and different drug crises. We also spent time dispelling different “myths” about crime. One of my favorite books that we read had an entire chapter dealing with different misconceptions about crime and the way that crime takes place. While I am a sociology major and might be biased on the subject of sociology classes, I would definitely recommend taking this class if you are able.
After what I have learned over the course of my time at Whitman, attending this talk was an opportunity to tie all these things that I was learning together, as well as an opportunity to think about this issue from a variety of angles, from those who enforce policy at the prison to actually former offenders themselves, as well as community members who worked for local organizations that interfaced in some way with the criminal justice system. Whitman does a wonderful job of bringing different speakers to campus and putting on an abundance of talks on numerous subjects each semester. As a student, it is so wonderful to have access to these resources and to expand my knowledge while hearing from people who are passionate about their subject, whatever field they are in. I highly recommend taking the time to go to one of these events every once in a while. They are well worth your time!