Skip to main content


A Liberal Arts Education in Prison

Public Humanities, Justice-in-Education

September 27, 2016

"Isaac Scott, a student at the School of General Studies, grew up 10 blocks away from Columbia, on West 104th Street. As a child, he would walk by the Morningside campus with his mother regularly, “either going up Broadway or coming down Amsterdam.” Even so, he never actually passed through Columbia’s (imposing, but generally open) gates or walked down College Walk. He was well into adulthood when he visited campus for the first time, with nearly eight years as an inmate in the New York State prison system behind him.

Before his acceptance into General Studies this year, Scott was a student in the Justice-in-Education Initiative, a collaboration between the Center for Justice and the Heyman Center for the Humanities, along with the Media and Idea Lab of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, that provides classes taught by Columbia instructors to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. The courses for incarcerated students are taught in the Taconic and Sing Sing correctional facilities.

A humanities seminar for former prisoners brought Scott to Hamilton Hall in the summer of 2015, where Columbia professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta and doctoral candidate Emily Hainze taught Othello and the Odyssey, among other texts. This was the first Justice-in-Education class for formerly incarcerated students."