Luckily, most of us have never experienced the U.S. prison system, where conditions and opportunities for reform are bleak. We are a “first” world nation with 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.
Georgetown Professor Marc Howard voluntarily teaches inmates at Jessup maximum-security prison in Maryland. When I first met him, he told me that his incarcerated students, who were taking the same class as his Georgetown students, were every bit as dedicated, thoughtful, and excited to learn.
Like many people trying to reform the system, Professor Howard has had his own experience with the prison system. While he was in high school one of his classmates was wrongly convicted of killing his parents after police extracted a false confession from the 17-year-old by telling him that his father woke up from a comma (he was actually already brain dead) and told them that his son had committed the crime. The despondent boy, who trusted and loved his father, started to wonder if he might have somehow unknowingly done it. This particular police department, which had a 94% confession rate, put the boy away for 50 years. Fourteen years later Howard and others were able to exonerate him after the real killer was found.
Last semester Professor Howard decided to bring his Georgetown class to Jessup prison and have them both work together on a project on prison reform. Here is their story