Inside Literature is a 501(с)(3) non-profit corporation and community-based learning program in Austin, Texas. We provide university-level instruction to inmates in pre-trial facilities at zero cost to taxpayers. We offer 6-week literature courses led by instructors with advanced degrees in related fields.
We foster community ties, critical engagement, and personal growth through the collective study of literature with incarcerated persons.
We believe that providing the most educationally underserved members of our community with an opportunity to read and discuss great literature benefits our students and instructors, as well as corrections and law enforcement officers and the wider community.
We use Community-Based Learning, a teaching approach distinguished by an emphasis on reflection as well as collaboration and reciprocity among community members. Community-Based Learning programs enrich students’ academic experience and encourage civic engagement while confronting community challenges and supporting community interests.
Inside Literature reminds people that they belong to a community by creating those ties through literature as a common ground. Literature allows students a mediated approach to sensitive topics like identity, race, employment, etc. and promotes community ties when read and discussed together.
“While I was participating in the program, my friends often asked me with a sense of awe and admiration, “are you not scared?” They rarely asked me, “what book are you teaching?” or “what did you discuss today?” I was teaching the Russian novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and I had many memorable and interesting class discussions to share. However, the question on everyone's mind was how I was handling my fear. I think this question is the most asked question in any community service, charity, or philanthropic endeavor that pushes people to go beyond the comfortability of their own insular environment.
In our current political climate where religion is often associated with a rhetoric of fear, it was important for my personal faith to go back to the original Hebrew meaning of justice. That's what I thought teaching We in the Travis County Correctional Complex was, it was definitely not “charity” in the strictest sense; it was for me, restoring the right kind of relationship between people; a relationship between a teacher and a student which was not predicated on our social status. My students worked with me diligently and together we deepened our understanding of the novel. Whenever I was passionately discussing We with my students, I often thought to myself this is exactly what education should look like. The amusing thing is never did I expect to feel this way at a correctional complex.” - Chienyn Chi, Program in Comparative Literature, UT Austin