“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
“I want to thank you all for taking the time / To not stereotype us in spite of our life of crime / It really means a lot for y’all to treat us so good / I’d give everyone of y’all a substantial raise if I could / We’re often forgotten and most people don’t even care / That’s why I’m so appreciative of how y’all treat us so fair / For the first time in decades I’m positively utilizing my brain / It’s actually thawing out from years of addiction and pain / I feel like someone cares for the first time in many years / All y’all’s care and concern really brings me to tears / Y’all give me incentive to make something out of my life /And not let my past continue to cause me any strife / I feel like a student, I love all of y’alls classes / Even though for me to read, I need 2 pairs of glasses / Each class I attend, it brings a big smile to my face / Y’all’s classes are the best thing that happens in this place / All of y’all are determined, and also super smart / But y’all being non judgmental is what sets y’all apart / Y’all are literally a gift from the good Lord above / We are truly blessed, the way y’all show us love / Ms. Kaitlin you are awesome, we really appreciate you caring / To us it is priceless, the time you and your crew are sharing /So thank y’all again, and I wish you all the very best / Y’all are the reason that UT is a cut above all the rest”
“I ask my RWL students why they chose to take my class, and the answers are as diverse as the students: “I got to get out of my cell,” one says, as I expected. But another admits, “I’ve been in here for a long time, and I spend a lot of time in my head. I thought this would be a good way to get out.” Others want a better knowledge of literary history, a better grounding in the classics. One craves escapism. Another wants to recreate some of the habits he developed while earning his Masters in Library Science. A few of them want to improve their literacy, so that they can better understand their court cases. Their reasons for choosing my class range, but they drink the text like cold water, like the Guinness they miss so much.” -Aubrey Plourde, Department of English, UT Austin
“I looked forward to each class with great anticipation. I have a great interest in Russian history as well as the current state of the country. I have no exposure to Russian literature so I was a bit skeptical at first on whether it would pique my interest. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was fascinating. I am anxiously awaiting the next class. I am looking forward to it with great anticipation. Thank you so much for the opportunity to expand my horizons.”