Participants of Rhodes College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program Graduate

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In September 2019, Rhodes College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program began its first for-credit classes—a four-course, 12-credit sequence called Culture and Values—with inmates of the Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center (WTRC), a 1,200-bed facility operated by the Tennessee Department of Correction in Henning, TN. In May, five participants—Denice Smith, LaTanya Townsend, Stephanie McCarley, Laura Jones, and Kimberly Dockery—received an Undergraduate Certificate in Liberal Arts from Rhodes at a graduation ceremony held at WTRC.

“The Liberal Arts in Prison program introduces students to a world of texts, ideas and conversations that vastly expands their intellectual horizons, helping them to imagine a different future,” says Dr. Stephen Haynes, professor of religious studies and director of the Rhodes program. “If our students decide to pursue a college degree upon release, the Certificate in Liberal Arts provides an unsurpassed academic foundation on which to build.”

The Liberal Arts in Prison Program started in 2016 when Haynes and seven other Rhodes faculty members led book discussions for inmates at the WTRC. Haynes organized the discussions into a 14-week course called the Great Books Reading Group, which was modeled after Rhodes’ Search for Values in the Light of Western History and Religion curriculum.

Women in the for-credit Culture & Values program must have a high school diploma or GED and a clean disciplinary record. Applicants write an admissions essay and are interviewed by a committee of Rhodes faculty, staff, and students. 

Texts studied in the Culture & Values program include The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Iliad, the Hebrew Bible, Herodotus’s Histories, the plays of Euripides, the dialogues of Plato, the treatises of Seneca, Virgil’s Aeneid, the New Testament, Augustine’s Confessions, the Qur’an, The Rule of St. Benedict, Dante’s Inferno, Machiavelli’s The Prince, the philosophy of Francis Bacon, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, A Slave, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism Is a Humanism, Elie Wiesel’s Night and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Since the beginning of the Culture and Values program, Rhodes English major Madison Zickgraf ’21 served as student director, dealing with a host of logistical challenges that required a huge time commitment. Zickgraf plans to continue working in prison education.