UNIVERSITY WITHOUT WALLS
In 2017, PNAP launched University Without Walls (UWW) at Stateville in partnership with Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU). The launch marked the first time a secular, degree-granting program was offered at Stateville in more than 20 years.
UWW is a non-traditional, competency-based degree-completion program that serves adult students who have professional, community, political, and life experiences that have resulted in significant college-level learning. Newly admitted students establish advisory teams made up of a faculty advisor from NEIU and a community advisor with expertise in the students’ area of study and document prior learning, note learning goals, and draft a learning contract. Over the next two years, students take PNAP classes and independent studies and consult closely with advisors to complete their degrees. PNAP Co-Directors of University Curriculum, Tim Barnett and Erica Meiners, Program Manager for Academic Inquiry, Jason LaFountain, and part-time staff members Gabrielle Christiansen, Brock Grenn, and Katherine Shah currently support the students.
The first cohort of seven students graduated in May 2019, marking a milestone in Illinois for the advancement of educational programming behind bars. Student depth areas included Critical Carceral-Legal Studies, Poetic Justice in Black Culture, Transformative Justice, and Resource Development for Non-Profits. The graduation ceremony featured remarks by Angela Davis, Emerita Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Juliana Stratton, Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, and a musical performance by Chance the Rapper. Graduates’ families, PNAP community members, and fellow students joined the graduates to celebrate the occasion. Our second cohort of 5 students graduated in October 2022. The ceremony featured remarks by Fred Moten, Professor in the Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School of the Arts, at New York University, Gina Dent, co-founder of Visualizing Abolition at UC Santa Cruz, and music by Chance. Ten students are now enrolled in the third UWW Stateville cohort.
with depth areas and faculty and community advisors
Robert Curry – Community Building and Black Liberation Psychology
Chris Merchant (NEIU) and Ruth Poor (SAIC)
Benny Rios Donjuan – Conflict Transformation and Transformative Education
Tim Libretti (NEIU) and Xóchitl Guerrero (UIC)
Tylon Hudson – Public Health in Marginalized Communities
Courtney Francis (NEIU) and Sam Chen (UChicago)
Jerel Matthews – Youth Organizing and Social Justice
Erica Meiners (NEIU) and Damon Williams (#LetUsBreathe Collective)
Chester McKinney – Community Healing and Recovery Support
Maurice McFarlin (NEIU) and David Nayak (Strength to Love Foundation)
Miguel Morales – Healing through Art
Adrian Castrejon (NEIU) and Annie Raccuglia (Michael Rakowitz Studio)
Michael Sullivan – Art and Activism
Maurice McFarlin (NEIU) and Sarah Ross (SAIC)
Johnny Taylor – Art and Transformative Justice
Dennis Sagel (NEIU) and Damon Locks (PNAP, etc.)
David Wales – Urban Behavior Developmental Mediation
Noe Mojica (NEIU) and Gina Fedock (UChicago)
Joseph Ward – Journalism and Public Safety
Tim Barnett (NEIU) and Kelly Hayes (Truthout)
For current student bios, see page 2.
Class of ’22
Class of ’19
UWW alumni continue to play an important role in the PNAP/UWW community. Many are active members of PNAP’s Think Tank. They also work as teaching assistants in PNAP courses, mentor current degree students, and are even beginning to teach PNAP classes. Alumni hold community-based internships, as well, with partner organizations. Current internship matches include Joseph Dole with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; Raul Dorado with the National Public Housing Museum; Reginald BoClair with the Visualizing Abolition initiative at UC Santa Cruz; Darnell Lane with the PRAXIS Structural Justice Group at the University of Chicago; and Juan Luna with Organized Communities Against Deportations.
Reginald’s internship with Visualizing Abolition involves the production of a series of Afro-Abolitionist collages. One example from the series appears below.
This section of the UWW webpage highlights recent work by current students and alumni. It includes three projects from Summer 2023.
PNAP’s Little Village Mural was developed in PNAP’s Latinx Art, Latinx History class during Spring semester 2023 at Stateville prison. The course was co-taught by Christina Gómez, Jason LaFountain, and Helen Sanchez-Cortes, with alumnus Juan Luna as teaching assistant. Located in a systems-impacted neighborhood, the mural addresses the liberatory and transformational aims of PNAP’s programming and was realized in community during Summer 2023. Luis Trevino and Helen Sanchez-Cortes were the organizing artists. Inside the prison, Luis, Juan, and current UWW students Benny Rios Donjuan and Miguel Morales made key contributions to the design. On the outside, Helen, Natalie Martinez, Leevon Matthews, Ruth Poor, Yesy Reyes, and Patricia Sepulveda were the lead painters.
Also in Summer 2023, UWW alumnus, Darnell Lane, and University of Chicago medical student, India Hilty, co-facilitated a course called Violence Prevention and Trauma Healing. This was the first PNAP class taught by an inside student. In this consciousness-raising space, they sought to inform and transform individuals and communities by gaining a deeper understanding of trauma and its role as a determinant of violence. The course resulted in a publication that collects work from the students and healers in this class, all of whom are committed to confronting and dismantling ongoing cycles of violence. These creators are transforming the world from inside a space that is desperately trying to rob them of their power, their identity, and their community. It features courageous displays of vulnerability, approaches to healing, brilliant prose, meticulous research, and a vivid reminder of our shared humanity.
Violence Prevention and Trauma Healing Class, Summer 2023
Back row, left to right: Benny Rios DonJuan, Samuel R. Karim, Mr. Rodney Anderson, Daniel Perkins, Professor Darnell Lane, Michael Bell, David D. Wales, Ignacio “Nacho” Alvarez, and Melvin Centeno Colón.
Front row, left to right: Joseph Ward, Antwon Tyler, Zeeshan N. Rashid, Mark Downs, Jose Ramos, Jerel Matthews, and India Hilty. (Photo by Karl Soderstrom)
Not pictured: Antonio “TK” Kendrick and Johnny Taylor
Below appears an artwork by alumnus Joe Dole from PNAP’s summer course, The Artist Constitution, taught by Damon Locks. We featured this image on the free poster for our Winter 2023 fundraiser. Joe’s work addresses the reciprocal character of liberation and the critical role of art in visualizing a better world.