Foundations in the Humanities Prison Correspondence Program

Foundations in the Humanities Envelope

The IHC is accepting applications for 2024-25 graduate instructors to teach in the Foundations in the Humanities program. Learn more and apply!

Read The Current‘s May 2023 coverage of Foundations’ CDCR grant here.
The Current article about Foundations in the Humanities here.
Watch a video on teaching in the program here.

Foundations in the Humanities, offered by the UC Santa Barbara’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC), is a program of correspondence courses in literary studies available to people throughout the California prison system, regardless of their level of education. Foundations was developed in the belief that access to higher education is a basic human right to which every person is entitled. It was launched in 2016, in partnership with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’s restorative justice program Partnership for Re-Entry Program (PREP). 

The program offers three courses: “Foundations I: Introduction to Literary Studies,” “Foundations II: Selected Works of American Literature,” and “Foundations III: Studies in the Novel.” All courses are composed of six modules that each contain a short reading and an accompanying worksheet with 4-6 essay questions. Each reading presents situations in which fictional characters confront and respond to significant life situations and challenges of universal relevance. Reading and responding to questions about these literary works enables participants to expand their insight into themselves and their society, for the purpose of building better lives in prison and after their release. It takes eight to eleven months to complete one Foundations course.

Foundations participants work with mentors who are advanced graduate students studying literature, history, sociology, philosophy and the arts. The mentors support the mission of the Foundations program to provide an educational opportunity in the humanities for people who are incarcerated in California, and they themselves benefit from the opportunity to develop their teaching skills, by working with participants via the unique correspondence format of the program.

Evaluations of past participants report that the intellectual exchanges with a mentor who provides individualized feedback enables participants to experience themselves as individuals with something of value to contribute to their communities, both within and beyond prison, and that the program has increased their appreciation of perspectives different than their own. Past participants also report that Foundations has catalyzed the creation of new learning communities inside the prison, based upon a shared interest in literature. It has also incentivized some participants to pursue other avenues of higher education. 

The program does not offer college credit. Participants do, however, receive a certificate of completion attesting to the fact that they are actively pursuing a program of self-development.

Foundations Map 2022
California State Prisons with Foundations in the Humanities participants
Foundations in the Humanities Affiliations
The departmental affiliations of the instructors (2016-22) attest to the
interdisciplinary interest in and impact of this program on our campus.
Foundations participants
Total number of participants in Foundations in the Humanities courses


[The course] came at a time when I really needed something to keep me occupied and have something to show for when I got to board. I am a lifer in prison and it is important for me to remain busy in my positive programming. I really enjoyed this course, the short stories and poems were a great read.

What I’ve learned from this experience is that, sometimes, just having an opportunity to express what is on one’s mind is enough to begin the wheels of healing spinning. In this case, it can help a prisoner feel as though he has something of value to contribute beside his criminal past.  Speaking with someone who’s unbiased allowed me to receive an opinion free of the social view of which I am so accustomed. To be viewed from a different view allows me, personally, to see if I’ve realigned myself, once again, with true social values instead of my own selfish ideas of what I think I should be.

In addition to positive feedback, the responses were detailed and inclusive – a collaboration as you put it…I received insightful, well thought-out and developed replies to each of my answers.  I wasn’t expecting that kind of attention.  Thank you for all of the hard work and the inimitable perspective.

The professor’s feedback also empowers you because you get a feeling that they want you to succeed, not only with the material, but also in life.

Well I found that this course opened my mind and stretched my imagination. Reading all the stories and poems connected a few points in my life. Imagining that I was there and writing what I felt helped me explore my own thoughts and feelings.  I really liked the feedback your students gave me and I really liked that they gave me my props. This type of course was new to me and I want to say good job you guys did a big thing here, making me feel comfortable in writing about what I was thinking and feeling about a story made me take a look at my life in a new way.

I see the most value in the course as being a certain wave-length of discourse that takes place between the writer and myself, then myself and myself, then myself and [the instructor] Berenice (and then I imagine Berenice and herself), and, finally, me and myself again. I trust that I’ve done something toward becoming a better man.

I’m from Compton, California. And sometimes I’ve found myself stuck in that square block radius not just physically but mentally as well. But reading the short stories not only took my mind into uncharted waters but it helped me read between the lines and abstract information and points from little pieces of information…