Foundations in the Humanities Prison Correspondence Program

Foundations in the Humanities

Read The Current article about Foundations in the Humanities here.
Watch a video on teaching in the program here.

Foundations in the Humanities is a restorative justice program sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center that uses the study of literature to help incarcerated participants develop the habits of mind, self-awareness, and interpersonal skills necessary to cultivate and maintain respectful and productive social relationships. The curriculum for the course consists of short works of fiction, poetry, and essays. The program takes place through correspondence and is active in eighteen California state prisons.

The course is taught by UCSB graduate students, and it provides them with the opportunity to explore issues of civic engagement and social justice, as well as to gain experience teaching in the humanities, working with non-traditional students, and alternative course delivery.

Foundations in the Humanities
Location Graphic: Participants completing Foundations in the Humanities, 2016-19
Foundations in the Humanities
The departmental affiliations of the instructors (2016-20) attest to the
interdisciplinary interest in and impact of this program on our campus.


[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…