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 comprised 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.