Prison visit an eye-opener for 'Berg criminology students

A group of Criminology students from Dr. Sarah Lazzari’s classes as well as the criminal justice honorary Alpha Phi Omega got a dose of the real world of prison incarceration when they visited the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville this week.

“It’s very different, going behind prison walls,” Sarah said. She was hoping the students would be open-minded to looking at the reformatory residents as humans who have experienced severe trauma in their lives, or addiction, abuse and violence. And they did.

“It was very impactful … very powerful,” Sarah said, adding that during their five-hour visit, the ’Berg students got to have a face-to-face discussion with four women in one of the reformatory’s re-entry programs. Together, they sat in a circle and the women willingly shared their life stories. They answered questions from the students and then asked one of their own: “What will you (students) take away from your time here?”

For ’Berg senior Kendall Wright, the visit just might be life-changing. 

“It was an eye-opening and heavy experience but I am so glad to have gone,” Kendall said. Her “takeaway” was a reconsideration of how she views the women at ORW. 

Listening to the women’s stories and circumstances enlightened Kendall to the ways they are trying to make strides to change their lives for the better while serving out their sentences. “These women are just like you and me and should not be defined by the mistakes they have made but instead, by the choices they will make after.”

“When they finish their sentence and reintegrate into society, they will be restored citizens, not ex-inmates or ex-felons,” she assessed. As she gets ready to graduate in December, Kendall hopes she can have a role in changing the perceptions and helping to humanize the women and their plights. Instead of shaming them, “We need to offer them further assistance to help in their reintegration back into society in order to prevent their return back to the prison system.”

Some of the students who visited the reformatory are enrolled in Sarah’s Juvenile Justice course and are participating in a Writers in Residence program with local incarcerated juveniles. Others are in her Ethical Leadership in Criminal Justice Class and are part of a pen pal program with incarcerated women. They included: Madison Leisner, Jacqueline Kaskel, Kendall Wright, Ella Hoover, Jessica Boitko, Courtney Bryson, Marvin Cleveland and Haley Cruikshank.

Sarah hopes the visit is the precursor to some planned research she and colleague Dr. Ginny Gregg are in the process of developing. One of the students was so impacted by the visit and what she “saw in real life” that she is excited to also participate in the research. 

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