A fresh perspective for criminal justice students
Assistant Professor of Instruction Frederick Engram said he wanted to ensure the criminology and criminal justice students in his Institutional Corrections course at The University of Texas at Arlington received a fresh perspective.
His solution: a guest lecturer who could share his own experiences of life behind bars and the challenges that come after.
Enter guest lecturer Jack Santiago Monell, associate professor and program coordinator of justice studies at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. Monell served five years in a juvenile detention center in upstate New York, starting at age 15. It was, he said, “the worst experience of my life.”
“They put the shackles on me in front of my mom, my grand mom and my baby brother,” Monell said during his spring 2021 lecture to Engram’s students. “It was dehumanizing and embarrassing, because I knew better. At 15 years old, I was crying every day. I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was.”
Israel Omodi, a UTA senior majoring in criminology and criminal justice, said he found Monell’s story both inspiring and educational.
“I really appreciate the opportunity of hearing unique stories from formerly incarcerated persons who changed their lives,” said Omodi, who is hoping for a career with the U.S. Marshals Service. “Especially for those of us who are seeking a career in law enforcement, I feel that it is critical that we are introduced to different perspectives.”
Institutional Corrections is an upper-level course in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The class examines and evaluates practices, issues and trends in institutional corrections, as well as the effectiveness of incarceration.
“I wanted my students to hear from someone who had been down the path of incarceration but took the opportunity to learn from it and do a complete 180,” said Engram, who also works at UTA’s Center for African American Studies. “I wanted to show UTA students the humanity of individuals.”
Monell said he worked in the prison library and helped other prisoners write letters. He also earned his GED while still in prison. A counselor noticed how sharp he was and encouraged him to go to college. After his release, Monell earned a bachelor's degree from Towson State University, a master's degree from Howard University and a doctorate from Walden University.
Now, the professor and author prides himself on understanding the needs of students inside and outside of traditional classroom settings.
“In interacting with students, I pride myself in being a student’s professor and being available to further their intellectual growth,” Monell said. “You can’t judge everyone by mistakes they’ve made. There's always redemption, and for me, education was that redemption.”
Omodi said Engram’s class has been a great example of how UTA professors offer innovative instruction and prepare their students with differing perspectives and critical thinking skills.
“A lot of times we take for granted the education we have and don’t realize what a life-changing effect it has,” Omodi said. “Real, substantive education has the power to change your life.”