Happy 2017 everybody! I hope January's been treating y'all well so far. Oh, and guess what? It's already the second week of J-Term! How time flies. In case you're wondering, J-Term -- or January Term -- is a one-month semester in Luther. Students staying on campus for J-Term can choose how they want to spend their term by either taking courses to fulfill requirements or conduct independent studies. Either way, first-year students can't choose what to do for J-Term because it's mandatory for us to take a 185 course for the semester. However, the good part about J-Term is that we do not necessarily have to take courses required for our majors because the objective of this semester is to allow the students to explore the basics of other subjects that we're interested in.
I was already eyeing a few courses that piqued my interest during fall semester last year, and I decided to go for Sociology 185 -- Life Inside: Sociology of Prisons. I have to admit, I initially chose this course because I wanted to see what prisons are like since we'll be visiting the Prairie du Chien prison at Wisconsin. It's different now, though. I've learned so much about crime and punishment in the United States which has changed my entire perspective about a lot of things, especially the impact incarceration has on the nation.
So far, the course has been nothing less than exciting. Classes aren't always within classrooms, which helps us learn a lot more. Professor Kremer makes the course interesting and engaging by assigning us to practical experiments, bringing us to field trips, and exposing us to documentaries to help us understand our materials better. Sometime in the first week, we were assigned to a practical experiment called the "Social Isolation Experience". This experiment is designed to help the students get a little insight on how it feels like to be in solitary confinement for less than a day. We were not suppose to interact with anyone (including animals). We weren't allowed to do anything at all while we were being confined in our room except read the assigned books and do some journaling. Creating an ambience in our room -- using candles or incense -- wasn't allowed too. Dinner at the caf was permitted, but it should only be for an hour and we could only say "please" and "thank you" to the staff.
At first I thought I was going to get pass the day easily because once the clock struck 12, I snoozed my way through until it was 4. I woke up feeling horrible because I napped longer than I was suppose to, and then I realized my professor was right when he told us we could only nap so much in a day. I had no idea what to do next, and that was when I felt confined -- literally. I read a lot for a couple of hours and I did my journaling slowly as well -- but there was only so much reading and journaling you could do! I thought about writing letters to my friends like a prisoner would, and time just wasn't ticking at all. My friends came in not long later, and the worst part began. I didn't realize how much I needed to talk to them everyday until I found myself eavesdropping so much because I got more attentive to my surroundings. I was so excited to hear about their days and I even found myself giggling all alone at the corner to their conversations. It would've been so much better if I were to be locked up in a cold cell alone. Dinnertime was the worst. My friends got bored of my silence and decided to take advantage of my silence by teasing me with the worst taboo topics ever! Not only that, they didn't want to tell others the real reason why I couldn't interact with them -- so they made all kinds of horrible excuses to them like I had throat infection, depression, etc. Everything was better when I got back because I had some reading and journaling left to do, so I finished them and went to bed early as well. I'd say the experience was eye-opening. It's taught me a lot especially on how a prisoner would think when they're behind bars. I thought they're always able to find something to fill their day like reading or journaling. I thought that prison time would be a period in which they'd think of their own mistakes and what they'd wanna do in the future to be a better person for the society, but I realized it was nothing like that at all. The only thing you ever think about in prison is how to get out of it, and when, hopefully as soon as possible. Since your mind is so occupied with thoughts like that, reading and meditation becomes extremely hard because you can't fully focus within a cell.
On the second week, Professor Kremer brought us on a field trip to the historic jail in Decorah -- which is about a 20-minute walk from Luther. The weather was chilly, but bearable. When we arrived, we were welcomed by one of the workers who invited us to a warm meeting room and began telling us about the history of the jail back in 1800s to 1900s. The jail lasted for about a century. He briefed us with stories about the community back in the days which involved the jail, the individual who established the county jail and how he governed this small town etc. We also got to see old, big books with hand-writings from the past preserved, talking about the offenders and their convictions. The best part of the trip was when we got to check out the actual jails preserved from the past! There were three of them in a gloomy corridor with little sunlight -- and each cell was about as big as my room, with only one bench and a sink attached to a toilet bowl. One cell -- unfortunately -- occupied four prisoners. The horror of solitary confinement became more vivid to us as we realized what we felt during our experiment was definitely ten times worse in prison. There were also plenty of books, documents, and boxes along the corridor, which I assumed it kept records of the prisoners throughout the years.
Sometime around the first week of the semester as well, we were shown a documentary called Solitary Nation in class. The documentary talks about how the prisoners feel in six months of being in solitary confinements. The insanity behind the bars felt so real, the attempts to commit suicide were bloodcurdling, and little times they had to contact their family was especially heartbreaking when we saw their faces lighting up while conversing. It's impossible to not feel empathetic for them, but then I realized it takes a lot to change a system we've already been having since ages ago. However, I remember my professor telling me how it's okay to at least feel connected to their problems. All in all, I am overwhelmed by this course along with the things I've read, seen, and heard. I believe my peers in other courses have also similar feelings towards their courses, because J-Term is designed this way. I'm excited to tell you guys about my upcoming visit to the Prairie du Chien prison soon.