Our passion for serving imprisoned learning communities comes from a wealth of prior experience. In 2007, Dr. Patrick Alexander co-founded, with North Carolina’s Orange County Literacy Council, Stepping Stones—a United Way-service award-winning college preparatory program that develops the reading, writing, and public speaking skills with imprisoned students at Orange Correctional Center (OCC) in Hillsborough, North Carolina. An initiative supported by professors and graduate students at Duke University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, area churches, and volunteer groups, the Stepping Stones program, as of August 2012, facilitated the educational success of more than 50 pre-college students at OCC. Many of the Stepping Stones students have gone on to take college-level courses and earn college credit from UNC-Chapel Hill (often in conjunction with its Correctional Educational Program) while incarcerated, and have led productive and fulfilling lives upon release. Dr. Alexander published an article on his experiences teaching Stepping Stones students at OCC. The article is titled “‘To live and remain outside of the barb[ed] wire and fence’: A Prison Classroom, African American Literature, and the Pedagogy of Freedom,” and it appears in Reflections: A Journal of Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy, vol. 11, no. 1 (2011), pp. 88-108. Dr. Alexander now teaches a published collection of writings authored by his Stepping Stones students in his courses at the University of Mississippi. The collection is titled Writing Civil Rights: The Pursuit of Justice in African American Literature (Raleigh: Lulu Enterprises, Inc., 2011) and is available online for purchase. For more on the Stepping Stones Program, please see the October 2007 Duke Today article titled “Student’s Prison Course Yields Literary Insights”, and the November 2010 Duke News and Communications Webinar titled “Office Hours Conversation with Maurice Wallace on Prison in African American Literature”.
Dr. Otis Pickett has labored for more than a decade in the state of Mississippi as an educator. He has taught in the University of Mississippi School of Education and Department of History. He has also worked as a high school history teacher in Oxford and has supervised student teachers across the state to make sure K-12 education is serving the populace effectively. He has a passion for training future educators and supporting lifelong learning and has continued that work as Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi College. In 2012, Dr. Pickett attended Duke Divinity School’s Summer Institute on Racial Reconciliation and several of the panel topics surrounded incarceration and how faith communities have engaged these spaces. Much of the discussion around Mississippi resonated with Dr. Pickett as he was not aware of any higher education programs offered to incarcerated people in Mississippi. Pickett vowed to go back to Mississippi and try to bring an educational program to its incarcerated learners. It was upon Dr. Pickett’s return from the Summer Institute that he met Dr. Alexander, and then the two merged their passions and experiences together in the creation of a college-in-prison initiative in Mississippi called the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program (PTCPP).
Dr. Pickett and Dr. Alexander have also team-taught in Oxford’s “Guys Read” program, which is supported by the Lafayette County Literacy Council. Since 2014, they have united their wide range of pedagogical experiences on both sides of the razor-wire fence to create the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program (PTCPP). They teach PTCPP courses in ways that speak to the educational goals and intellectual curiosities of students at Parchman and Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.