On August 18, the Center for West European Studies (CWES) and EU Center (EUC) sent UW PhD students Andreu Casas Salleras and Kevin Aslett to Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC) to present on current and historical concepts of Europe and the EU as part of a series on diversity at the complex. CWES and EUC Managing Director, Andrea Brocato and Outreach Coordinator, Tess Ames also attended the event, and dined with the incarcerated men and DOC staff.
MCC is host to a Diversity Committee made up of a group of inmates and DOC employees working together to promote greater understanding of racial, ethnic, national, and religious differences. Together, they create events which bring both speakers from the outside and research from the prisoners themselves to discuss topics like Native American culture, Asian Pacific Islander history and heritage, and in the case of that day’s event, European history, and culture.
The Chair of the Diversity Committee read the Mission Statement of the group, emphasizing that they are promoting understanding of people outside their own cultural background and creating spaces with less violence, less hatred, and more personal growth. “We can do more together than we ever could on our own, and that’s something we always need to remember,” he said at the end of his presentation. Kevin Asletts’s presentation continued in this vein. He talked about the benefits of the EU, peacekeeping and diversity, and the role of stablizing currency to better trade relations. The highly interactive presentation meant the attendees were able to ask for more discussion about Brexit, the impact of the rise of nationalist movements, and his thoughts on security across borders. With these questions in mind, Andreu Casas Salleras spoke next about the rise of different separatist movements within different EU nations, including Scotland, Northern Ireland, France, and Spain. The attendees were highly interested in Andreu’s own perspective as a Catalonian, and were intrigued by the similarities between the movements discussed and Great Britain’s vote to leave the EU. The other presenters, all inmates at the complex, spoke in great detail and passion about the history of Europe, its many troubles and dark times, and the ability to overcome adversity through education and shared information. A major theme of all presentations was the idea of perseverance and resilience through the hardest times. The workshop ended with a reminder that the most important part of the hardships the attendees were facing was how they chose to get through them.
The event is one in a series of many events hosted at MCC, and Director of Diversity Steven Sager (DOC), hopes to see the program grow. “These are people, and that’s the thing you tend to forget when they’re locked away. It’s important to remember we are all people.” Educational events like these are proven to reduce recidivism, and Sager and others are pushing for more opportunities to provide them. In attendance were important Department of Corrections names including the Superintendent of the Twin Rivers Unit Erik Jackson and his Assistant Maria Angel. Sager is hopeful that as the program brings in more outside speakers, the men inside will gain more insight, and affect change among their peers. One of the attendees spoke of the programs impact, saying “I’m a citizen. I’ve made some bad choices, sure, and most of us have. But I’m still a citizen, the 14th amendment tells me that. I need to learn these things to continue to fight for more education in here, to get more resources, so that we can be better, so that I can be better, when, or if, I ever get out.”
The next event will be held on October 20th, 2016. Its topic will be Hispanic Heritage. Click here for more information on education and diversity events at MCC.