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Inside-Out Instructor Training: It’s Not Magic, It’s Intentional

August 15, 2023

By Tore Price, 2023 Social Connectedness Fellow

When I think of magic, I  picture a card trick or a magician making a rabbit disappear. In awe, I try to figure out how they made that happen.  While a skilled magician makes the tricks appear seamless, it takes a lot of practice and hard work to pull off such illusions.  

Many first-time attendees express that  Inside-Out Instructor Training – and the sense of awe, community, and enlightenment that result – feels like magic. I felt the same sense of magic at my first training session, however, after attending many Instructor Trainings, being a Teaching Assistant for Inside-Out classes, and becoming an Inside-Out instructor, I feel differently. I’ve come to realize that just like a talented magician, the experience that participants have at an Inside-Out Instructor Training is as a result of hard work, practice, and skill on the part of the facilitator team. Far from magical, these outcomes are very much intentional.

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program® originated as a means of bringing together campus-based university students with incarcerated students for a semester-long course held in correctional settings. It is an educational program with an innovative pedagogical approach tailored to facilitate dialogue across differences. In order to train additional faculty to our growing community of over 1,300 instructors from nearly 350 colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and an additional 9 countries in this pedagogical approach, there is Inside-Out Instructor Training. A comprehensive six-day, 40+ hour intensive training that covers everything necessary to develop a course in the Inside-Out model, or apply the tools to your respective professional setting.

My Experience as an Inside Student

I stepped into my first Inside-Out class in Fall 2014, as an “inside” (incarcerated) student. Being in a college class didn’t make me nervous, as I had already experienced college at two schools; however, now that I was in blues and a “convict” in the eyes of the public, I didn’t know what to expect from my “outside” classmates – University of Michigan-Dearborn students – or how a class of 15 inside and 15 outside students would work. 

I walked into an average drab prison educational room and saw chairs placed in a circle in the center of the room. Inside Students were instructed to sit in every-other chair. After the college students arrived and introductions began, my nerves skyrocketed. Our facilitator, a professor from U of M Dearborn, walked about the room with confidence and with a gentle but firm voice, instructed the 30 students to form two concentric circles for the first icebreaker – a technique called “The Wagon Wheel”. Inside and outside students sat across from one another  as our professor read a question (ex. What was the last book you read?) and we were given 3 minutes to discuss it. The non-invasive questions allowed us to get to know one another not as “inmates” or “college students,” but as fellow human beings. As the icebreaker progressed, I got more comfortable, later noting in my reflection paper, “I felt the students were sincere and genuine, which put me at ease immediately.”

As I reflect on that moment, I see that even the positioning of the students in the circle was intentional: inside students on the outside of the circle, and outside students on the inside. This positioning counters any sense that the inside students are being studied from the outside-in. It also provided the inside students a sense of freedom and movement – something not often felt during incarceration.

By the end of the course, I shared my experience with the class as “an unpredictable, intriguing, entertaining, and interactive approach to education that gave me the ability to process my ideas and use the thoughts of my classmates to improve my sociological imagination.” Similarly, the outside students were effusive; one stated, “This class is a life-changing opportunity”. Another wrote, “This class is eye-opening”. How can we account for these profound experiences, which are reflected by thousands of inside and outside students across decades of classes?  

   Breaking Walls by Isabella Martincic-Former Outside Student

Becoming an Inside-Out Trainer While on the Inside 

In 2019 I was selected to join the Michigan Theory Group: an Inside-Out Think Tank composed  of outside and inside student alumni and instructors. One of the functions of the group is to facilitate Inside-Out Instructor Training. That year, I co-facilitated my first Training on the inside, which meant spending three full days with the trainees inside the prison. At times I became emotional as I looked around the room and saw professionals with many college degrees and years of teaching experience look to me – an incarcerated college drop-out – as one of the experts that will prepare them to be Inside-Out instructors. It was life-changing to see recent college grads and tenured professors from all over the US and UK go from wide-eyed and nervous, to folks I didn’t want to see leave. From light-hearted icebreakers like the Wagon Wheel exercise, to serious discussions about privilege, power, and race, people with a wide range of educational backgrounds and life experiences came together to create a diverse, supportive community, focused on our mutual humanity. And yet, I was stunned: the sense of connectedness and belonging that formed over the course of a 15-week semester as an inside student occurred in only 3 days at this training… abracadabra?

Becoming an Inside-Out Instructor on the Outside

I was released from prison on February 7, 2023. In May, I was honored to receive the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness / Inside-Out 2023 Fellowship position. With that honor came exciting news: I would attend Inside-Out Instructor Training to become an Inside-Out instructor. Now, I got to see the “magic” from a different viewpoint. On the last day of training everyone involved in the training (i.e. trainees, training facilitators) in our last moment together as a group is asked to provide a reflection on the week I stated, “Inside-Out Instructor training is not magic – it’s intentional.”

Each session was thoughtfully designed to create intentional instructors, committed to fostering spaces where all students can learn from one another starting on Day 1. We studied and practiced Inside-Out methodology, an education facilitated by dialogue across differences where everyone is equal, including the instructor. Introducing an online version of “The Wagon Wheel” allowed us to see how effective icebreakers can be in breaking down barriers and setting the tone for shared educational experience. This experience is explicitly in contrast to someone who lectures as if they’re all knowing or superior, a phenomena sometimes called “sage on the stage”. 

On Day 2, the formerly-incarcerated training coaches joined us and became the trainers for the professors. For many the get-to-know-you activities, icebreakers, discussion of our hobbies, friends, families, and even names may seem trivial, but incarcerated folks who are often denied this experience, it is crucial. We also talked about person-first language, and how when we call people “convicts” or “felons” – rather than, for example, “incarcerated person” or “inside student” – we are othering them, and defining them by a single action or conviction, thereby erasing all of the other identities, experiences, skills, and characteristics that make them human. As Norman Conti and co-authors point out in All the Wiser Dialogic Space, Destigmatization, and Teacher-Activist Recruitment, “Through structured encounters with [incarcerated and formerly incarcerated facilitators], trainees come to see, speak, and behave in ways that subvert conventional understandings of the stigma imposed on those in prison.” Having formerly or currently incarcerated coaches train the professors helps subvert these stigmas. Students and trainees often describe the experience as “magical”, “life-changing”, or “transformative”, and is ultimately a reflection of how rare and essential this type of pedagogy is. But the thing about “magic” is that no one except the magician is supposed to know how it works as demonstrated by the untouchable “sage on the stage,” or the phrase, “a magician never reveals his secrets.”  However, Inside-Out seeks the opposite, we seek to pull back the curtain, make any perceived slight of hand transparent, and share what we have learned. Inside-Out training is deeply transformative, life-changing, and essential, but it isn’t magic – it’s intentional!


Conti, N., Morrison, L., & Pantaleo, K. (2013). All the Wiser: Dialogic Space, Destigmatization,
and Teacher-Activist Recruitment. The Prison Journal, 93(2), 163–188.

Morrison, Charles. (2014). From ‘Sage on the Stage’ to ‘Guide on the Side’: A Good Start. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 8. 10.20429/ijsotl.2014.080104.

Perez, G., & Leon, C. S. (2020). Bonds Beyond Bars: Impact of an Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. Journal of Correctional Education (1974-), 71(3), 33–53.

Pompa, L. P. (Director). (n.d.). The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. Retrieved June 22, 2023, from

The Fortune Society. (n.d.).