Program gave woman a new start
It was a simple magic marker.
But to Angela Crafton, it was a symbol of hope, a harbinger of what her life could be like beyond prison walls.
“In class, we were developing a model facility for women,” said Crafton, who took Lori Pompa’s Inside-Out class while incarcerated at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center (PICC) in 1999.
Held in prison, the class explores criminal justice issues as Temple students, or “outside” students, attend class alongside incarcerated, or “inside” students.
“I knew what it should look like,” Crafton said of the women’s prison the group had designed.
“So I drew it out.”
“She drew this fabulous design,” said Pompa, remembering every detail of the moment. “The class was just stunned.”
“That moment,” Pompa said, snapping her fingers, “was a watershed moment for her. And a powerful experience for me as the instructor.”
“When I took the class, I suddenly had goals,” said Crafton, who served a year in PICC for drug-related offenses. “I got a clearer picture of what I wanted to do with my life.
“I learned I could do more … that I could think. I learned I could write … that I could be involved, included, with more than the people in the drug world. It helped me rise up.”
It took five years, but today, Crafton, 34, is an art education major in the Tyler School of Art, boasting a 3.7 grade-point average. She works part-time for the city’s Mural Arts Program and is on track to receive her bachelor’s degree in May.
Through her work-study position in the criminal justice department this year, Crafton is working with the Inside-Out team to continue taking the program to other colleges, universities — and prisons — throughout the country. She knows the type of impact the program can have on “inside” students.
“Most people in prison don’t even have their GED yet,” said Crafton, a graduate of Harry S Truman High School in Bristol Township, Pa. “They don’t have a clue what they need to do to turn their lives around.
“There are some people in prison who are institutionalized. I was on my way to becoming one of those people, easily.”
But, attending the Inside-Out class with students on the outside — and inside — changed her perspective, she said.
“The students on the inside … they were good students,” Crafton said. “In class, we’d go through group dynamics and you’d see that everyone is on the same page. The students on the outside weren’t taking a class on us, but taking the class with us. There was reciprocity.”
After becoming clean in prison, Crafton was released to a six-month inpatient program and lived in transitional housing for 15 months. During that time, she re-established relationships with family members, including her teenage son, and completed her associate’s degree at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Her goal is to use art as a means to help young people nurture their interests and avoid drugs and alcohol. That was missing from her own youth, said Crafton, who was in gifted programs growing up, but fell into the wrong crowd in high school.
“When I was in high school, art wasn’t cool,” said Crafton, who did her teaching practicum at an alternative school in Chestnut Hill.
“They’re kids like me. They’re all different. It’s really possible that I could keep some kids from life on the street, from throwing everything away.”
Crafton offers hope, too, to women who are incarcerated. She frequently goes into women’s correctional facilities to talk about her journey from an “inside” student to an “outside” one.
“When I was in prison, I’d never thought I’d be a senior or thinking about grad school or working with Inside-Out,” Crafton said. “When I was on the street, I had no mental freedom. I stayed within a four-block radius in Kensington. I couldn’t even think.
“Inside-Out got me thinking again. It’s kind of like being reborn. Not born again in a Christian sense, but a born-again person.
“I tell the women in prison, ‘I was just like you.’ They know me. They could be me.”
- By Barbara Baals
Lori Pompa’s Inside-Out program allows incarcerated students and Temple students learn alongside each other [more]