Northeastern Illinois University and the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (P+NAP) held a Commencement ceremony at Stateville Correctional Center on Oct. 15 for their cohort of five students who graduated through the University Without Walls (UWW) program.
Highlights of the ceremony for Darnell Maurice Lane, Michael James Bell, Juan A. Luna, Reginald Terrell BoClair and Daniel Edward Perkins included an address by poet and scholar Fred Moten and a performance by Chance the Rapper.
Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Educational Inquiry and Curriculum Studies and P+NAP Director of University Curriculum Erica Meiners said each of the graduates worked incredibly hard to earn their degrees.
“Nothing is ever done alone, and this celebration reflects the strength of our community,” Meiners said. “Getting an education, let alone earning a degree while incarcerated during a pandemic, is no easy feat. I am thrilled to celebrate these students who overcame the odds and to showcase the excellence of the wider P+NAP community.”
P+NAP began in 2011 offering two classes: art and poetry. Since then, the program has expanded to offer 15 non-credit classes a year, a policy think tank, a degree program and a Learning Fellows Program to work with at least 75 people in classes each semester. All programs are held with the mission of bringing artists, scholars and writers together with incarcerated people and communities to provide access to education and art.
“Participating in any of P+NAP’s cultural, educational and political work — our mural projects, our vibrant classes, our unique degree program — changes everyone who is involved,” Meiners said. “Earning a degree —and all forms of teaching and learning — are transformative acts that remind us that change is possible.”
In an interview with CBS Chicago, Lane spoke with pride of his achievement.
“This graduation represents our continued courage, accountability and determination as individuals and scholars,” Lane said.
On Oct. 16, P+NAP opened their current public art exhibit “Abondans: Worldbuilding + Afrofuturism and UWW Portrait Project” at Haymarket House, 800 W. Buena Ave. A pre-opening function featured readings and pop-up exhibitions of work by incarcerated and politically aligned artists. Meiners and her fellow co-authors of “Abolition. Feminism. Now.,” including Angela Davis, Gina Dent and Beth Richie joined local educators, artists and organizers in a conversation about the book. The sold-out event honored the UWW cohort and the other accomplishments of P+NAP throughout the year. P+NAP is currently working toward incorporating a program at Logan Correctional Center in 2023.
Portraits of the UWW graduates, painted by Helen Sanchez Cortes, on display at "Abondans: Worldbuilding + Afrofuturism and UWW Portrait Project."
Top photo: Interim Provost Andrea Evans (left), Chair of the Department of Sociology Olivia Perlow (center), Associate Professor of Justice Studies and Latina/o and Latin American Studies J. Adrian Castrejon and Directors of P+NAP University Curriculum Professor of English Tim Barnett and Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Educational Inquiry and Curriculum Studies Erica Meiners (right) with the Northeastern UWW and P+NAP cohort: Darnell Maurice Lane, Michael James Bell, Juan A. Luna, Reginald Terrell BoClair and Daniel Edward Perkins.