DePaul professor turns life around, gives back by teaching college course inside Cook County Jail

Building A Better Chicago

ByMark Rivera and Marissa N. Isang WLS logo
Thursday, May 30, 2019
DePaul professor turns life around, now teaches at Cook County Jail
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Xavier Perez was in and out of prison in his younger years, so he sees this as his chance to help others the way he was helped through education.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A DePaul professor is using his past and his profession to change the lives of inmates at the Cook County Jail.

RELATED: Formerly-incarcerated DePaul professor returns to jail to teach college course

"I said this would be an excellent class because this is about community development," said Edward, an inmate at the Cook County Jail. He's one of several "inside" students in DePaul's Inside Out Program, an immersion course that allows inmates and students from the traditional university setting to take classes together.

"I think the Inside Out Program is an excellent opportunity for us to work with individuals on the inside, we bring students there. It's an excellent opportunity for us to humanize the process," said Xavier Perez, director of criminology at DePaul University.

"I feel really very gratified that we are doing a little bit of something to imagine a greater society, and in this case, a society where someone gets to leave a place like this and start again," said Jaqueline Lazu, an associate professor and associate dean for DePaul's College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences.

The program originated at Temple University. In 2012, DePaul's Steans Center and the Community Service Studies program brought the Inside-Out program to Chicago.

Three to four classes a year are held either at Cook County Jail or Stateville Prison in Joliet with more than 200 "inside" students completing the program.

For Perez, the program strikes a personal chord. He was in and out of prison in his younger years, so he sees this as his chance to help others the way he was helped through education.

"I think doing that would honor the people that did that for me," he said. "I think of myself as part of a pipeline of people that extended their hand out to me at every level and I was a beneficiary of that pipeline."

This course allows students to focus on community engagement and find solutions to issues facing our communities.

"What I expect to take away from this is more insight," Edward said. "Looking around the various activities that I can encourage the younger generation of our philosophy, if I can reach one, I can teach one. So I will continue on with my goal of reaching those I can get to be more focused on less crime in our neighborhood, or even starting their own business. What will it take to invest in yourself to invest in our community?"

"In the future, I want to have a nonprofit organization that has resources for African Americans, the Latin communities. And these resources would be mental health facilities, mentoring programs and tutors," said Danielle, a junior at DePaul.

"I do this because I have a goal," Lazu said. "I have a personal goal as an instructor. I want to effect change. I want to be an agent of change and I want my students to feel like agents of change, both the 'inside' students and the 'outside' students. I want them to imagine the impossible and do something the make it happen."

"Inside" and "outside" students earn college credit for the course.

Building a Better Chicago is an ongoing series of ABC7 Eyewitness News reports spotlighting the people and groups working toward solutions and improvements across our area. If you know of someone who is Building A Better Chicago, contact ABC7 here.