Our capstone community engagement program, Philosophy in Prison, engages prisoners in philosophical texts and great philosophical ideas through reading and discussion with our students.

Philosophy in Prison

Philosophy in Prison is a philosophy reading group at Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas, organized and run by the Department of Philosophy. The program creates diversity in the field of philosophy by demonstrating its humanitarian potential. We believe the program enriches the lives of all involved.

The ages of the men in our program range from 18 to 50 with sentences ranging from 10 to 30 years. Our program gives young incarcerated men the confidence to challenge themselves scholastically and the tools to continue this growth once they are released. It gives the older men in the program a chance to demonstrate to their families and children that they are committed to broadening their beliefs and values during their time in prison. Additionally, UMKC students have the unique experience of learning and discussing ideas with people who may have a completely different point of view from their own.

The group meets for an hour and a half to discuss various texts and philosophical themes. We specifically include texts written by great philosophers who were writing during incarceration or about incarceration, such as the dialogue between Socrates and Crito while Socrates was in prison in Athens. In addition to readings by incarcerated philosophers, we also cover epistemology, religion, aesthetics, ethics and philosophy of mind.

Program mission

Our hope with this program, along with an interesting teaching experience for the students, is that the prisoner will receive some kind of relief from the sessions. Ideally, our goal is to allow the prisoners an outlet to explore their minds in ways they may not have been shown before. Philosophy is a great way to find an opinion and a voice.

The program facilitates a unique leadership experience for UMKC students. Each week a selected student leads the discussion covering the assigned reading at the prison. Philosophy in Prison brings college students together with incarcerated prisoners in the sharing of perspectives behind prison walls. Two distinct groups intertwine through a dynamic in which participants have a chance to reconsider stereotypes and myths while examining their own minds in discussing the literature of self-empowering philosophy.

Program goals

With this program, we realized philosophy has the ability to make an actual change in the world and inspire others to do the same. We have been working on expanding the program throughout the Midwest. Although philosophy and prison programs are becoming more popular in America, most of the interest remains on the coasts. We would like to facilitate and mentor other universities in the Midwest to create a program of their own.

If you are interested in joining Philosophy in Prison, please contact faculty mentor Clancy Martin at martincw@umkc.edu.