A group of philosophy students standing outside with two professors.

Philosophy in Prison

The Philosophy in Prison Program is a philosophy reading group at Lansing Correctional Facility in Leavenworth, Kansas organized and run by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). The group is designed to engage prisoners in philosophical texts and great philosophical ideas through reading and discussion with our students.

The Philosophy in Prison Program creates diversity in the field of philosophy by demonstrating its humanitarian potential, but more importantly, it demonstrates first-hand that philosophy truly is a subject of discussion for people from all walks of life.

UMKC’s Philosophy department believes that this program will enrich the lives of all involved – UMKC students, the prisoners, as well as the Kansas City community. Our community has had a growth in drug-related incarceration. 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 were committed to broadening their beliefs and values during their time in prison. Finally, this program promotes the value of diversity to the students involved. UMKC students receive unique experiences of learning and discussing with minds that often have a completely different point of view than 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. 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 will be to allow the prisoners an outlet to explore their minds in ways they probably were never 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 at the prison covering the assigned reading. The UMKC Philosophy in Prison Program 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.

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. While 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 email the Faculty Mentor, Professor Clancy Martin, for more information. His email: martincw@umkc.edu