Inside/Out Program Touching Lives, Renewing Hopes

Linda-Gaylla: FROM RIGHT: Gaylla Finnell, Inside/Out program coordinator, presents a gift to Linda, a student in the program, during the ceremony Dec. 8.
Linda-Gaylla: FROM RIGHT: Gaylla Finnell, Inside/Out program coordinator, presents a gift to Linda, a student in the program, during the ceremony Dec. 8.

IMPERIAL COUNTY — Twenty-three students reached a milestone Dec. 8 at the Imperial County Day Reporting Center, each receiving a certificate for completing a course in “Family Counseling Approaches to Alcohol and Drug Abuse.”

What makes these students so unique is they are part of the Inside/Out College program offered through Imperial Valley College in collaboration with the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office and county Probation Department. Up to 30 students are allowed into the program each semester, half of them, the “inside,” are incarcerated in the Imperial County Jail, and the other half, “outside,” attend classes at IVC. “Inside” students wearing burgundy polo shirts were interspersed with their IVC counterparts clad in blue T-shirts.

“Some of you have taken a wrong turn somewhere, but you have made the right step toward change,” Undersheriff Federico Miramontes told the “inside” students waiting for their certificates. “Don’t give up the fight.”

“Many people didn’t believe this could happen,” IVC President/Superintendent Victor Jaime said in his address to students.

“This is the fifth ceremony we’ve had here. It shows what kind of transformation can happen, not only for you inside students, but also to you outside ones.

“We are a community of diversity,” Jaime said. “We may veer off our path along the way for a whole lot of reasons. You have shown by being here you are all determined to get back on the right path.”

In her first visit to Imperial County, Pamela D. Walker, vice chancellor of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, said of the many graduations at which she spoke in the past year, “This may be the best one yet.”

“I would take what you have done today and take a deep, sincere look at what you do tomorrow,” she said. “I sincerely expect some of you to be teaching these programs soon.”

Walker is vice chancellor for educational services at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, where she leads the divisions of Academic Affairs, Student Services and Workforce and Economic Development.

Her visit to Imperial County speaks of the positive impact the local Inside/Out program is making statewide.

It is modeled after the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program developed and designed by Lori Pompa of Temple University in 1997 to bring university students and incarcerated students together as peers. The Imperial County program began in 2014 through cooperative efforts by the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office, the Imperial County Probation Department, and Imperial Valley College.

“We’re the first to bring the county jail and community college together,” said program coordinator Gaylla Finnell.

Locally, “inside” students meet eligibility requirements set by the Sheriff’s Office, and “outside” students are chosen according to IVC’s open-enrollment policy.