SANTA PAULA, Calif. - A California Lutheran University professor is teaching a first-of-its-kind class inside a Ventura County jail for incarcerated and traditional students.
The students and inmates sit side-by-side and face-to-face. Michael Wilson, who has been at Todd Road Jail Facility in Santa Paula for 33 months, is an "inside student."
He is serving a four-year sentence for possession with intent to sell. He said the "outside students" were a little apprehensive at first.
Both students can receive college credit for the upper-division criminology course.
"Literally on that first day, we come in and they're kind of getting a feel. When the outside students begin to walk out, they're already feeling emotionally connected. I can see it in their eyes and they're like we have to leave the rest of our class behind. That was something they'd never felt before," Dr. Schannae Lucas said.
It is a first for Ventura County and the facility, but the grant-funded program is two decades old and it tears down an "us vs them" mentality.
"Everyone in here has their own personality, and it's not like a very criminal personality or a hardcore mentality it's all people that are just normal people," college senior Tyler Lozano said.
Those people have made mistakes they don't want to repeat.
"I've always been intimidated about going to a university, so taking this class really encouraged me to actually pursue my education," inside student Juan Campos said.
In about two months, the students will receive certificates and present final projects in the classroom.
"If we never get the chance to humanize these people, then we'll never see change in the criminal justice system," college seior Jaleena Evans said.
It's a change that's being seen thanks to seven inside and nine outside students.