Building bridges

Literacy, Education & Employment

University of Winnipeg’s Manitoba Walls to Bridges program aims to prevent crime through education.

As an inmate at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley, Betha Cacho was lost.

“I didn’t really feel a purpose anymore. I felt like I lost my humanity, I lost my individuality, I also lost my sense of self. Because you’re not mentally stimulated in there, you have nothing to hope for.”

Then she became an ‘inside’ student in University of Winnipeg’s Manitoba Walls to Bridges program. She got much more than an education – she found a purpose.

“That experience not only helped me grow and helped me find my individuality and my identity, but as I’m going to school right now, I’m continuing to find my identity even more.”

Today, Ms. Cacho is a student majoring in Human Rights and is working towards a double major in Sociology at U of W. She hopes to become a Human Rights Lawyer.

The Manitoba Walls to Bridges program was created by Dr. Judith Harris, an Associate Professor in U of W’s Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies, and resident of the inner city.

After learning about a Walls to Bridges program at Wilfrid Laurier University and about the Inside-out Prison Exchange Program in the United States, Dr. Harris went down to Graterford prison in Pennsylvania to receive training. She created the Manitoba Walls to Bridges program at U of W in 2014.

The recidivism rate is proven to be much lower for people who have education.

Dr. Judith Harris, University of Winnipeg Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies Associate Professor

The program pairs incarcerated students (‘inside’) with students enrolled at U of W (‘outside’) and currently offers two courses a year with plans to expand in the future. Classes take place in the prison which allows outside students an opportunity to learn about prison life, while inside students are given the opportunity to feel “normal” and further their education.

“[Outside students are] a little cautious when they go into the classroom at first but pretty soon everyone feels as if they’re the same,” Dr. Harris says. “They’re studying significant issues in our world today and they take away a different view of prisons and incarceration than what’s normally understood on campus.”

Ms. Cacho continues to play a big part in the program. She contributes in monthly meetings with current inside students, collectively thinking of ways to improve and grow the program. As a former inside student, she can connect with those inside and is proof of what is possible.

“There are people in this world that have experienced what I’ve felt for generations,” Ms. Cacho says. “Their parents go to jail, they go to jail and it’s just constant. I want to help try and prevent it and do everything I can.”

The program not only benefits the students but our entire community, Dr. Harris says.

“Society benefits immensely from people who are not going back into prison,” Dr. Harris says. “It’s very important for a society to recognize that there are huge benefits and the recidivism rate is proven to be much lower for people who have education.”

The Winnipeg Foundation recently approved a grant that would help increase the capacity of the program and hire a Program Coordinator. The grant will provide the opportunity for more trainers to go to Wilfrid Laurier and bring education back to the prairies, increasing access to institutions and halfway houses in the province.

This story is featured in the Fall 2018 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.

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