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Teaching Points– Ghettos and Prisons: Dynamics of Privilege, Stigma and Segregation in Society

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Inside-Out Exchange

Editor’s Note: Continuing our back-to-school series, we today invite you to consider the innovative teaching associated with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. “Ghettos and Prisons” is a class created by Paul Draus, Associate Professor of Sociology and Health Policy Studies in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, who for many years was a public health field worker specializing in tuberculosis control, first in New York City and then in Chicago.  Draus is the author of Consumed in the City: Observing Tuberculosis at Century’s End (Temple University Press, 2004), and has written on health issues, behaviors and social contexts related to substance abuse in rural areas.  His current research focuses on community contexts, social networks and work patterns of daily heroin users, former street sex workers and ex-offenders in the city of Detroit.

This course offers a unique opportunity for students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and students at the Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit to meet on a weekly basis and explore issues of vital concern to society in a dialogical format.  We will be examining the related issues of segregation and confinement in society, in terms of both processes and places—the ways people are segregated, and the social and physical spaces where they are confined.  As many poets and philosophers have observed, there is more than one way to be imprisoned. According to Rousseau, “man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Or consider the following passage from The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell’s account of life in an English coal-mining community, which deals with the oppressive nature of social class in British society:

This business of petty inconvenience and indignity, of being kept waiting about, of having to do everything at other people’s convenience, is inherent in working-class life. A thousand influences constantly press a working man down into a passive role. He does not act, he is acted upon. He feels himself the slave of mysterious authority and has a firm conviction that ‘they’ will never allow him to do this, that, and the other.

In this class we shall consider the case of American ghettos and American prisons, both as social and historical realities in themselves, and as reflections or products of broader tendencies within our society.  In so doing, we will necessarily have to consider the function or purpose of prisons and ghettos, their relationship to other social institutions, their internal cultures and hierarchies, as well as their effects on their inhabitants and on the society as a whole.   Finally, we will consider the question of how segregation and confinement in society may be overcome, and whether or not they should.  In other words, we will ask if change is needed, and if so, what kind?

Ryan Correctional Facility


  1. To create an environment that will facilitate an honest, respectful and productive exchange of ideas in a dialogic format (see below)

  2. To examine pressing and complicated social issues within a setting that emphasizes experiential knowledge as well as intellectual understanding

  3. To build a framework of fact and theory in order to understand and analyze contexts and consequences of segregation and confinement in American society

  4. To develop capacities for critical thinking, examining issues from multiple perspectives and formulating well-supported arguments

  5. To engage in structured reflections and exercises that require one to apply these critical thinking skills through written and verbal expression

  6. To develop and exercise the sociological imagination


  1. Privilege, Power and Difference, by Allan Johnson

  2. Urban Injustice:  How Ghettos Happen, by David Hilfiker

  3. Code of the Street, by Elijah Anderson

  4. Fist Stick Knife Gun, by Geoffrey Canada

  5. Imprisoning Communities, by Todd R. Clear

  6. Other readings as assigned

SCHEDULE OF CLASSES AND READINGS: Session 1: Intro to course, rules, & expectations (Separate)

Session 2: Introductions, establishment of guidelines & boundaries (Together)

  1. Privilege, Power & Difference, Chpts. 1-4

  2. Handout: Ellis, “An Open Letter to Our Friends”

  3. What is privilege?  What is oppression?  Is it possible to be privileged and oppressed at the same time?

Session 3:  Debriefing the first Inside-Out encounter (Separate)

  1. Privilege, Power & Difference, Chpts. 5-8

  2. Fischer, C.S. “Compared to What?”

Session 4: Social processes of exclusion and othering: from privilege to stigma

  1. Goffman, E. “Stigma and Social Identity”

  2. Hastorf. A.H., & Cantril, H.  “They Saw a Game: A Case Study”

  3. Garfinkel, H. “Conditions of Successful Degradation Ceremonies”

  4. Scheper-Hughes, N. “People who get rubbished”

  5. Longmore, P.K., & Goldberger, D. “The League of the Physically Handicapped and the Great Depression: A Case Study in the New Disability History”

  6. Draus, P., and Carlson, R.J.  “Down on Main Street.”

  7. MacTavish, K.A.“We’re Like the Wrong Side of the Tracks”

  8. Bonilla-Silva, E. and Embrick, D.G. “Every Place Has a Ghetto”


Session 5:  Stigma Continued: how do ghettos happen?

  1. Urban Injustice, Parts 1-3

Session 6: Are ghettos a problem?  Whose problem are they?

  1. Urban Injustice, Parts 4-6

  2. Baldwin, J., “My Dungeon Shook”


Session 7: From structure to culture

  1. Code of the Street, Intro, chpts. 1-3

  2. Gladwell, “The power of context, pt. 1”


Session 8: Oppositional culture, agency & accounting for violence

  1. Code of the Street, chpts 4-7, conclusion

  2. Wacquant, L. “Scrutinizing the Street”


Session 9: From ghettos to prisons…

  1. Fist Stick Knife Gun

  2. Alexander, M. “The New Jim Crow”

  3. Thompson, H. A. “Criminalizing Kids”

Session 10:  …and back again.

  1. Imprisoning Communities, chpts 1-4

  2. Masters, J.J. “Scars”

  3. Loury, G. “Racial Stigma and its Consequences”

  4. Break into groups for projects


Session 11: Alternatives to the carceral state?

  1. Imprisoning Communities, chpts 5-8 Cole, “Turning the Corner on Mass Incarceration”

  2. Seidman, L.M. “Hyper-Incarceration and Strategies of Disruption”

  3. Work on Projects

Session 12: Work on Projects


Session 13: Work on Projects


Session 15: Final Debriefing (Separate)


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