Be a part of our Program

Join us in our mission to create a “prison-to-school” pipeline.

A speaker in a yellow shirt holds the mic while sitting next to other attendees at a USC PEP event.

Prison Education

We believe that education is a human right. We also know that expanding postsecondary education in prison has far-reaching effects on individuals, communities, and society. Incarcerated people who participate in prison education programs are 43 percent less likely to recidivate than those who do not. 


USC Dornsife Prison Education Project offers a multitude of courses in varying disciplines including writing, science, meditation, public speaking, and more. Student volunteers assist the lead instructor in guiding the session. We are also offering WRIT 320: Inside-Out Writing Workshop at USC which allows students to deepen their writing skills while working collaboratively with diverse groups, programs, and populations outside of USC.

Readers’ Circle

The Readers’ Circle is a volunteer-based editing network that pairs USC students and faculty with incarcerated writers seeking feedback on their creative and non-fiction work.

California’s correctional facilities are filled with writers (authors, playwrights, screenwriters and poets) passionate about sharing and improving their work, yet this writing rarely circulates outside of prison walls. Drawing on the diverse skills and educational experiences of the USC community, the Readers’ Circle seeks to address this need, giving incarcerated individuals the tools and encouragement they need to get the most out of their writing.

Find out more about how you can volunteer as a Readers’ Circle Editor or submit your own work (if you are a currently or formerly incarcerated writer) by clicking below.

Other Ways to get Involved

If you are still looking for other ways to get involved, check out our other programs below.

Attend Talks

Once a month, we host a discussion that educates community members on social and political issues related to mass incarceration. All are welcome!

Read for Our Essay Contest

Every spring semester, we host two writing contests for juvenile and adult systems-impacted writers. Volunteer to read submissions with other USC faculty and students.

Participate in an Expungement Clinic

PEP has partnered with the Social Impact Center and the USC Gould School of law to assist community members with clearing drug convictions from their records.

Volunteer Testimonials

Student Leadership

During my two years as a student co-director of PEP, I had the privilege of sitting alongside countless thoughtful and engaged students who inspired me to take advantage of every chance to learn and grow that I have access to. I was also very fortunate to be a part of a passionate team of local leaders and activists, including Professor De Dominic, Professor Levin, Gurasees Bajaj, Colin Petersdorf, and Ernst Fenelon Jr., each of whom encouraged me to think of unique but essential ways to address issues of social justice and reform in our community. After working with PEP, not only has my perspective of education and the carceral system been forever shifted, but I have seen first hand the impact a small group of people can have on hundreds of lives.

Hadiya Culbreath Class of 2022
Headshot of a woman wearing glasses and a yellow sweater smiling in front of a tree.

Connecting Through Stories

Creative writing is, at its heart, an expression of agency. It is the process of forging a story you can call your own.
Many of those who are incarcerated have been told, either implicitly or explicitly, that their stories do not matter. On my first day at Santa Fe Springs, I met a woman who … growing up, she was not able to acknowledge her trauma except through writing. To today, writing is one of the most honest expressions of herself she has. She has stories that she considers too true to be edited. Stories that refuse to break with the moment in which they were written. She has stories that refuse to break.
I believe that, for every story tenacious enough to get immortalized in writing, there are thousands more that never make it to the page. In the Prison Education Project, I see that every student we meet has stories that have refused to break. I see that we can expand their access to tools, to help their stories make it to the page.
Creative writing is, at its heart, freedom radiating outwards. It is ground zero, the point of release after realizing we have kept too much to ourselves. It is when we present ourselves unbarred, if only for a moment. In the brief moments of class in the Prison Education Project, I see people finding the courage to present themselves unbarred. In these brief moments, we free write and share honest snapshot stories, in notebooks with pages that will only ever be called our own. In these brief moments, I can imagine a world where no story feels denied from the page. I can imagine a world that refuses to break stories, a world that everyone has the right to access–a world beyond bars, and free from prisons.

Colin Chao Class of 2020
Zoomed in image of an orange flower.


I took WRIT 320 Inside-Out Writing Workshop with Prof. De Dominic and Prof. Levin the first semester it was offered, and it was easily the most memorable class I’ve taken here at USC. This class not only encouraged me to write the stories I hid within myself, but also allowed me to peek into my classmates’ bravery, vulnerability, and wit. Although the class was offered through Zoom, we all got really close and looked forward to it each week. At the end of the class, we published an anthology, “I’ll Write My Way Out of This One.” I was deeply inspired by PEP and wanted to teach a debate class at a facility in conjunction with the USC Trojan Debate Squad. Nik and Kate were super receptive and helpful in constructing this course with me. PEP is truly a community of passionate individuals reinforcing education as a fundamental human right and disrupting the prison industrial complex.

Shanzeh Faheem Class of 2022
USC alumna in a blue plaid shirt and glasses holds a copy of a USC PEP book publication with a red plant on the front.

Hear from our community regarding their work and experience with USC PEP.

    Hear from our community regarding their work and experience with USC PEP.

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