Q&A With Two UPEP Educators

Judge Clemens Landau J.D.

  1. What motivated you to sign up as a volunteer teacher for the UPEP program?
    This is a program that Dr. Castro has told me about over the years. When she told me there was an opportunity to teach a Law and Literature class at the prison, I jumped at the opportunity.
  2. What were you most concerned or nervous about prior to your first class?
    I was nervous about teaching. I don’t have substantial teaching experience, and I was worried that I would not be able to get through the material in an effective way.
  3. What was your most unexpected experience?
    The level of comfort the students had with me and vice versa was unexpected. I thought that the inherent difference in our perspectives would hamper our ability to connect on a human level. It didn’t.
  4. How were you treated by the students?
    The students were amazing. They were patient with my apparent lack of teaching experience, and really bought in to the theme of the class. Their high level of engagement made the class extremely satisfying—hopefully for all of us.
  5. Are there any perceived myths you would like to debunk?
    To the extent anyone believes that my students were something other than students during the time they spent in this class—I’d like to debunk that as a myth. Our class time was spent having high-level conversations about law, justice, innocence, eye witnesses, bias in all its forms, punishment, and fate. The students were well-prepared and engaged. We left our respective roles as judge and incarcerated persons at the door of the classroom, and had wonderful exchanges about the literature we were reading, and the literature the students were creating.
  6. If you were given a miracle opportunity to do or change absolutely anything in the US/State justice system, what would be your wish?
    My wish would be to make routine the practice of exchanging perspectives. We all can learn so much from one another, but we rarely do, in large part because we are stuck viewing the system from a certain perspective.
  7. Words of advice for potential UPEP volunteers/teachers?
    Put in lots of effort to prepare, because the students in the program not only read the assigned reading, they engage with the themes and the sub-text, and will expect you to do the same.
  8. Words of advice for UPEP students?
    Keep putting the effort in, regardless of what kind of day you are having. I know there were days that were more difficult for some students, and I don’t profess to know what was going on in their lives on those days. But I know that we all had the best experiences on the days that we were prepared to engage in the themes presented in the weekly readings.

Defense Attorney Kate Conyers J.D.

  1. What motivated you to sign up as a volunteer teacher for the UPEP program? I heard about the program from my friend and colleague, Judge Clem Landau. I wanted to sign up for three main reasons: a) As a criminal defense lawyer, I am a big believer in programs that reduce recidivism and that help inmates and give them some sort of quality of life. b) I love teaching and leading discussions. c) I enjoy having conversations about criminal justice issues; as a practicing lawyer, we don’t have the opportunity to do that very often—perhaps out of continuing learning education classes—and this seemed like a great opportunity to learn more about criminal justice topics and to discuss them with people who are most affected by them.
  2. What were you most concerned or nervous about prior to your first class? I was definitely nervous – not so much about the teaching part of it, or really the subject matter, but more about making sure we provided a high quality class that benefited the students. I was also quite concerned about the grading aspects of the course as well as assigning and grading writing assignments, as that isn’t my forte.
  3. What was your most unexpected experience? I didn’t expect the students to grasp the material and the concepts so easily and to be so willing to discuss these topics in this format. I found one discussion to be particularly interesting – we discussed what percentage students assigned to the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I was surprised that they put it at 51%; I think of it closer to 80%.
  4. How were you treated by the students? The students were really great – they were professional, eager to learn, and thankful for the opportunity. I enjoyed getting to know them through our various conversations we had.
  5. Are there any perceived myths you would like to debunk?
    I think some people believe that there is a safety risk at the prison. I never felt like that was an issue. I found my students to be high caliber people and I never felt like my safety was at risk.
  6. If you were given a miracle opportunity to do or change absolutely anything in the US/State justice system, what would be your wish? Wow – so many things! If I could change one thing, it would be focusing on, financing, and providing defendants with effective and realistic treatment (of any kind they need) opportunities in lieu of incarceration.
  7. Words of advice for potential UPEP volunteers/teachers? Do your best to prepare a lesson plan and assignments in advance; do your own readings in advance. Time passes quickly; the students will be prepared and they expect you will be, as well.
  8. Words of advice for UPEP students? Don’t be afraid to ask the teachers and/or other students anything that comes to mind (in context of the discussion; of course). Let the teachers and assistants know if you have any needs and/or expectations. Definitely let the teachers know if they are doing anything that bothers you so that it can be immediately addressed/fixed. Definitely do the readings and assignments so that we can have a full discussion of the materials as scheduled.