Last updated on March 1, 2023
By: Keturah Tobias
Professor Catherine Berresheim, a current faculty member at Volunteer State Community College (VSCC), has previously taught at prisons in TN, and to some students on Death Row.
Berresheim has been through several prisons for the past decade, starting at a minimum-security facility Core Civic, where Berresheim volunteered to teach a creative writing group.
Afterwards, she was able to teach college-credited courses for Tennessee Higher Education Initiative (THEI) on their medium security campus of Turney Center Industrial Complex.
Berresheim then began teaching inmates on Death Row through a program called Reciprocal Education and Community Healing, and a class focused on writing through trauma. She taught this class with colleague, Dr. Graham Reside from Vanderbilt University Divinity School.
At Turney Center, Berresheim says, “that you kind of relinquish your rights.”
“They tossed my car, every pencil, and every pen, I mean, everything was turned out. They dumped my purse. They left it like that. I felt so violated.”
According to Berresheim, correctional officers did not like that inmates were allowed to receive a free education.
Berreshiem recalls in Feb. 2020, when one of her students on Death Row was executed, “It is a lot, and it kind of changed me. It’s heavy.” Berresheim experienced having multiple other students on death row, meant to be executed as well.
“We call them insiders,” she continues. “Insiders crave an education. Whatever their circumstances were that led them to incarceration also deprived them of a proper education.”
Berresheim believes that education is, “The trade point for people, the more people are involved with getting an education, the less likely they are to be reincarnated.”
Berresheim also mentions that it is possible that VSCC will establish a prison education program at Trousdale, which is also a Core Civic Institution.