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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
May 31, 2016
Canadian Excellence

History of Walls to Bridges

The Walls to Bridges program has its roots in some of the pedagogical principles of the U.S. Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. Inside-Out courses were started in Canada in 2011 in Ontario and British Columbia and in 2014 we changed our name from Inside-Out Canada to the Walls to Bridges Program.

The U.S.-based Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program: (

Simone Davis brought the concept of Inside-Out to Canada in 2009. A professor of English and gender studies involved with Inside-Out in the United States since 2005, Simone reached out to faculty, community organizations and potential administrative partners across the country. Among those she sought out was Shoshana Pollack of the Faculty of Social Work (FSW), who took the training in the summer of 2011. With the key participation of correctional educator Peter Stuart, Shoshana spearheaded a partnership between Wilfrid Laurier University's Faculty of Social Work and Grand Valley Institution for Women (GVI), one that would not have been possible without the significant commitments to the project made by both institutions.

In the fall of 2011 the Faculty of Social Work offered the first Inside-Out course at Grand Valley Institution for Women. The very first class was a core FSW course entitled Diversity, Marginalization and Oppression. Ten “outside” FSW students and seven “inside” students (at GVI) met weekly for a semester in a classroom at GVI. (That same term, Jane Miller-Ashton launched a course in British Columbia, a partnership between Matsqui Institution and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.) 

Inside and outside alumni from Shoshana’s course became the founding members of the Walls to Bridges Collective, an alumni think tank that meets twice monthly at Grand Valley, facilitates instructor trainings, offers public education workshops at the prison and in the community, and implements participatory action research projects. Additionally, a Walls to Bridges Toronto chapter has begun, which works in collaboration and support of the Collective. See Walls to Bridges Collective link for more!

In the summer of 2012, thanks to funding extended by the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation, Wilfrid Laurier's Faculty of Social Work was able to establish a home-base for the Walls to Bridges program. The first annual Canadian Walls to Bridges instructor training was held in July 2013, and the second will be held June 2014. At this writing there are 30 trained instructors across Canada, and to date 13 courses have run or are running. Universities with trained instructors include Wilfrid Laurier, University of Toronto, York, Ryerson, Kwantlen Polytechnic, Sheridan College, University of Winnipeg and University of Saskatchewan.

Since its inception in fall 2011 and thanks to the Walls to Bridges Collective and to all the faculty and students who have been involved, Walls to Bridges is evolving into a distinct national program with policy, pedagogy and organizational practices more fully suited to the context here – to the people in our prisons and schools, to the possibilities and challenges that our cultures and our justice and educational institutions present.