Going to prison — as a class — ended up being a life-changing experience for Claudia Guetta.
Before Guetta set foot in a prison, she grew up in Westport, Connecticut with two older sisters. From an early age, his interests ranged from playing musical instruments to baking with his father, where his love of science blossomed.
“I was also definitely interested in science in different ways. I always cooked with my dad when I was growing up, and I think that was actually a start I didn’t realize to think about science in a new way..”
As a high school student, she was part of her school’s EMT team, cementing her bond with science and, in particular, caring for others. When it came to choosing a college, Tufts simply gave it a good feeling.
“I’ve always been really captivated by Tufts’ interdisciplinarity and focus on learning outside of the classroom.“, Guetta said.
The out-of-class learning experience proved extremely important as she approached her first semester, when she took a course sometimes called Inside/Out. Officially called The Literature of Confinement and taught by Hilary Binda, the class brings together several Tufts students with incarcerated classmates to learn about the literature of confinement.
While this course takes place in different institutions, Guetta went to the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Concord, a medium-security prison for men.
“It’s completely changed my life, just learning with people across barriers and borders that seem to be really strict and really important in our world, but then realizing that you actually have a lot of similarities with people just across the world. education, compassion and humanization“, Guetta said.
Although she entered Tufts with a scientific mindset, she realized she couldn’t”just study science and be okay with it.” Influenced by her prison experience, she found sociology and community health, which became her two majors, to be complementary to her interest in medicine and restorative justice efforts, which extended beyond The Literature of Confinement : “Class ended, and I just thought, ‘I can’t leave,‘” Guetta said.
As an incoming freshman, Guetta was exposed to the Tufts University Prison Initiative at Tisch College of Civic Life through a post on the Facebook group of Nora Maetzener, who would become her mentor. According to TUPIT’s websitethe program aims to bring together members of the Tufts community with “incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, educators, organizers, prison staff and criminal justice specialists” to collaboratively address issues of incarceration of mass and racial injustice.
When COVID-19 hit, the program adapted by corresponding by mail, as the prisons lacked technological resources. In the fall of 2020, members of the Tufts community were able to visit prisons in masks and remotely. Throughout her time there, Guetta served as a teaching assistant in prisons for classes on topics ranging from health and human rights to genetics to writing, organizing of successful crowdfunding campaigns and the work on develop programs for prisoners people participating in TUPIT.
“Since its creation, [TUPIT] has always needed support that he doesn’t always get from school, and the wider world“, Guetta said.
While TUPIT certainly made progress, Guetta always felt the need for continued support once people were released from prison. In this context, TUPIT has since created MyTERN, a reintegration program for people who have recently completed the Tufts program and who have been released from prison, Guetta detailed.
Since the program began, incarcerated individuals have been able to earn an associate’s degree from Bunker Hill Community College and gain credit by taking Tufts courses due to the university’s lack of associate’s degree offerings. Recently, a faculty vote at Tufts allowed inmates to complete a bachelor’s degree with a major in civic studies inside the prison.
“So our students, our first cohort… last December was the first graduating class from Massachusetts to complete a college degree in prison.“said Guetta.”They graduated in December – all with honors – and they’re now starting their bachelor’s degree at Tufts with a major in civics in it, and then when that first cohort got their associate’s degree, we started with a second cohort , and so now they start their associate degree program where the first cohort finish their BA.”
Outside of TUPIT-related efforts, Guetta works with a Boston-area restorative justice program called the Transformational Prison Project, which seeks to expand the perception of justice as something that only exists in the criminal justice system. The program provides spaces for people to reflect on harm: the harm they have caused, what they have suffered, and how to recover from it. According to Guetta, the program aims to create responsibility as people in a community.
In addition to her restorative justice work, Guetta fondly spoke of her favorite things to do at Tufts, including “sledding on Pres Lawn with my friends, stargazing on the roof of the Tisch Library and swimming in the Mystic River. “.
Guetta will attend Tufts University School of Medicine this fall after being accepted for the Early Assurance program, which guarantees acceptance to TUSM before the main application process.
There were some points where she questioned her path to medicine, but her experiences made her realize that she can connect health with justice, although she hasn’t understood exactly how it will happen.
“I can [study medicine] in a different way, and I know health and medicine is what I want to do, but I just want to think about it in different ways,” Guetta said. “I just want to be in a place where I can learn and think about health in a really holistic way, and I don’t know exactly what that’s going to be like.”
After four years at Tufts, Guetta reflected on TUPIT’s experiences and significance.
“The best learning experience was being able to be part of the one breaking down those barriers between people who seem so different and discovering those deep similarities of passion for education, and the possibility for a program like this to exist. at Tufts where we can redefine what it means to be a traditional Tufts student and a traditional student and form a truly strong community“said Guetta.