APAEP Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project






Inmate drawing mural





APAEP teachers will tell you the same thing, that from the first class they taught, to the one they taught last week, it's the students. The men and women who make up the classes are starved for knowledge and desperate for the chance to develop intellectually and creatively. Their level of enthusiasm, excitement, and passion for the learning process is inspiring.


APAEP students are individuals striving to improve their lives through education. Most are from economically disadvantaged circumstances. Many had negative experiences with the K-12 education system and either did not finish school, or simply coasted along, never being challenged creatively or intellectually. Many of our students came to prison fighting various addictions. They have committed crimes. They range in age from 18 years to 80. They have skin colors ranging in hues from light to dark. Some fight serious mental and physical illnesses. Our students exist in a somewhat controlled, diabolical chaos, where human dignity is lost to notions of retribution and revenge. That these artists and writers and thinkers persist in their efforts to learn and create, to make and explore, art in such confines never ceases to amaze. The students inspire our teachers.


Thanks in part to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, students in APAEP classes have the opportunity for their works to be published in the APAEP anthology which is printed and sold every two years. The anthologies contain poems, stories, paintings, drawings, and photographs created by students over the course of the year. The anthologies also give these artists and writers a chance to see their own art and published, as well as an opportunity to share their work with their families.

The anthologies are available through APAEP, and give the emerging artists and poets a chance to see their best work in print. All monies from the sale of the anthology go to the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Program.

Click here to read a samples of past APAEP anthologies.

Contact our office to purchase an APAEP anthology.



Inmate working in art class



APAEP Anthology covers page
APAEP Anthology covers page
APAEP Anthology covers page
APAEP Anthology Covers page
APAEP Anthology Covers page
Inmate art


APAEP pre-college classes are based on introductory college level courses and generally run for 14 weeks with 15-20 students per class.  There are no educational requirements set by APAEP -- only the desire to learn.  APAEP understands that for the 65 percent of individuals incarcerated in Alabama who do not have a high school diploma, education can be intimidating.  The program creates a safe environment where students can overcome personal doubt and begin to achieve educational goals critical to their future success. 

Some of our past and current classes include:

  • Analyzing Different Medias in American Culture -- This course examines common modes of communication in American culture, including advertising, sports writing, music and book reviews, and more.  Each week the class examines new media, discuss how it operates rhetorically and culturally, and learn to construct their own versions of that media. Every two weeks the class approaches a new media. The goal for the class is for students to analyze the way culture operates and is analyzed in American culture. 
  • Anthropology -- This course introduces students to the social science discipline of anthropology, with special attention to the basic four sub-fields (biological anthropology, archaeology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics.  The topics of society, culture, and the environment provides themes for better understanding the complexity of humans and their interactions with both cultural and natural environments.  This class helps students better understand themselves and the world around them.
  • Biology -- Our knowledge of the structure and function of living organisms, their interactions with each other and ourselves, and the molecular systems that regulate their function has grown rapidly over the past few decades. Therefore, we anticipate that the 21st century will see an explosion of new technologies that stem from our growing knowledge of the living world. For this reason, a broad understanding of the basic concepts for biology will be important for every citizen hoping to succeed in the coming years. In this course, students will survey each of the most fundamental concepts of biology: biochemistry, cells, metabolism, genetics, evolution, ecology, and basic plant and animal anatomy and physiology. Through lectures, readings, class discussions, lab work and demonstrations, students will discover the unity and diversity of life on earth, learning how all creatures from the smallest bacteria to the largest trees utilize the same basic processes to survey and reproduce.  
  • Birds Tapping on Windows -- Where do poems come from? The good ones. The ones that are birthed from some hidden place that gets tapped on by the outside world.  Many times, that tapping is another form of art: a painting, another poem, a song, a movie, a book.  In this course students read, watch and interact with books/poem/films/art and find the poems triggered inside of us.  This class will develop students skills as a writer and a thinker throughout the semester.  
  • Blue Notes: The Cultural History of 1950s American Music -- This music history course focuses on transformative periods in several genres of American music. Students will study New York and move from big-band jazz to be-bop; Memphis and the fusion of blues and rockabilly; Chicago, where the Blues goes electric. They will also investigate Atlanta, New Orleans, and Kingston, Jamaica. The class will ask questions about how the social and political scenes in each of these cities shaped these genres and how, in turn, the emergence of these new forms of music shaped the social and political scene. They will also ask what makes a genre, anyway? and what breaks a genre to make a new one? Through reading, listening to songs, watching performances, group discussions, and writing assignments, students will travel back to one of the most formative times in American music.
  • Child Development in the Family -- This course provides an overview of the milestones of human development from birth to death.  The class explores how and why people differ from one another.  The purpose of this course is to highlight how contextual factors influence an individual’s development within a family and within the broader societal systems in which we live and operate. Topics of interest include genetics, peers, school, culture, and media. The class will discuss how to apply the course content to areas such a childrearing, education, health, and social policy.  Students participate in lectures, class discussions, interactive activities, and small group discussion.   
  • Drawing As Voice: Exploring Personal Voice In Visual Art through Concept and Technique – Visual art is voice. Artistic expression empowers the inner voice to be heard, to share experiences and teach us about each other. Personal expression through art helps us answer the question: what does it mean to be a human being? This course is designed to focus on developing a greater understanding of personal artistic vision (voice) through drawing media with critical and conceptual engagement expected of the student. Students will record written ideas and develop concepts through informal drawings in a sketchbook for use in finished drawings. The course aims to broaden perspectives of what contemporary drawing is while continuing to develop drawing skills and techniques in relation to an individual approach. 
  • The Fundamentals of Writing -- In this course, students will learn and strengthen the skills needed for written expression.  Students will try different techniques and forms of writing (such as drafting a resume, summarizing an article, writing personal narrative, etc.) while examining their function and how to use them most effectively.  Students will gain experience with grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, and other fundamental writing skills.  The goal is for students to have confidence in their ability to clearly communicate information, professionally and creatively.
  • I Think, Therefore: Philosophy -- What constitutes knowledge? How can we know what we say we know? This course is a survey of many of the philosophers and ideas which have shaped our understanding of the world, beginning in the Enlightenment and ending with the 21st century.  The goals of this class include: one, to explore and understand several authors and ideas within the history of philosophy; second, to strengthen students reading, critical thinking, and analysis.  Students participate in weekly readings, reading responses, in-class discussions, and a short persuasive essay.
  • Introduction to Debate -- What’s the difference between two people having an effective argument and simply shouting at each other? In this introductory debate class, students will examine how to achieve “productive disagreement” – how to use the tools of language to make convincing, logical, and engaging arguments. Students will gain greater familiarity with public speaking, critical thinking, and effectively communicating ideas as members of a team; they will work with classmates to quickly identify their own key points as well as anticipate responses from the other side. Students will explore a number of different issues and the many perspectives surrounding them.
  • Language and Culture – The actor James Earl Jones once said, “The human mind has not achieved anything greater than the ability to share feelings and thoughts through language.” In this interdisciplinary course we will ask: How does the way we speak reflect who we are and where we come from? Who, if anyone, does a language belong to? Students explore these questions by reading a wide variety of texts, watching documentaries and films, and discussing and writing about their ideas. Ultimately, the class will spend the semester considering the ways in which language and culture shape not only our perception of ourselves, but also the world around us.
  • Literature and the Experience of War -- In this course, students read, study, and discuss in class humanities sources about war, in the belief that these sources can help U.S. military veterans and others to think more deeply about the issues raised by war and military service.  Students will study literature and film related to World War I, including a memoir by Congressional Medal of Honor recipient John Lewis Barkley; short stories by a variety of writers, including African Americans and women; and the 1925 silent film The Big Parade.  Sources for the Vietnam War include the award-winning novel The Things They Carried, a journalistic account title Dispatches, and the film Platoon. Through lectures, class discussions, and written responses, students will consider themes such as fear as part of the soldier experience, inhumanity and humanity of war, memory and memorialization.
  • Portraiture -- The portrait is what makes us distinctly human.  Portraits are timeless and suggest that there is something in us all that requires we have the self, a self, our self for an audience.  This creative writing course will focus on portraits of all forms: self portraiture, portrait of place and discuss the role of the portrait artist as he or she frames another subject besides him- or herself.  Students will use short stories, poetry, novels and image to spark their writing.  Students will also try oral storytelling, sketching, and collaborative art.  Sharing and feedback, writing and collaborative exercises, and reading discussion happens every class.
  • Reading the South / Writing the Self: 20th Century Southern Women’s Writing -- This course introduces students to the twentieth century Southern literature by women. By reading and analyzing texts ranging from prose to poetry and considering the complex, multi-racial, multi-cultural tensions experienced by those who identify with the term “Southern,” students will try to answer the questions “What does it mean to be Southern?,” “What does it mean to be a woman in the South?” and “What makes Southern literature by women distinct?” Students will write one-page responses and reaction to the texts they read.  Each student will also create an autobiographical essay concerning her relationship to the South.




APAEP has grown tremendously since 2003 and this year we have begun to embark on a new and exciting journey with our students, teachers, partners, and supporters.

During the summer of 2016 Auburn University was chosen as one of 69 experimental sites for the Second Chance Pell Initiative launched through the U.S. Department of Education during President Obama’s administration. This initiative allows Auburn and APAEP to offer classes for students to work toward an Interdisciplinary University Studies degree. We are still offering our regular programming in humanities and arts, science and mathematics in facilities across the state, having designated these courses as pre-college in hopes that our students will see open doors and continue to pursue education through our program or others.

The Experimental Sites Initiative is in place for three years, and programs around the country will be contributing to a national endeavor to best understand the impact of higher education on those who are incarcerated, as well as contribute to the growing field of understanding best pedagogical practices for teaching quality programming behind bars. Pell grants will fund 1/3 of Auburn’s tuition for AU/APAEP students. The remainder of the tuition will be funded through grant sponsorship and philanthropic gifts. Please consider making a donation to Auburn University’s Second Chance Pell Pilot Program today.

Last summer, we accepted applications from prisons all over the state. Interested candidates must submit an Auburn University application, send GED/HS transcripts, and write an essay emphasizing the importance of education in their lives. Successful candidates demonstrated, in their application, and subsequent interview, a commitment to learning, patience, and dedication to finishing the program.

At the end of 2016, after completing in-person interviews, 20 students and 2 student aides were selected for admittance. They were transferred to the Draper Correctional Facility, where the Alabama Department of Corrections has provided classroom space for the AU/APAEP degree program.

At present time, we will travel to facilities across the state every spring to hold information sessions and kick off a new application period. A new cohort of 20 students will be admitted every year, each beginning classes in January.

These students will be working towards earning their Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary University Studies, combining a focus in Business with Human Development and Family Studies. Classes will be held on a trimester basis.

We are excited to be a part of this new journey with our students and appreciate any and all support for the program as well as our students.


Last modified: March 2, 2017