NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A college experience is defined by a series of exchanges. If you're lucky, they're with people who are nothing like you, or so you think. In one class, professors say those differences add to the conversation, but don't define it.
"If you close your eyes and just listen," Lipscomb University Professor Phyllis Hildreth explained, "you won't know where you are or who's speaking. All you'll hear are thirty fabulously engaged college students."
A Lipscomb University Conflict Management class is taught at the Tennessee Prison for Women. Half the students go to school full time and the other half are serving time. All are preparing for their future.
"Just being able to go out and meet other people and just learn and be in a group outside of this place was exciting," inmate Erika Patrick said.
"It's not just a theoretical textbook conversation but it's a real life experience," Lipscomb University History Professor Dr. Richard Goode said.
Erika Patrick began taking classes in 2010.
"My thinking changed, my attitude changed, my behavior changed once I got into Lipscomb," she said. "I felt better about myself and when you know better you do better."
Now Lipscomb will allow inmates to apply those credits towards the Universities newly created associates degree program. It's one way Patrick hopes to re-write her future after a devastating past.
"I have a second degree murder charge and I have six drug charges," Patrick explained.
With a felony she knows moving forward is not easy, but says this is a start.
"With this I think I'm proving something to myself and also to society that I made a mistake, but I am a better person. I'm coming out of this a better person."
Some of the inmates have been taking classes since 2007. Studies show that education, especially getting a degree, is one of the best ways to lower the chances that when inmates are released that they will re-offend.
For traditional students the cost of the class is covered by tuition. Grants and scholarships fund the cost for the inmates.