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Humanizing Prison

Richard Paige — We weren’t 50 feet inside the dual fencing that surrounds the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility when the catcalls came from two inmates shooting baskets at outdoor hoops.

This had the makings of a very uncomfortable immersion experience.

The maximum-security facility in Carlisle, IN, was the destination for Assistant Professor of History Sabrina Thomas’ History of Mass Incarceration class. It was an opportunity for 18 students to step inside those 14-foot electrified fences topped by razor wire.

It was supposed to be a reality check.

“We are studying prisons, we are studying systems, theories and ideas,” Thomas said. “We’re looking at the prison objectively as academics, and we sometimes forget that this is a real thing with real people involved.”

From the maximum-security Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU), where inmates are escorted to and from cells by pairs of guards with handcuffs and leads, to the minimum-security J-House, where the dormitory style housing provided more smiles than anticipated, the students saw those inmates on their turf.

The tour included a visit to the PLUS unit (Purposeful Living Units Serve), a faith-based outreach program that provides hand-made quilts and clothing to the surrounding community, as well as a stop at the Educational Department, where one student got an impromptu lesson.

History of Mass Incarceration students view the maximum-security Restricted Housing Unit from inside a security pod.

“I was surprised by our close contact with the inmates,” said P.J. Mays ’19. “Often times they would say something just to make contact. In the educational facility, one guy said to me, ‘this is not what’s up,’ and his message was obvious.”

The RHU might have provided the most eye-opening experience. From their vantage point inside a security pod, the students could see four hallways of maximum-security cells, watch inmates transferred to and from, and get a peek inside those cells from the bank of video monitors on the guard’s desk.

It was an immediate lesson to the real impacts of prison, especially since the RHU was the first building on the tour, and just moments after those initial catcalls.

“It was powerful to see in real life,” said Evan Frank ’19. “It’s like caging people. They are able to obtain some access to the outside world if they are really fortunate, but they are completely isolated. They can’t do anything.”

Multiple times during the tour, we heard that prison is its own city. It’s no different than any other community. At times, admittedly, it felt like we were the center of attention on this tour. At times, it felt like prison tourism.

“Everything we’re talking about in class has real-life effects,” said Thomas. “There are human consequences. (The tour) definitely humanized the idea of incarceration. “It may have humanized it a bit too much.”


Leadership, With a Side of Bacon

Nearly 220 Central Indiana Wabash men packed the Ivy Tech Culinary Center banquet room Thursday morning as the Indianapolis Association of Wabash Men’s Leadership Breakfast honored Kelly Pfledderer ’96 as its Man of the Year.

Now in its second year, the event included a panel discussion with Connie Lawson, Indiana Secretary of State; Marc Nichols ’92, Legal Counsel & Director of Compliance, Rolls-Royce North America; and Jake Gilbert ’98, head football coach at Westfield High School.

Brandon Clifton ’06, the Deputy Secretary of State, introduced Canvas Founder and CEO Aman Brar ’99, who moderated the discussion that addressed civic and political engagement, mentors, and risk taking.

The IAWM Leadership Breakfast panelists included (from left) and Jake Gilbert ’98, Connie Lawson, and Marc Nichols ’92.

Lawson spoke early about the need to get involved in your community. She mentioned that even though many think of politics more broadly, a great deal of impact can be felt close to home.

“Participation starts young,” she said. “Not just at the national and state level, but locally as well. That’s where much of the political work happens.”

Gilbert, whose Shamrocks captured the Indiana Class 5A state football championship in November, was asked about how he deals with adversity, and how he shares those lessons with his students.

“Adversity is an opportunity,” he said. “It’s part of the process. You weather the storm and control what you can. Knowing that (adversity) won’t last forever, it’s about your long-term growth.”

When asked of career paths, Nichols told the gathering that simply having a plan was essential to his success.

“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be General Counsel at a major corporation,” he explained. “I asked myself what do I need over the course of a career and all of those things become building blocks. I always have a five-year plan. Knowing what I am going to do next keeps me from fearing the unknown.”

He also spoke of the importance of mentors. Not simply on the impact they have on you, but on the impact you could have in another’s life.

“Mentors are incredibly important no matter how old you are,” Nichols said. “No one can figure out the path to life without mentorships. Be sure to return the favor because there are always people looking up to you.”

Pfledderer, the founder and former CEO of Apparatus, was humbled to receive the honor amongst a room of his peers and mentioned how Wabash aided in his success.

2017 IAWM Man of the Year Kelly Pfledderer ’96.

“This award is very meaningful to me because I realize how many people in this room are friends and colleagues of mine,” he said. “Wabash College built my confidence. I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker, but I’m a better risk taker because of the experience.”

Brar, a former co-worker at Apparatus, spoke highly of Pfledderer’s leadership qualities.

“His eye for talent, for great design, and for doing things the right way, combined with a willingness to empower people to accomplish great things shows that he has a lot of classic leadership strengths,” Brar said. “There is no one more deserving for his business accomplishments and for his commitment to the community, which is an even bigger statement about who Kelly is.”


Lasting Impacts

In this time of year when nets are cut and trophies won, sometimes the impact coaches and players have on each other is taken for granted. Not here.

Thirty-five years ago today, Coach Mac Petty guided the Little Giants to the last of 19 consecutive victories en route to the 1982 NCAA Division III national championship, the singular team accomplishment in Wabash athletics history.

In the end the game wasn’t close. The Little Giants shot 59 percent from the field, grabbed nine more rebounds than Potsdam State, and collected 24 assists on 29 buckets. Teddy Parker hit a jumper with 10:48 to go in the first half – his only field goal of the game – and gave Wabash a lead it did not relinquish. Pete Metzelaars netted 45 points (still a DIII championship game record) and the Little Giants cruised to the national championship with an 83-62 win.

Recently, I asked Coach Petty what it was like to lead a team to a moment that, when it mattered most, every one of his guys delivered.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” he said. “It was like a dream. It just happens.”

The 1976-77 Wabash College basketball team. Coach Mac Petty is in the back row (far right), while Bob Knowling is front row (third from the left/#12).

That dream was built with hard work, practice, and time spent together forging a bond, that when tested, would not be broken. Championships don’t happen by accident.

Coaches are measured by victories, or championships won, especially in March. Petty’s 541 wins and that national title secure his championship legacy. However, the impact on his players is measured differently.

Bob Knowling ’77 was a standout football and basketball player at Wabash, and was a rising senior when Petty was named the head coach in 1976. They spent one season together in 1976-77, and it turned out to be a memorable one for Knowling.

“I bought into you and your vision totally when you arrived in Crawfordsville and it was an easy decision for me to choose between football and basketball,” he wrote to Petty in an e-mail prior to the 1982 team’s 35-year reunion in January. “Even being a three-year starter on the football team, my love of basketball and the opportunity to play for you was exciting. While we won more games than any of my previous three years, the lessons I learned from you are what I remember most. Thank you for investing in me and for pushing me. It made a difference. Know that you influenced hundreds of young men to be great, including that championship team.”

Forty years later, Petty’s impact still resonates with Knowling.

“I played on numerous teams and played multiple sports,” he said, “yet when people ask me who I played for I only mention one name: Coach Petty.”


Embracing the Uncomfortable

Jacob Budler ’17, left, and Nicholas Budler ’19

Jacob Budler ’17 and his younger brother Nicholas Budler ’19 slept on the floor of their home the night before the big trip. Their family had sold most of their belongings in order for their parents to become missionaries in Cape Town, South Africa. But they, as Jake said, “were just along for the ride.”

“We were kids,” Nick added. “We had the typical questions like, ‘Are there lions?’ You don’t really know what to expect, and that’s probably the biggest part of it. I think that was tough – knowing that you’re flying into the unknown and it wasn’t just for a vacation, but I’m glad I was forced into being uncomfortable.”

The brothers from Aurora, Illinois agree that their time in South Africa was a good experience for them. They went to school, became friends, and lived amongst people from different cultures, places, and languages.

The two really didn’t have a choice when it came to moving to South Africa. But after realizing just how different and yet strongly connected people from around the planet can be, both Jake and Nick have a passion for learning about those very people.

“I don’t really subscribe to travel in such a soul-searching, find-yourself way, but more as a way to get other people’s perspectives,” Jake said. “The more you can understand where people are coming from, in the future, you can understand more people.”

Combined, the two Budler brothers have been to countless U.S. cities 15 countries – both because of and beyond Wabash College – including Botswana, Spain, Venezuela, and, next year, Nick will be studying abroad in South Korea.

“I think it’s important to put yourself in other people’s shoes,” Nick said, “to scrap all of the prejudices that you have and put yourself in another environment in order to educate yourself and be a better person and better the world around you. And I don’t think you can do that as well if you just stay in one place all the time.”

For the Budler brothers, travel is not just part of their college experience – it’s enhanced it. They both have made friends at Wabash with whom they decide to travel with. They’ve brought back stories that have helped them connect with others on campus. And they’ve taken what they’ve learned around the country and across the globe and applied it to their readings, their studies, and their classroom conversations.

“I think it should be a priority for everybody,” Nick said, “especially considering the number of opportunities that Wabash gives.”