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Episode 2: A mic and five minutes

Some would say that storytelling is what makes us human. In this episode, we are going to hear some great stories. We are heading to Oak Hill Correctional Facility, where the University of Wisconsin Odyssey Beyond Bars Project offers storytelling workshops each semester for incarcerated students who are in the English 101 course. This is UW-Madison’s first face-to-face credit-bearing course inside any Wisconsin state prison since 1917. We will hear from Peter Moreno, the founder and Director of the program, Kevin Mullen, who designed the curriculum and teaches the course, and Mark Español, a former student. And, we get to hear the story Mark told at the English 101 graduation inside Oak Hill!

"It made me feel human again."
- Mark Español

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Episode Extras!

Odyssey Beyond Bars

“This class has already opened my eyes to a better life for myself.” –OBB student

Odyssey Beyond Bars offers college jumpstart programs to students incarcerated in Wisconsin state prisons. It is part of the Odyssey Project of the University of Wisconasin-Madison, which for 20 years has empowered students living in poverty to overcome obstacles, find their voices, and reframe their futures. In early 2022, the UW System expanded grants to support education opportunities in Wisconsin prisons and OBB was offered in more correctional facilities. Listen to this conversation on WPR’s Central Time about it.

Wisconsin Humanities is excited to bring our storytelling skills to Odyssey Beyond Bars through a special collaboration between Wisconsin Humanities and the Odyssey Project. Each semester Jen Rubin, WH staff member who produces Love Wisconsin stories and Human Powered podcast, leads a team of storytellers who facilitate a three-part storytelling workshop as part of Odyssey Beyond Bars English classes in Columbia, Oak Hill, and Racine Correctional Facilities. Learn more here.

(Photo of Kevin Mullen taken by Chris Bacarella during the Odyssey Beyond Bars writing class at Oakhill Correctional Facility.) 

From Numbers to Stories

People who are incarcerated are given a number, a number that comes to replace their actual name within the system. In this episode, we hear about how crafting a story, told exactly the way a person wants to, helps people 'feel human again.'

As part of a partnership between Wisconsin Humanities and Odyssey Beyond Bars, Human Powered producer Jen Rubin brings a team of storytellers to lead these workshops in Oak Hill, Racine, and Columbia Correctional Institutions.  You can learn more about the storytelling component of the course in the article, ‘Writing a New Future.

Want to hear more stories!?

We invite you to listen to the stories that Mark Español and Daniel Schleicher told on the final day of class, shared here in these short Soundcloud audio clips:

(Photo of Jen Rubin and several OBB students taken by Chris Bacarella during the Odyssey Beyond Bars storytelling workshop at Oakhill Correctional Facility.) 

Meet Mark

Mark Español received his diploma in May of 2023. In the picture above-right, Mark is with Kevin Mullen, the Director of Adult Education for the UW Odyssey Project and another guest in this episode.

In the photo above, Mark Español speaks to a full house at The Moth at The High Noon Saloon in Madison. If you have ever been to a live Moth event or listened to The Moth podcast, you know it's all about true, personal stories told without notes. Mark had only been out of prison for a few days when he shared his story about a radio DJ who changed his life. You can hear Mark's story and hear him in conversation about 'the story behind the story' with Human Powered producer Jen Rubin in a special episode of Inside Stories podcast!


A Day in My Life in Apartment 4E  is a story that was told by Mark Español at Oak Hill Correctional Facility in Oregon, Wisconsin, and featured in this episode. He wrote and presented it as his final project in the Odyssey Behind Bars English 100 course. Listen to the story here.

The Power of Education

There have been studies that show that incarcerated people who participate in postsecondary education programs are 48 percent less likely to return to prison.  This is important because about 8,000 people leave Wisconsin prisons annually, and roughly 40% of these men and women return to prison within three years.

Odyssey Beyond Bars, a program of the Odyssey Project of UW-Madison, is built on the premise that citizens who are fulfilled and productive are better able to provide for their families and contribute to their communities. An investment in prison education therefore builds stronger, more resilient communities. Odyssey Beyond Bars meets people where they are and prepares students to develop skills to support their academic, employment, and re-entry success.

Subscribe to Human Powered now! We have an episode all about the challenges and opportunities at the time of 're-entry' coming soon!

Going Deeper

Before you listen, after you listen, with friends or on your own, we invite you to give the ideas that come to light in this episode some deeper thought. Feel free to be in touch with your reflections! We love to hear from our listeners!

Mark Español says that the OBB’s English 100 course made him feel human again - it allowed him to be vulnerable, learn about his fellow inmates, and take control of his own story. Have you had any classes or instructors that you consider to be life-changing in a similar way? What did those experiences do for you?

Kevin begins his English 100 course by asking his students why they write. What is your relationship with writing?

At the end of the course, OBB’s English 100 students write a story about a significant moment, event, or theme from their lives, then they have five minutes to share it. If you had a mic and five minutes, what would you want to share?



Another great story!

Penguins, Bears, and Tattoos, Oh My was told by Daniel Schleicher at Oak Hill Correctional Facility in Oregon, Wisconsin. He wrote and presented it as his final project in the Odyssey Behind Bars English 100 course.



Perhaps you remember reading a text that changed your worldview or meeting someone who influenced the course of your life. Alejandro Dominguez, an intern with Human Powered, was particularly drawn to this episode because of its focus on education - something Alejandro believes is the gateway to a better life for all. We are sharing his personal essay on education and the universal human experience of awe, wonder, and reflection as one is confronted with new ideas. You can read it here.

Episode Guests

Mark Espanol on stage at The Moth Madison, photo by Hedi LaMarr Rudd


Mark Español is a DJ, artist, and barber currently living in Madison, after serving 9 years in prison. He is an alumnus of the Univesity of Wisconsin Odyssey Project and Odyssey Beyond Bars.  


Kevin Mullen is an Assistant Professor of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Director of Adult Education for the UW Odyssey Project. Kevin’s academic work focuses on expanding access to higher education for low-income adult students from marginalized communities. In addition to the core Odyssey class, he teaches English 100 (Introduction to College Writing) courses for Odyssey alumni and incarcerated students in the Odyssey Beyond Bars program. Nothing makes him happier than seeing people pick up the mic and use their voices to impact the world around them.

Peter Moreno, photo by Hedi LaMarr Rudd


Peter Moreno is the Director of Odyssey Beyond Bars Director. He is an attorney and former clinical law professor at the University of Wisconsin and University of Washington, where he represented incarcerated clients in wrongful conviction cases.  He created the Odyssey Beyond Bars credit-bearing course program in 2018 and is thrilled to introduce students in prison to the transformative power of Odyssey courses.


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Episode Credits

Hosts: Adam Carr and Dasha Kelly Hamilton
Senior Producer: Craig Eley
Producers: Jen Rubin and Jade Iseri-Ramos
Executive Producers: Dena Wortzel
Creative Producer: Jessica Becker
Photography: Hedi LaMarr Rudd