Tyrone Werts, founding member of Inside-Out Center at Temple University, visited Swarthmore to speak about prisoners’ rights on Monday in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Inside-Out Prison Exchange program holds in-prison semester-long seminars during which undergraduates and incarcerates study crime, justice, and related social issues together as peers.
Werts’ struggle and the prison rights movement are aligned with many of the values that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. promoted across the nation. “We often think of Martin Luther King in racial terms,” Naudia Williams ’14 said before introducing Werts. “Let us take today to focus on people who are overlooked.”
Werts served as an accomplice—the getaway driver—in a murder in 1975. He was later wrongfully convicted of second degree murder at age 23. Since he was three blocks away from the crime when it occurred, he had faith that the charges would not hold up, but they did. After surrendering the little remaining hope he had to be released, he finally received a commutation in 2011, which permitted him to be released to a halfway house. He now lives under strict regulations, including a 9:30 p.m. curfew.
Wert’s speech described his transformation during imprisonment from a bitter man into one with an unyielding determination to make the best of his life by preventing more of the same mistakes from occurring. Since his release, he earned a bachelor’s degree, a license in dentistry, and served in many anti-crime programs.
Marcus Ford ’15, who attended the talk, was inspired by Werts’ journey. “His history of delinquency… [doesn’t] make him any less of a role model. There’s something especially inspirational about a person who begins with such negative circumstances yet nonetheless achieves great things.”
Since its founding in 1997, the Inside-Out Center has held more than 300 classes and taught more than 9,000 students nationwide. More than 120 colleges and universities have taken part in the program, thanks to a grant from the Soros Justice Senior fellowship.
Werts has fought and will continue to fight for prisoners’ rights, just as Martin Luther King Jr. fought to ensure the rights of those who were overlooked. His speech, given in honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., did justice to King’s work.