Author Thomas Mullen’s book, The Last Town on Earth, was adopted last year as common reading for all incoming freshmen at Montana State University – Billings. Mullen had hoped that his book, which deals with important topics such as morality, making difficult choices, overcoming fear of the unknown, and hope for a better future, would relate fittingly to the lives of undergraduate students who face similar challenges – what he hadn’t imagined was that his story would find even more common-ground with the women incarcerated at Passages, a correctional institution just one mile from the MSUB campus.
Two instructors from MSUB offered a course in 2010 that included a Service Learning Project – students of the course would examine The Last Town on Earth in a joint book club with Passages residents. The main theme of “community” within both the novel as well as the book club begged the question from each woman, “what is community?”.
The learning and friendship that developed between the students and the residents of Passages, all stemming from discussion of Mullen’s The Last Town on Earth, was largely captured on camera by a small film crew that was making a documentary for an MSUB communications class – and it’s one that’s worth checking out: http://www.spotlightads.com/Demos/msub_passages.html
The project also included a visit to Passages by Mullen himself, where he met and spoke with the women of the correctional institution back in December of last year. To hear Mullen’s own account of his experience discussing The Last Town on Earth with Passages residents, check out his blog post on “My First Prison Book Club.”
So much chance and inspiration sprung out of what first started as a First Year Experience reading choice in snowy Billings, Montana, and grew into an entirely different and unforeseen community experience in a women’s prison. Just goes to show that the message of one book can cross borders in the most unexpected and terrific ways.