Episode two: Odyssey Beyond Bars

Have you ever recognized yourself in another person’s story? Some would say that storytelling helps us connect as humans and, 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 OBB, Kevin Mullen, who designed the curriculum and teaches the course, and Mark Español, a former student. We will get to hear the story Mark told at the English 101 graduation inside Oak Hill. Learn more in the episode extras below.   

Listen Now

In any listening app, or here on this page

Episode Extras! 

Mark Español received his diploma at the Odyssey Graduation Ceremony in May of 2023. Pictured here with Kevin Mullen, the Director of Adult Education for the UW Odyssey Project.

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 mass incarceration is fed by a cycle of re-incarceration. About 8,000 people leave Wisconsin prisons annually, and roughly 40% of these men and women return to prison within three years. 

Wisconsin’s prison population remains persistently high, and rates of incarceration for African-American and Native American men are among the highest in the nation. Odyssey Beyond Bars 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. 


From numbers to stories

The three-part storytelling workshop is a key component of the OBB English 100 course. Love Wisconsin and Human Powered producer Jen Rubin brings a team of storytellers to lead these workshops in Oak Hill, Racine, and Columbia Correctional Institutions. People who are incarcerated are stripped of their name and given a number. Storytelling uses  the humanities to help folks in prison tell their stories exactly the way they want to tell it-these stories show that they are not a number but a person.

Meet the team of storytellers who lead the storytelling workshops hereYou can learn more about the storytelling workshop in the Isthmus article, ‘Writing a New Future.’ 

You can listen to the stories that Mark Español and Daniel Schleicher told on the final day of class.

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. Launched in New York City in 1997, The Moth has spread, and now there are monthly live storytelling events in Madison. Mark Espanol had only been out of prison for a few days when he shared a story, live at a Moth StorySlam, about a radio DJ who changed his life. Afterward, he was invited to talk about the experience of sharing in front of a crowd of strangers on the Inside Stories podcast.

You can hear Mark’s story, and explore the story behind the story with Human Powered producer and Inside Stories co-host, Jen Rubin. Listen to Inside Stories podcast!

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

Odyssey Beyond Bars offers college jumpstart couress to students incarcerated in Wisconsin state prisons. It’s part of the Odyssey Project of UW-Madison, which for 20 years has empowered students living in poverty to overcome obstacles, find their voices and reframe their futures.

  • In 2022, 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.
  • Watch this video with Peter Moreno, Mark Espanol, and others who explain the power of the OBB program after receiving the WI State Public Defender’s Eisenberg Award. 

Listen to Stories Told in Odyssey Beyond Bars

A Day in My Life in Apartment 4E Mark Anthony Espanol

Mark told this story 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.  

Penguins, Bears, and Tattoos, Oh My Daniel Schleicher

Daniel told this story 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.  


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


Kevin Mullen is the Director of Adult Education for the UW Odyssey Project. He teaches English 100 courses for Odyssey alumni and incarcerated students in the Odyssey Beyond Bars program. Kevin’s academic work focuses on expanding access to higher education for low-income adult students from marginalized communities, especially the role that writing plays in creating a stronger sense of self-efficacy, voice, and community. In the classroom, he is focused on encouraging and supporting adult students as they craft their stories and develop more confidence in their power of their voices, and nothing makes him happier than seeing them pick up the mic and use those voices to impact the world around them.


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. 


The music in this episode was created by the band Upheaval. The band was formed in the 1970s in Waupun Correctional Institution. Link to a video the band performing here.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get the latest information about our podcasts and other
news by subscribing to our newsletter.

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: Chris Bacarella and Hedi Lamarr Rudd