Sociology Student Striving for Prison Reform

Liisa Solomaa is headed to prison, and The University of Tulsa sociology department is ensuring she gets there. As a freshman, Solomaa had already determined her career path as a social worker in the criminal justice system. In high school, “I started to get very passionate about the death penalty and prison reform. I got a job at our local jail and thought I would love to be a social worker in a prison,” Solomaa said.

Accustomed to people being uneasy about her job goals, Solomaa was surprised that the TU faculty was prepared to guide and cultivate her dream. “The sociology department from day one has been super helpful. I talked with the chair of the department, and she said ‘Let’s start getting you a volunteer position in the community,’” Solomaa said.

With the help of Susan Chase, the sociology department chair, Solomaa landed a paid internship at the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office. While learning legal procedures, she creates client timelines from birth to current day, and she assists a capital investigator with court records and orders. “Working at the public defender’s office has opened my eyes to many different struggles that people go through. . . the poverty and different abuses,” Solomaa said.

By examining the cyclical power of poverty and education inequity, Solomaa’s sociology classes perfectly correlate with her internship. “You learn about different political and societal forces that make people who they are and about the underlying forces that make people do what they do,” Solomaa explained.

With TU’s small class sizes, professors truly know their students and their interests. “The professors are passionate about sociology and passionate about their students. I’ve never seen a classroom setting where the teachers really want you to learn and want you to be a good person with a support system,” Solomaa said.

Looking beyond the bars to the human side of the penal system can be jarring and disheartening. Sociology teaches students to see the possibility within the problem. “You are exposed to these things that are really ugly and sad about the world; but at the same time, you are seeing how we are working to overcome these and seeing the humanity in people through it,” Solomaa said.