Not all prisoners are mean, scary and dangerous. Sadly, some are simply a victim of circumstance, imprisoned by their poor choices, impulsive behaviour or unfortunate circumstances. These are the prisoners I am referring to in this writing. My brother is one of them. Excluded from society as punishment for their behaviour and choices, all prisoners experience the full depth of exclusion in so many ways. We tend to forget that they are someone’s son, daughter, wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, mother or father. Every single prisoner has a story. A life that they left behind. It’s not a place to go to be repaired and rehabilitated. It’s a place you go that will either make or break you. It breaks most people; some a little and some quite a lot.
We hear about prisons in the movies and on TV all the time and it’s so easy to make assumptions about what life is really like ‘on the inside.’ The thing that we forget, is that these people are still HUMAN BEINGS. Shouldn’t the way in which we treat prisoners, reflect the way in which we want them to act, be, feel and accomplish when they re-join society? Sadly, they’re often released far more broken than they are rehabilitated, prohibiting them from leading a somewhat ‘normal’ life. How can this possibly be good for them, their families or society? How can this possibly reduce reoffending? Are we trying to punish for the sake of punishing? Or should we be taking active steps towards repairing society, one lost, remorseful person at a time. Prisoners need lifeboats, not anchors.
Here’s a few things that you might not know about their experiences.
Prisoners don’t get told much about their situation. Nor do they get many opportunities to ask.
Many don’t know what support is available to them; mental, emotional, medical or otherwise. When they do gain information about accessing these services, they often wait a long time to receive it.
If you have difficulty reading or writing, then that’s unfortunate.
Some guards take pleasure in having power.
Most are capable of working within their facilities, but many don’t due to their poor emotional well-being and feelings of worth as individuals.
Mental health is of real concern.
If you’re hurt or assaulted, no one comes to help you. Not. One. Person. Ambulances take hours.
Duty of care is expected, but not always provided.
Those who are strong mentally and physically are at an advantage.
And finally, if you don’t have someone persistent on the ‘outside’ then you have little chance of being heard when you really need to be. Advocacy is a privilege.
In my determination to change to the culture within prisons as just one big sister, I start with an acknowledgement of what we should be aspiring to achieve: Advocacy and rehabilitation in order to make positive changes for individuals, families and society in the long term. Can the current structure of support and staff within prisons provide this? I don’t believe so. Otherwise we would be seeing positive change coming out of prison sentences and fewer cells required in the first place. This brings me to the most powerful profession in the world. Teaching.
I can’t help but think about the difference that teachers make in their roles with young people. Although most of the young people they work with don’t have criminal records, teachers guide these impressionable people through millions of shades of change, confusion, emotion and trauma; every single day. Imagine what could be possible for inmates.
The power of teachers:
Teachers have the ability to create positivity from the worst situations, and up skill and validate everyone’s place in this world.
They can take a broken person and make them feel worthy of their existence.
They prioritise well-being as the foundation for all learning, growth and change being able to occur.
They listen with an empathetic ear, ensuring that every voice is heard. Every story is important. As is every individual person.
They are fair and calm negotiators.
They see through the muddiest bullsh*t and make acute and accurate observations.
The can spot a diamond in the mud.
They can assess a person’s needs and plan efficiently for their success, leading them via pathways that weren’t even visible or possible to that person beforehand.
They differentiate their instruction to meet an individual at their point of need.
They give feedback in a timely manner and create an atmosphere of inclusion through consultation.
They shine a light on an individual’s strength and potential, then they show them how to maximise it and reach their full potential.
They set the expectations high and then support individuals to achieve them.
They set clear expectations and are calmly consistent in their messages.
They are persistent, consistent and insistent.
They can tell that someone is lying and they don’t accept excuses.
Safety is always a priority.
They provide positive reinforcement rather than negative.
They console when there is upset and council when there is torment.
They act on behalf of individuals as advocates, not resting until their voice has been heard.
They communicate back to individual’s loved ones, ensuring that the valued lines of communication are open and functioning.
They educate and up skill.
They identify then raise the aspirations of those that didn’t even know they had any to begin with.
They believe in every individual.
They create pathways for employment and education so that everyone has a chance at a successful future.
They seek access to appropriate health and mental care.
Teachers can take any individual, and potentially change their entire future. Teachers can change the world. Perhaps if given the chance, they could change the future for people in prisons and provide so many opportunities for growth, change and success.
Some may argue that prisoners simply aren’t worth it, but I beg to differ. Yes, people in custody have been excluded from society for valid reasons. But should they be excluded from being advocated or having a better future? I think not. Everyone is capable of making positive change when the pathways and opportunities are provided through positivity and support. We are all human beings and so are people in custody.
If teachers worked in prisons, they could change the world, simply by changing the world for just one human being.