Housed, Clothed, Fed, and Educated

I’ve been a student all of my life. I was still at school when I was locked up. I did a couple of GCSEs and an A level in juvenile prisons (along with various courses at levels one to four). I started my Open University degree studies in Young Offenders’. I continued that as I moved into the adult estate at HMP Frankland. And I’m still doing them now I’m here at Wakefield. However, when I complete my degree next year, I am sad to say that I will probably be leaving prison education behind altogether.

The reason for this is strangely paradoxical. I firmly believe that education is vitally important (especially to the rehabilitation of prisoners) but I also believe that, for education to be successful, it has to be a positive experience. At Wakefield, I do not believe that this is the case.

I have been in seven prisons over the years, each with their good and bad points, but I can honestly say that I have never come across an education department as counter productive as the one here at Wakefield.

Bearing in mind that Wakefield and Frankland are both northern, high security, adult prisons, and both have their education departments run by The Manchester College, you would think that they would get funded for the same courses. Not so. Whilst Frankland continues to provide access to GCSE and A level courses, Wakefield claims that they cannot get funded for these. Likewise, whilst Frankland runs a number of personal development courses, Wakefield won’t do the same.

Since being here at Wakefield I’ve heard a number of tutors talk about how they are proud to foster a culture of ‘honesty, loyalty, and mutual support.’ Yet a number of students here have been abandoned by the education department without any support, or even communication. If anything, my experience of the education department here is one of dishonesty, disloyalty and demoralisation.

And that’s a real shame because it doesn’t have to be like this. There are at least a few tutors here who really seem to care. Not necessarily on a personal or emotional level, but to care about the job they are doing, and to want their students to really benefit and grow from the learning on offer. But they seem to have very little support at management level.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some good things that have taken place in the education department here. Many students have told me about a great project that one tutor ran here whereby they gained the support of a museum to bring a variety of genuine artefacts from different times and cultures into the prison for prisoners to work with and even handle. Students report feeling really privileged to have this opportunity and it’s something I wish I could have been involved with. Unfortunately I was still at Frankland when this took place.

However, as good as this was, it wasn’t put on by the education department at all. Students report that, with the exception of the tutor who set it up, there was very little support from education management.

And it seems to have been a one off too. Tutors with good intentions can only do so much without support from above and I have personally heard a number of tutors complain that there is nothing of the sort here. Until something is done at management level to improve the general atmosphere of the education department and to actually live up to their mantra of honesty, loyalty, and mutual support, the entire department will fail to play the part they should in the rehabilitation, change, and growth of prisoners.

Why should this be the case when a more supportive department would help not just the prisoners but the tutors, the general prison staff, and event the public and society as a whole too? A small shift in attitudes, a pinch of sincerity, and a dash of consistency thrown in for good measure would radically change education here, making it into a far more positive experience for all. And isn’t positivity what education should really be about? I certainly think so. Otherwise what’s the point?

So here I am. Faced with a decision over whether I am going to keep fighting against my disappointment to stay in a department that feels oppressive and hugely negative, or walk away and choose to sew prison issue clothing or to mop the landings all day. Either of these would be just as pointless, but at least they wouldn’t be a disappointment. At least it’s honest in it’s pointlessness. Now all I have to do is work out if that would feel better.

Advice welcome.

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