In the Voice from Behind Bars project prison inmates visited schools to tell their stories.

School students and inmates learning together

EAEA GRUNDTVIG AWARD 2018. Voice from Behind Bars project invited prison inmates to share their experiences in local schools.  Hubert Skrzyński talks about the project.

What was the main purpose of this project?

“The main objective of the project was to supplement educational offer of the schools where meetings were to be held, by introducing innovational and unparalleled event of organising advisory classes for young students. Specific goals were to force students to reflect on their own behaviour, getting to know the youth of pernicious effects to which one can be led if made wrong choices. Apart from that, we wanted to exert emotions (positive or negative) which would make youngsters think over wrong choices in one’s life which, in effect, should lead to shaping positive social and civil attitude as well as shaping an attitude of a responsible human being. These emotions were to be exerted by visual effects. We also wanted to motivate learners to take responsibility for their behaviour and prevent them from reckless conduct and wrong decisions which would influence further life. These took place by organising advisory classes conducted by inmates.

Additionally, we prepared a mobile photo exhibition which was an accompanying event during the meeting in each school. Photographs from behind prison walls showed the everyday life of the imprisoned. Apart from chats with prisoners, young students had a chance to watch two films. One of them was a fictionalized film made by the District Prison Board in Warsaw and the Police Headquarters in Radom. This was a story of three young boys who, thanks to their irresponsible behaviour, went to prison for many years – one for an assault, another one for battery with fatal effects and the third one for causing a car accident while being drunk and under the influence of drugs, in which three people died. The second film is the author’s and an amateur film made by the originator of the project. This film shows conditions that inmates have in the Płock prison. The whole picture was set in a relatively negative way to show that prison is not a good place for anyone. All the named above undertakings were to lead to implementation intended plans.”

How did the project foster cooperations and partnerships?

“The project was prepared in cooperation between ‘Busola’ socially excluded education association, Penitentiary Unit in Płock and the Lifelong Learning Centre at the Płock Penitentiary. It turned out that all involved parties took a huge advantage from being the part of the project:

  • Busola association – it is implementing its statutory activities and is the originator of a unique undertaking,
  • Lifelong Learning Centre at the Płock Penitentiary – the students of the school have an exceptional possibility to be a part of a unique undertaking on the local level. Also, thanks to the fact of their participation they ‘work’ for their future and possibly can get a parole,
  • Penitentiary Unit in Płock – thanks to the project, the institution raises its profile and the society might start see prisoners in a more positive light,
  • Schools that receive the “lessons” – they are the part of an interesting undertaking and have a possibility to provide their students with a lesson that normally they would not be able to organise.

All of the involved educators unanimously agreed that they had not seen their pupils so much focused for a very long time.

At the end it is worth to mention that schools do not have any possibilities to prepare such an advisory class within their own resources. Thanks to the feedback that we received from teachers who were present during our meetings, it turns out that they had a huge effect on learners, and one can believe that we accomplished our intentions. We do think our activities had strong preventive measures. During advisory classes in question, we could easily notice how focused teenagers were when they were watching materials that had been prepared for them. All of the involved educators unanimously agreed that they had not seen their pupils so much focused for a very long time. Finally, the demand for these classes is so big that we have already decided to run the third edition of the project in the next school year. That makes us think that the cooperation between all parties involved goes in the right direction.”

What was the best practice learnt from this project that you want to share?

“The best practice that I can describe is, that we are slowly breaking barriers and we are making people change their minds. I remember that before the whole project started I had very many clashes with people working in the prison regime. They did not want to hear that inmates could leave prison walls to ‘teach’ youth or to leave the prison at all. When finally I managed to talk the management into letting me take prisoners out, it turned out that the idea is extremely successful and suddenly everyone wants to boast about its success. We have now finished running the second edition and the numbers are talking for themselves – altogether we managed to conduct 16 ‘lessons’, each took place in a different school. There were over 1500 students that were present ‘live’ during our meetings. If it comes to inmates, there were 27 of them who took part in the project. They all were students of the school in Plock prison. 17 of them managed to get a parole (mainly thanks to the engagement in the project activities). Taking into consideration that the penitentiary unit in Płock is of a closed regime, we should consider this as a big number!”

Voice from Behind Bars

Category: National Projects
Coordinator: Education Association for Socially Excluded Busola
Country: Poland
Focus: Social inclusion, prison education
Innovative cooperation: Cooperation between a prison and students
Resources: Website

Text: EAEAPhotos: Voice from Behind Bars project

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