Last week I was invited to speak at the Prisoner Learning Alliance conference in Leicester. The PLA is a group of academics and professionals who work in the field of prisons and education and it’s hosted by the Prisoners’ Education Trust, founded by Nina champion, who I have a great deal of respect for. It proved to be an incredibly stimulating and interesting day and was also an opportunity to network with a number of really impressive people in the field.
My allocated slot to speak wasn’t until nearly 4 o’clock in the afternoon, leaving me the whole day to change my mind about what I was going to speak about and to become increasingly nervous! I had been given the only creative slot, which was interesting and I think they liked the fact that I bridged two of the subjects – that of digital, and pushing boundaries with what we do in prisons.
The local governor from Leicester prison Phil Novis was very impressive – he talked about a culture in Leicester prison where learning is embedded through interesting and innovative projects such as doing TEDTalks between the prisoners and the staff, as well as supporting project learning that crosses subject boundaries. After my talk later that afternoon somebody who works at the prison approached me about coming to do some digital storytelling at Leicester prison. It seems they are open to trying new things – I hope that it works out.
Once again, it is apparent that so much depends on the personalities of particular governors and particular staff in prisons as to whether they can be involved in trying things which are a little bit different or unfamiliar.
In the middle of the day the Prisoners’ Learning Alliance awards for outstanding people working in criminal justice were announced. This was a really nice, uplifting occasion for people to celebrate the good stories that come out of prisons – people who have really made a difference in prisoners’ lives. One prisoner even came to collect his award still handcuffed to a prison guard, and the awards were presented by Sam Bailey of X factor fame, who used to be a prison guard – it was a great way to get over the post lunch slump.
There was a strong emphasis from many of the speakers about listening, and about the learner voice and about trying new approaches. It does sometimes feel at these events like everyone is preaching to the converted. I was carrying with me recent disappointments for Stretch regarding our work at HMP Wandsworth, who are so under-resourced they cannot support any visiting charities or forward thinking work.
I attended an excellent workshop around using ICT to support learning in the secure estate and I hadn’t realised when I signed up that it was presented by the Education and Training Foundation, who have actually used Stretch Digital in Peterborough prison as one of the case studies in a report, now finally published.
I saw a presentation by an organisation called Strive Training, who also take tablets into prisons. They deliver basic job hunting skills on the tablet and they had two former prisoners acting out scenes and talking people through things they could do on the tablet. Two actors were also in the workshop and the whole thing was really effective.
I talked to the company director at the end of the workshop about a possible collaboration, as I have been looking for a way to formalise the digital activity that we deliver through storytelling; at the moment the digital learning is secondary to the benefits of the creative storytelling process. They seemed open to collaboration and we will talk further!
My presentation on digital storytelling was very well received and I presented alongside two other very interesting people and projects. I was particularly interested in the work of Dr Victoria Knight, a senior research fellow at De Montfort University who has carried out some fascinating research on the presence of technology in prisons and in cells for well-being. Topics included the effect technology has on the prisoners and also the views of the public – what they think prisoners should be allowed or what they know already about prisoners’ internet and access rights. All in all it was a good, affirming day that reminded me how important the work Stretch does is – that it is innovative and pushing boundaries that need to be pushed, it felt satisfying to hear the feedback from my peers.