I think I’ve had writers block. Or perhaps still got it. The problem is there is so much swimming around my head I am having difficulty processing it in blog-sized chunks. I think I need to have a go. What with the events in Paris and around the world, I am kind of thinking, ‘my work is meaningless and who really cares?’ But I need to press on!
I came away officially looking at ‘Technology for well being in prisons’, which I have been doing – more of a ‘techy’ blog to follow, after my meeting with ‘Prison PC’ -but I am at heart an artist, and my instinct is to look at creativity and the arts in prison education. In fact more than that, my real interest is in humanity and empathy, getting under the skin of the prisoners and the staff alike, seeing what’s working and what isn’t. While I am happy to chat about the creative software and the apps we are using in Stretch Digital, they are just tools to capture what I am really interested in. That is the story, the life experience, the moments of change – whether that be through art or film or even mathematics, IT or gardening – I like to see people on a journey, and expressing that journey.
It was interesting to be working in the Education Department. Like in the UK prisons the education is contracted out to another provider, and like in the UK there are rifts and tensions galore within the department. The arts are being sidelined for basic skills, its always a numbers game, seeking funding for programmes that have to have tangible results and hard outcomes. I went out to eat with the art teacher one evening, she was very interested in the prison art scene in the UK – there is nothing like that in Australia, all the visiting charities, theatre groups, sewing, painting and writing. She was looking for ideas and tips to make arts more appealing to her funders and the department. Anyone who has spent any time in a prison knows that the art room is really where the magic happens. How much proof do people need? In fact using the arts to engage people in the first place and then teaching basic skills through art programmes is often a much more successful model than making people attend basic literacy and maths classes.
Prison teachers are a special kind of person. People who choose to teach in prisons have to have some altruistic spirit, as it is tough and frustrating and often unrewarding. Prison art teachers are a specialist breed even amongst this group, I know of prison art teachers that have changed peoples lives with their dedication and compassion. I could not work in a prison everyday, I think I would find it too hard mentally – but perhaps they have to form a protective shell.
The bickering that goes on any department always reminds me what a glorious luxury it is to be my own boss. Not having to justify what I am teaching and my methods to anyone, being able to carry out my project plans just as I imagine them. Obviously it has drawbacks – like not being supported by a team – but in prison education I see a lot of unsupportive teams and dysfunctional departments. I felt instantly at home in the staff room, these were my people, my types of people. They were really keen to work with me – I had sent lessons plans that detailed all these great outcomes from the work – the communication skills and basic skills were flagged up by the manager and the artists outcomes buy the art teacher. Luckily I was on the whole oblivious to the tensions around who exactly would benefit from my presence – there wasn’t time to do everything and build the trust in the detainees I would have liked. But I was busy and did the best the I could. I am fairly sure this was the first ever digital story telling project in an Australian Prison. Not sure the staff or the prisoners know what to make of me, is she a teacher? an artist? a therapist? a weirdo? all of those things…
I feel like I am breaking down barriers and pioneering something. It feels good.