Portlaoise diaries

Diary by SYD MORGAN—————————————————————->

PICP Meeting Portlaoise –  8th–10th May 2014

I was invited to attend this session of PICP by my colleague Dr Kirsten Kearney, CEO of the Educational Shakespeare Company who I have been working since last year. As my work is basically concerned with Administration in an office environment I thought it would be a valuable opportunity to get out there as it were, and see at first hand what arts education in prisons is really all about.

The opportunity to meet other members from the groups involved in PICP was also welcome, and I was very quickly impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm displayed, the commitment to improving the lives of people in a prison situation was particularly striking.

I enjoyed the talk by John Lonergan very much, it gave me some important things to think about. His anecdote concerning the views of a young woman he had met and her sadly very low expectations for herself really struck a nerve.

The group were scheduled for a visit to the Midlands prison and, having never been in a prison before, I had mixed feelings about the visit to the education wing but was determined to keep an open mind and basically look and learn.

I can honestly say I still had mixed feelings after the visit, I was extremely impressed with the artwork I saw displayed, the quality of so many pieces of work was outstanding, and displayed high levels of artistic ability. It also left me wondering that, without wishing to generalise regarding people’s personal backgrounds and circumstances, did some people have to experience a prison environment to discover what talents and ability they possessed?

I did also at times feel like I was intruding into the prisoners lives here yet was grateful that I was given the opportunity to see their work at first hand.

The sessions in the conference room were also very useful for me, there were many serious and thought-provoking issues raised, and I thought the group “creative breaks” were very useful engaging with the other group members in unusual ways.

One particular speaker stood out for me and that was Brian O’Rourke. I found his story of the transition from prisoner to his attending a degree course at art college particularly important as it was an example of how art education in prison can help someone turn their life around.

I would have to close by saying a huge thank you to the group members from PICP for a memorable, challenging experience, and also to the prison staff for their sharing information as well as their superb hospitality.

“This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authorand the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

Diary by MARILENA PETROGIANNI——————————————————–>

Well, just a few words on what these 3 days in Ireland meant to me.

First of all, I am glad to have been given the opportunity to meet such amazing, dedicated people, so kindhearted, so outgoing, so “Greek”!

I was carried away by Mr. Lonergan’s speech, I would have liked to hear more about  his experience ( if only he could speak a bit louder! ) I also liked Brian O’Rourke, even though he thinks he isn’t much of a speaker. He’s so authentic, though, and so inspiring  and  worth admiring.. It’s been 4 months since our meeting in Portlaoise, and I’m still looking for a way of helping one of my students the way Paula helped Brian, but then again, perhaps I’m too optimistic.

Visiting both Dochas and Midlands prisons was a bit of  a shock to me, quite surreal, I could probably compare the whole experience with a time travel (need I say into the future?!)

I’ve been asked to write about things I didn’t  like, as well, but everything  was so beautifully arranged and taken care of that I just can’t find anything!

Thank you for a perfect hosting, Veronica, and please believe me, I do like radishes!

“This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authorand the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

Diary by KIRSTEN KEARNEY—————————————————————->

Port Laoise – PICP meeting, May 2014
Thursday 8th May 2014
I only knew of Port Laoise from a Christy Moore song about injustice and from a friend who was the last man on death row in Ireland and was jailed in Port Laoise prison. I thought that was where we were going!

Syd Morgan and I were impressed with the friendliness of the Dublin people as random strangers in the street and on buses helped us find the Dochas Women’s Centre in Dublin. Although I felt the chill of judgement when I realized that perhaps one shouldn’t be so open in a public place about visiting a prison. Surprisingly, most of the bus seemed to know it…
I work in the organizational end of ESC, so I don’t do face to face contact with our participants very often. And I am rarely in jails. Given that my first introduction to ESC was being invited into NI’s maximum-security prison and being shepherded through the drugs dogs and scanners, the Dochas was a surprise by its openness and friendliness. But it was emotional. Even though we were given free tea and bikkies while waiting for the rest of the PICP group who were touring the centre, you could feel the pain in the air in the waiting room, as tiny toddlers ran around the place waiting for their mothers and hollow-eyed family members waited for their visits. I wondered if this is what all female prisons feel like. I didn’t remember Maghaberry feeling anywhere near as sad as this – aggressive, strutting and very male yes, but not sad.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see round the prison. Hearing later from John Lonergan about the vision for the centre was inspiring, but hearing what became of his vision once he left the post, brought the usual level of despair that we associate with the prison system in the North of Ireland.

Visiting the Midlands prison (not Port Laoise as I realized with some embarrassment) was also a strange experience. Our Artistic Director Tom Magill talks a lot about the ‘zoological gaze’ and I felt that very strongly as we were escorted round the prison. The staff were all very pleasant and couldn’t have been more helpful, but being ushered into and through prisoners’ own spaces and collective classrooms felt like we were spying on them – especially when the taller members of the PICP team were peering through the long horizontal windows into the rooms we did not have access to.

It was uncomfortable. Being brought into the sex offender wing, it was hard, as a woman, not to feel exposed and a bit vulnerable, despite the presence of all the security, and I was frustrated with myself because I found it difficult to remove the ‘what did they do’ thoughts from the front of my mind. It was challenging. I also wondered about the purpose of what the prisoners were doing. Were the arts projects just to pass the time? Did they have any value in themselves? Did they bring a sense of creativity coming alive and of pride in what your own hands had made, or were they just an easy out from the tedium of day to day life on the wings.

It made me realize that the best prison educators are those with deep humanity and real passion. It also made me realize that not all educators have those traits.

“This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authorand the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

Diary by TOM MAGILL—————————————————————->

Due to existing work commitments I didn’t arrive until the Friday lunch time and was able to catch the keynote presentation from Mary Claire Halvorson from Goldsmiths: ‘The Importance of not knowing.’
I was struck by many of the things she said:
The sooner you get people to contribute the better and more engaged they are.
Everyone knows something you don’t – learn from them.
Knowledge is what we accumulate, wisdom is what we drop.
She spoke of the rhizomatic model of learning:
the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectible, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 21)
Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely. William Saroyan.
He is happy in his wisdom who has learned at another’s expense. Plautus.
Beth Weaver from Strathclyde talked to us about ‘Coproducing Desistance.’
Who supports this process of change?
We learned that the narrative theory of desistance develops a sense of agency and is premised upon an internal shift, in identity, motivations and empathetic concerns.
The desistance model develops social capital – the network of relationships, mutual helping, long-term reciprocal relationships of trust and responsibility. And that how mentors communicate hope to motivate change.
Relationships are the means through which our identity is constructed. Generative activities facilitate an identity shift and stability is based on feelings of belonging.
Beth emphasised co-production influencing motivation, capacity and opportunity as change drivers.
Citing mutual aid groups that foster engagement and investment.
Saturday morning we discussed the themes, speakers, and visits etc. for the next meeting.

Aiaslin O’Donnal – can prisons work?
Aislinn O’Donnell and Jonathan Cummings spoke of the role of arts in education.
Aislinn warned of the dangers of Arts Education being framed as a cheap alternative to crime prevention and the danger of education becoming a means to display conformity.
She talked about the need for a critique of ‘skills’ discourses within prison education.
She raised the possibility of a degree as a value that transcends the prison and thinking as a form of resistance.
Parelia – fearless speech – speaking truth to power and its through parrhesia that the abnormal formal gains power.
Education should empower us to become always potentially capable and being literate is about having the power to read the world differently.
She spoke of the danger of ‘instrumentalizing’ education through an agenda in the service of non-educational ends that is moving towards social controls and the danger of promoting ‘interventions’ as impulse controls.
The arts allow us to develop rich forms of observation: ‘it’s a war to preserve your sanity and dignity’ in prison.
Art offers us a freedom to make choices, a world without rule and endless possibilities where we can use paint to tell a story.
Jonathan Cummings film maker
Prisoner’s voices: ‘My release comes in slumber. In the morning I am in chains.’
Art does teach skills. But linking arts with governance skills concerns me.
It is the tail wagging the dog.
Art making helps develop parrhesia – fearless speech, speaking one’s mind, speaking truth to power, a citizen not a slave.
We work with political prisoners examples of parrhesia are them getting their body back. We trust the participant’s rights over the material and the edit.
Prison art is not about desistance or rehabilitation, it’s about resistance.
When we seek to deploy art in the service of other agendas we lose its freedom.
I’m interested in critical enquiry, purpose and voice, power and knowledge. The role of the student and the teacher is not fixed; it is a more equal relationship, a shared studentship of student teachers. Art teaches the not knowing, art as honest broker. Film as the autonomous eye.
We had a short panel discussion and Q&A
TM – But how do we get past the gatekeepers?
Maria – The prison didn’t know how to deal with the media exposure following the success of our project.
Jairi – There needs to be a hidden agenda in your head.
Aishling – We need to articulate what we do and then invent a language of evaluation to assess it.
FORUM
We had a final talk about the problems in Greece and Portugal and our next meetings in Portugal, Greece and Poland.

“This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authorand the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

Diary by MIRTHE WACKIE—————————————————————->

LD Mirthe PL

 

 

 

“This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authorand the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

Diary by JAN MELSKENS—————————————————————->

I found our visit to Ireland very useful and inspiring.
Useful because there were a number of business disputes (especially about money) and inspiring because all participants had the intention to make something beautiful of it.
Sometimes, however, we want to make it all too difficult and then the slogan, in my opinion should be: “Keep it Simple”

“This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authorand the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

Diary by ANASTASIA PEPPA —————————————————————->

This was my first participation in a European programme which had to do with prison and the arts. I had no idea about what I would see and experience.

First of all, I met special and amazing people, oyr partners, and I started to believe that when a lot of people try to do the same thing and can understand each other, it becomes easier for everyone to carry on as they gain ideas, encouragement and strength.

So, in Portlaoise I had a perfect time and gained useful experience. I visited a magical country and I met outgoing people, both inside and outside the prison. Generally, I feel that Veronica and Paula’s organization was flawless (the tours, the meals,…the drinks!). I was also impressed by the Academy where we were staying. The people there were so kind!

What was really special to me was meeting Mr Lonergan and Brian O’Rourke and listening to their lectures. I would have liked to listen to them more.

I was really shocked when we visited the Dochas and Midlands prisons, because the conditions there are very different from ours. I understood that humanity and passion are very important both to the prisoners and the educators, as well as to everyone involved!

I could talk for hours about this trip, but I can’t really express all my feelings and all the pictures I have in my mind and in my heart. So, I stop here hoping to see you again as soon as possible!!!

“This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authorand the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

Diary by PAULA RAFFERTY—————————————————————->

What struck me about this meeting was the dedication and professionalism of all the staff at the Irish Prison Service College in Brian Stack House from the Governor to the office staff. As one of the organisers I arrived early to help with preparation and was met by two of the staff who were so helpful and well prepared that I was shocked. (Working in the Irish Prison System for so long you take for granted how long it takes to get anything done and fight apathy on a daily basis.)

I felt hopeful for the future of the service, especially seeing the amount of in-services that were happening on a daily basis for staff, but it was disheartening in a way as all in-services for teachers have been cut in the last few years.

What stood out for me during this meeting was having an ex student of mine speak, Brian O’Rourke. I felt so nervous for him! As he spook he started this rocking motion, which he wasn’t aware of and I don’t know if anyone else noticed it they were all listening so intently, but all I wanted to do was reach out and put a hand on his arm to reassure and stop him (from rocking).

I drove him back home after the meeting that day and I have to admit I was envious!! He spoke with such excitement and enthusiasm about starting Art College in a couple of months, all the possibilities that lay ahead. What he wanted to do, make, try, discover, what the future held. It was lovely to see that longing to try and discover new things; I wanted to be going back to college too!

It makes all the bureaucracy that I have to put up with on a daily basis worth it, to know that I can make a difference and can influence people in a positive way.

“This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authorand the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

Diary by Vicky Douzeni—————————————————————->

I started this diary with the intention of writing down the knowledge I’ve acquired during our meeting in Portloise, knowledge which will help me improve my teaching techniques in prison. So I went back to my notes and here are the most interesting and most important points for me.
To start with, Maria Joao presented Boal and his work. So I learned more about the Theatre Oppressed, in particular about Boal’s methods of using this form of theatre in prison, a very interesting way for the offenders of expressing their feelings and their problems.
Visiting the two prisons was very enriching, since I could compare the way they function and are organized to the reality in my country.
Also, Mary-Claire Harvorson gave us an outstanding speech on “The importance of not knowing”, targeting teacher working with adults. Here are some of the keynotes I took down:
– Stop and think (step back in order to go forward).
– Learn, unlearn, relearn
– Everyone knows something you don’t, learn from them.
– The important thing is not only to work with someone, but also the way you do it.
Some other notes taken during an ex-prisoner’s speech, which helped me understand what my students in prison may expect from me:
– To care, that’s what matters most!
– We all want to be treated as human beings.
– Make the two worlds (offender and society) mingle and interact.

“This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authorand the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

 

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