RECOOP welcomes Community First
RECOOP guests, Katrina Watson and Clara Hickman from Community First, spent the day in one of the prisons in which we work delivering an 'Introduction to Community Organising Training' (an accredited course) to 13 prisoners due to be released within the year.
“What a fantastic group they were – engaged and enthusiastic throughout the day”.
The talking photos (photographs/pictures chosen by individuals from a random selection which they then talk about why they had chosen that particular image) invoked some emotional conversations and all prisoners were keen to share their stories behind the photos with the group. For one participant, the photos brought back memories of his young family and he was reminded of how much he missed them. The other prisoners listened and reached out to him responding spontaneously.
Their favourite part of the training was the ‘Power’ section and they really responded well to this session. Participants were asked who they thought has power in their community. Being in prison they really did have definite ideas of people they felt had the power and they seemed to understand the importance of power dynamics. They went even deeper and when asked which other sections of society have power their answers varied from politicians, judges, local councils to celebrities, the money men (Amazon, Google) and social media. Not one felt they held any power at all until reminded that they alone held the power over the direction of their own lives and future!
The last half of the afternoon session was spent discussing putting ideas into action – if they could set up a campaign how would they go about it and what would their campaign be. They decided they would like to be able to tackle the loneliness among the self-isolators, the inmates who chose to never come out of their cells and who are deeply lonely, cutting themselves off from everybody in their community within the prison.
They would like to be able run a prisoner-led café that was open to all ages across the prisoner community – they would drink from china mugs, not the regular prison plastic ones and hope to get “posh biscuits” and they would be able to come together and chat to their peers – particularly those from other units that they never managed to see except in RECOOP sessions.
They would approach the self-isolators by having open conversations with them, chatting to them and getting to know them a little before inviting them to the café. We have evidence of the café concept working in the community to combat loneliness and encourage social inclusivity.
One prisoner told us afterwards, “I enjoyed the whole day – it was inspiring and it gives us hope and positivity.” Another said, “the motivational, encouraging, supportive and friendly facilitators and Sandra really made me want to participate.” A few of them commented that they couldn’t believe that they could concentrate for so long: “in prison, the lessons only usually last for 45 minutes… but we managed to focus for the whole day”.
RECOOP enabled these two enthusiastic and lively members from Community First to deliver the training at Guys Marsh by first inviting them to attend an introductory meeting in the library to meet some of the prisoners back in October 2018. Katrina spent two hours introducing them to the course signing up whichever inmates were keen. Through this level of ownership, 13 participants signed up for the course. It was a very positive experience for the men who became totally receptive and participative throughout. Katrina and Clara were quite a team - rolling out interesting activities with the greatest of ease - while remaining totally responsive to need. I hope we can repeat the magic again in the autumn!
Following the training, Community First returned to hand out certificates to the participants when they had received them from the Examining Board. They brought with them a lady who is now working with them, who had some experience of the prison system. Her father had been in prison when she was a young girl and she had great difficulty coping. She had been a heroin addict since she was 14. Since coming on the Community Organising Training course, she had turned her life around, quit drugs and started to get involved in her community and subsequently got a job as a facilitator with the team. She told them that it was possible to change, and that if she could do it anyone could. Many had young daughters themselves and were moved by her story. It was a positive and thought provoking note on which to end the Training cycle.
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