This week’s blog comes from one of the two module leaders of PRisoN Learning Together 2017 reflecting on the process of planning and organising the module, the support that has been received from both the university and prison involved, and the future of our partnership.
I don’t remember when I first heard that saying. Relating to a duck floating gracefully on top of a pond, while unseen by all it frantically kicks its legs to stay on course, or even just to stay afloat. While I don’t remember when I first heard it, I do remember always thinking it was quite a poor analogy; that is until we started PRisoN Learning Together. Since we started planning this project it might seem like I have it all together, but in reality I am actually losing my s#*t and it is pickling my brain. My legs, out of sight of everyone else, are flailing frantically, desperately trying to keep me afloat.
I can’t even clearly state what it is that I am getting frantic about. To start with, it was scurrying around trying to help make everything happen. Endless meetings informing the powers that be why we ARE doing this, rather than enquiring as to whether or not we can. Our University, Leeds Beckett, has been incredibly supportive of this project and have started with the answer of yes to all of our requests, and then sitting with us to see how we can make it happen. It shouldn’t be assumed that the staff at HMP Full Sutton haven’t been incredibly supportive too, they have. Without the backing from the prison, this would still be a pipe dream. Leeds Beckett, have in our eyes, gone above and beyond what we were hoping for by their agreement to accredit the learning of the Full Sutton based students. It still blows my mind that the 13 prisoners at HMP Full Sutton are registered students at Leeds Beckett University. Leeds Beckett needs to take a very deep and long bow for facilitating that. When, and if they do take that bow though, they need to be standing shoulder to shoulder with HMP Full Sutton. The management and staff at Full Sutton, have answered all of our requests with a ‘yes, now how do we make this work’. They have taken our students (by the metaphorical hand) and led them through their security clearance checks (including funding the checks). Full Sutton staff have given their time to ensure that ALL students are as prepared for the learning environment as they can be.
One of the students mentioned in our last session that we were ‘mavericks’, we were doing things that people said couldn’t, or even shouldn’t be done. We are laying the foundations for greater things to come. While that brief discussion made me so incredibly proud, it also made me so incredibly scared, and it was this that made my duck feet go into overdrive. What is the point of being ground-breaking mavericks if we can’t sustain it? It is clear just from the first sessions that the Full Sutton based LBU students ‘get it’. They have bought into the principles of Learning Together and are embracing them. The levels of knowledge and thirst for more is palpable. BUT, what right do we have to encourage students to buy into this, if we cannot sustain it? At the end of the module it is hoped that the 13 men at Full Sutton will achieve their 20 credits, but what then? What if the thirst for knowledge that has been instilled within them sets them on journey towards getting a degree that we cannot then help to facilitate? False hope within any environment is horrible, but never more so than an environment where hope is a luxury that is rarely afforded. At the moment, all we have to offer is 20 credits for a Penology module. If we are able to run the module again next academic year, those 13 men cannot retake it. Okay, they apply to be facilitators for future running of the module (and they would be very welcome to join us), but that would not count towards recognised academic qualifications. The duck legs then are about what happens next. We have a plan, and we are frantically kicking our legs under the water to achieve this plan. In an ideal world we will be in a position to start offering more modules for study. We have interest from a number of different degrees (Youth work and community, Sociology, Psychology, History, English, Speech and Language to name a few) who would love to take up the Leeds Beckett Learning Together torch and further the educational journeys of those involved.
While we do not know what the future holds for the educational relationship between Full Sutton and Leeds Beckett, anyone that is involved can rest assured that while it may seem very calm and tranquil, in reality it is non-stop organised chaos – but we are all pushing in the same direction!