Wilma Greco, a Community Story from Italy
My name is Wilma, I’m 51 years old, and I work as an English language teacher at Agrigento Prison. I also carry out volunteer activities there, supporting prisoners with orientations for school courses and for work. I manage the library and set up cultural and recreational labs in cooperation with local associations and organisations. I am also involved in academic research, and currently am working on my doctorate on the theme of resilience of restricted people. In 2018 and 2020 I was appointed as a Role Model by the Erasmus + Indire Agency and the EPALE Italy Unit thanks to the "Stories of resilience" initiative. I never tire of narrating exemplary experiences of social redemption that convey a sense of a new awareness, together with the dissemination of good practices that spread good values. These include the crucial values of humanity, dignity and re-education of the prison sentence, which many international and national documents encourage.
In 2016, I participated in an EPALE seminar on education in prison. Through this, I discovered the platform and the variety of useful resources and materials for the field of adult education which remain poorly investigated and implemented. I use the platform to find case studies, good practices, documents, protocols and procedures implemented in the various environments, both at a national and European level. An added value is given by the opportunity to network, share knowledge, skills and competences, to promote lifelong learning and stay updated on the profession.
Sharing experiences also makes it possible to break the sensation that we prison school teachers often get of feeling isolated and in the minority.
The idea of my PhD on prisoner resilience was born from my experience with EPALE, first as a Role Model and then as an ambassador. And in a certain sense it changed my life, not only because it gave me the opportunity to become part of the academic world at an age when perhaps one should think more about how to reach retirement than how to take on new challenges, but also because it gave me the opportunity to try to design a new model of detention. A dream that I had thought was mine alone was, in fact, one shared by many intellectuals and activists. This year I have traveled a lot, including in Erasmus, and met different colleagues which has been a source of personal and professional enrichment.
Working in prison means daily confronting the poverty of means, the particular and contradictory dynamics of adult students, but also the satisfaction of being able to stimulate learning skills as possible trials of freedom to come. On the other hand, for prisoners school also represents a "window into the world," a contact with the outside society which would otherwise be prohibited.
Following the provisions for the containment of Covid-19, all activities were suspended. This amplified the isolation that prisoners habitually suffer and set prison back many years to when it was configured as a closed place isolated from society. On March 12th 2020, a letter from the Department of Prison Administration authorised the continuation of educational courses using modern information and communication technologies. It seemed to all a Copernican revolution, and perhaps in some respect it is, so much so that some Penitentiary Institutes have struggled to implement the courses.
At the end of the school year, we cannot say that there has been uniformity in transposing the rules and replacing face-to-face teaching with the DAD (Didattica a distanza - distance learning). However, in my view, it is as if Covid has started a competition between the prison schools and the Penitentiary Institutes throughout the territory. There has been no shortage of organisational solutions and efforts on both sides. From G Suite, to Zoom, Meet and Skype, serious attempts have been made to get back on the training path; didactic techniques and methods of implementation were openly shared and discussed on the EPALE platform.
It should be emphasised that in prison the difference between distance learning and a face-to-face class lesson is particularly relevant. Human contact is lost in online teaching, there is no sense of emphathy, of engaging with others through a cursory glance, of mending torn lives.
Access to information and communication technologies represents an undeniable resource for the entire school, both for penitentiary and "ordinary" schools. The hope is that the experiences and technologies put to use in these months will continue to represent a wealth of resources which can be used from September onwards, and after the pandemic is over, to implement and expand the training offered. This will not replace the teacher, whose ability to relate to students, as already mentioned, is the hallmark of the profession, even more so than the transfer of knowledge, skills and competences. The teacher shares a dream with the student for a different future. Danilo Dolci’s words, "We only grow if we dream", have never been more appropriate.