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This is how it started up: Seville Penitentiary Psychiatric Hospital with “El Alambique”

I took my final work position as a teacher at the Adult Education Unit in the Seville Penitentiary Psychiatric Hospital in 2012, which is a Public Penitentiary Administration placement linked to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It is a special centre where social welfare meant for security measures witholding liberty compliance applied by the relevant Court prevails.  

With an average patient population of 182, coming from Andalucia, Extramadura, Canarias, Ceuta and Melilla among other regions, “El Alambique” is the only Andalusian Adult Education Unit placed in a Penitentiary Psychiatric Hospital.

The Alambique Adult Education Unit is staffed with an only teacher, that is me. When I got the job, I realized the great hard work my predecessors had done, joining formative activities with the inmate patient individual plan, nevertheless, their interest and aim in lifelong learning were set in such an environment that they were inevitably led to an unpromising future ahead.

Even though we were in the digital era, technological resources were not allowed because of security measures. For this reason, we had to develop educational materials so as to allow inmates to be up to date with the world in freedom. It was going to be possible taking into account their capabilities but not their limitations, always in terms of normalization. This is how it started up.

The ”El Alambique” inmate mentally-ill patient intervention model

They who are hospitalized in here, in order to abide by security measures have a serious mental disorder which makes them manage uneasily on their own. The inmate students show special needs such as emotional, cognitive, affective, interpersonal deficiencies, among others, thus the intervention model is eminently therapeutic.

Furthermore, motivation is not fostered in such “prison” settings in which there is only a classroom, the library. With all in mind, it could seem not to be the best apprenticeship setting. Notwithstanding, gardens with school desks are placed next to the sports facilities where reading and alphabetisation activities are developed. Consequently, a more relaxed and pleasant atmosphere where to exercise their brains and bodies has been created.

Faced with this reality and working closely with my Hospital colleagues, I developed therapeutic materials aimed to reinforce medical care to judicial inmates, reach clinical stabilisation and provide them with sufficient skills in case of social inclusion.

In class, we are to foster and develop their abilities impaired due to the progression of the illnesses. Our methodology is based on the premise that not only is it feasible to decrease the degree of cognitive impairment that may have occurred, but also to minimize the mentally-ill rejection through both information and sociability activities outdoor that enable normalization of relations.

School-based intervention in “El  Alambique”. Innovation activities

I was used to prison working environment consequently, I realized how to improve the functioning of the institution:

- I am both so happy for having passed the exam, but also sad as I will not be able to attend your classes anymore.

- I bear in mind something that you may fancy and you would be still part of this education centre.

That conversation I held with my student sparked off loads of reflections.

One of the main ideas came to light when finding out that some patients had never read the news. Hence, providing some newspapers were brought there, what if we read, discussed or fostered critical thinking so as to make a good habit of it? It was the beginning of other activities such as some books reading or performing different music genres.

Some initiatives emanated from those reflections. Some of them are: “Shall we talk?” or “Shall we dance?”

Brain wave 107.8 FM. Shal we talk?

From our own radio station, Brain wave 107.8FM, some live radio shows are run daily, creating a new source of communication that contributes to avoid solitude. We deal with books and newspapers reviews, interviews and jokes selections.

This therapeutic tool provides listeners and speakers with quiet and peaceful settings. There, there are breathtaking arguments and know-how perspectives that have led to be awarded with several national radio prizes.

Some activities should be noted such as “Tenorio Virtual” radio show, in which Paco, NGO collaborator, and me, as hosts, along with a big deal of my students go inside of Don Juan Tenorio’s book so as to interact with their characters. Other activities to be emphasised are music therapy or a yearly Christmas album recording played by professional singers and patients. These initiatives provide the students with motivation as well as with emotion.

Positive emotions are reflected throughout waves enabling students to take distance from their problems, manage anger and frustration, show an emphatic and collaborative attitude and defuse their individual situation. Everything is possible when “we are on air”

Shall we dance?

One day, something, suddenly, crossed my mind. What if I took advantage of dance possibilities when teaching? So, I tried it. 

I have no words to express the extent of my satisfaction when they tell me every Tuesday from then on: It’s time to dance! And even greater when we get into the gardens of the hospital. Then, I noticed their laughs, body movements and how they get away from their addictions for a while.

This would not be possible without my colleagues’ support and willingness. Carmen, occupational therapist and Mª Ángeles, educationist are the ones who make this activity a reality, therefore I can only give thanks and recognize their hard work.

Curiously, we received an official notification from Penitentiary Institutions of the Ministry of the Interior last year, in which the “Dance competition” was among the yearly contests. The penitentiary treatment assistant director and me decided to take up the challenge. Latin and street dance were the chosen disciplines, individually and in group. As from this debut, we strongly believe in such competitions.

Finally, I would like to point out my gratefulness in being part of the students’ peace, calm and happiness. Especially taking into account their background and difficult situations. And, of course, it is necessary to give thank to all the hospital staff. With this article, all I have to say is “thank you”.


Esperanza is the Delegate Head of Studies in the “El Alambique” Adult Education Unit and elementary teacher.

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Auteurs van het materiaal
Esperanza Fernández Fernández
Type materiaal
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