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Source — The Independent

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UK: why we should teach philosophy to prisoners (Kirstine Szifris)

I taught philosophy to prisoners, and I know it can help end the damaging macho prison culture

As with other forms of educational experience, in the classroom they could be – for a short time – philosophers as opposed to offenders or prisoners.

Teaching prisoners philosophy may sound unconventional, but my research has shown that it not only helps people survive the prison experience but it could also help reduce levels of violence and intimidation. Studies have shown that prisoners get through their incarceration by putting on a front or a prison persona which helps them to navigate life behind bars.

But by sitting down and talking through philosophical issues, I was able to provide a space where they could drop their macho fronts and learn to talk with each other about life, morality and identity.

Violence and drudgery

My participants explained how time inside the walls of prison passes slowly. The drudgery of the routine, the mind-numbing work activities and the lack of opportunity to express oneself all contributed to a sense of being suspended in time.

They wanted to be something other than a prisoner, a number or an offence-category. All this contributes to the slow erosion of identity.

Power, authority and distrust flow through the prisoner society. The need for survival in this context encourages men to project a macho front while prison officers watch from a distance.

They lead to further problems, not only for the men when they re-enter wider society, but also within the prisons. Prison cultivates identities that are rooted in a projection of physical power. However, a better way would be to develop a space where prisoners can be themselves, where they can dare to hope and believe that they can better themselves.

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