In dialogue, one speaks with the possibility of being heard and simultaneously listens with the possibility of being changed. Dialogue is both the most hopeful and the most dangerous pedagogical practice, for in it, our own dogma and certainty and orthodoxy must be held in abeyance, must be subject to scrutiny.
- William Ayers
Having sensitive eyes and ears to feel when somebody needs help is one thing, but to take right action to encourage, guide, and steer one to make decisions that would be best for the individual is another. This essay looks at rehabilitation programs at juvenile detention centers and prisons in Russia and in Finland. The research from Kristiina Brunila and Bell Hooks will act as sources for critical thinking, reflection and inspiration. The hope is that from this essay, we can figure out how to evolve the education system to support our multicultural society.
We are different
No two lives are the same and that is a fact. From that perspective, how can teaching have a textbook or factory production line approach? Education theory and methods are helpful, but the teacher needs to be wise enough to adapt this information to each child. I am in agreement with Bell Hooks, author, feminist, and social activist that the classroom is and should be a place of excitement. The classroom should ideally be a place where, individually and as a group have the excitement to learn, rethink and challenge ideas and practices. Hooks recommends, ”To begin, the professor must genuinely value everyone's presence. There must be an ongoing recognition that everyone influences the classroom dynamic, that everyone contributes. These contributions are resources (Hooks: 1994, 8).”
On being dismissed
To be neglected is to be ignored, which counteracts the nourishment one needs to grow to be confident, empathetic, and self-actualizing human beings. Emotional neglect in childhood can be manifested into various symptoms and have greater repercussions as an adult. “Because it’s mostly silent and invisible, childhood emotional neglect is largely an overlooked phenomenon in psychology. Unlike physical neglect or abuse, where there are signs such as bruises or children coming to school underfed, emotional neglect is difficult to identify as there are frequently no observable signs (Summers 2016).” In my opinion, gathered from personal experiences and observation, validation is a primary building block in child development. These are needed in childhood in order to have strength in building opinions and voicing them.
Kristiina Brunilla, professor of social justice and equality in education at the University of
Helsinki, looks at training, guidance and rehabilitation for young adults as public-funded projects in her article State of Mind on the Market (Mielentilan markkinoilla). In her article, she highlights the implications of market and therapeutic connection especially in the lives of young adults. In 2010, she conducted interviews with men under thirty years old from ten different prisons in Southern Finland. In her research she found the act of voicing opinions and personal insight enables rehabilitation. This is seen as a part of emotional work. The dialogue opened up in the interviews with the prisoners and project workers went beyond verbal awareness of emotions, but they also, “Opimme tietämään mitä ja miten voimme missäkin tilanteessa puhua (Brunilla 2011: 85).” Implicit learning of emotional management skills were actualized.
Sociologist Arlie Hochschild views emotion work as a process to inspect the self, interaction, and structure (1979). Emotion, being a very multifaceted and controversial topic, “can be and often is subject to acts of management. The individual often works on inducing or inhibiting feelings so as to render them "appropriate" to a situation. The emotion-management perspective draws on an interactive account of emotion (Hochschild 1979: 551).” Hochschild’s approach to feelings and emotions with psychological and performative underlays is due to her influence from psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and sociologist Erving Goffman. There are common factors between these theorists. They share the notion of investigating and comparing feelings, the moment, and the situation. Keeping context in mind regardless if the focus is on the subject’s inner emotions or how people appear.
Brunilla’s emotion work research addresses and validates the participants’ existence and situation in a society where plenty of prejudices are abound to prisoners. Her dedication to understand, educate, and eradicate injustice is proven thus far in the article which consists of research carried out from 2002-2010. Brunilla-s emoition works process is dependent on time and a certain level of openness. When Brunilla asked, Tomi, one of the participants about what he would like from society, he answered, “Semmost yksilöterapiaa, et heti tartutaan niihin semmosiin heikkoihin kohtiin ja lähetään niit työstää kun mä saan vieläkin joskus törmätä niihin asioihin kun oon tosi vajavainen.” Tomi is articulate in his speech and allows himself to be vulnerable by sharing this information publicly. Brunilla’s research, reflective of Hochschild’s emotion work, shows that it is an open dialogue and calls for risk taking from the participant as “it refers to the effort-the act of trying-and not to the outcome, which may or may not be successful (Hochschild 1979: 561).” Eventhough Brunilla does not go into detail about her own methodology, these elements can be deduced by the extracts and references in her article.
Gatherings to share work practices and experience is essential not only in personal growth professionally and personally, but to strengthen the purpose of the work, at large. Anastasia Artemeva organized the public discussion Prison Outside, which looks at artistic projects in and around prison. In this event, at Lapinlahti Sairaala on May 23, 2017, international speakers introduced collaborative practices that connect incarcerated people and the public outside the prison. Discussion was around “how we, as outsiders, view incarcerated people, and what can be done to challenge the negative relationships with current and ex-convicts, replacing them with empathy and solidarity. What is the purpose of imprisonment and how can artistic practices challenge the stigma it produces?” Collaborators from Finland, Russia and the USA addressed engagements between artists, inmates and representatives of NGOs through practices that centre on personal, open and empathic approach.
Thirty-four year old Sonny Black from Finland who is living in an open prison in Helsinki started the evening. He is a rap artist serving his 12th year in prison. Black started his presentation with, “I have been in institutions for 32 years of his life.” He did not share with the public why he was sent to prison when he was 18 years old, why he got life sentence when he was 21 years old, and why he will be set free in a couple of years. More so, he focused on how music has had a positive impact not only in his life, but has been a catalyst to reach out to youngsters on the street who are in need of support. He chooses to work mostly with youth because he feels that he can help them and influence them whereas with adults, if they are not willing to stop and change their ways, he cannot do anything for them. Black knows where the weight of his presence matters.
Personal contact and direct attention with individuals goes a lot further than generalized help initiatives. Black, from his own intuition, uses that tactic to reach out to youth through his music and group G.W.A. Gypsies with an Attitude. The youngsters, mostly aged 10-15 years old, know where to find Black at Sörnainen every afternoon. Black makes himself available for his students so that he can “spend time with them, to talk with them, eat, and solve problems.” He said that these particular youngsters who find trust in him don’t trust the people working in the youth centers. They don’t like going there. Youth centers with all their good intentions are ultimately government-funded institutions which put off certain groups of people. In the song Legacy, written by EK, Lil Mercy, and Troublemaker, Black raps about being in two different worlds, societal order, and his mission for helping youth through music making. Street Life Records makes it possible to make voices be heard.
On tha street – cops still keepin’ up the heat, mistreat - repeat – I’m outsider and incomplete. This is what I am right or wrong I can’t change that, chit-chat in the chat – still playin’ mortal kombat. tryin’ to get youngsters out from the hood, if I die today – atleast I did the best I could.
Image 1: Clip from Legacy music video
Anna Voronkova is a linguist and translator from Russia. Voronkova was first introduced to working with prisoners through La Resistencia magazine in Argentina. Since 2012 Voronkova has been facilitating comic book workshops with juvenile prisoners aged 16-18 years old in Russia together with Moscow Center for Prison Reform. She is also project coordinator for Respect, a joint initiative of the Goethe Institute Moscow, the Youth Human Rights Movement, the Moscow International Comics Festival «KomMissia» supported by the European Union. Voronkova mentions that time with the workshop participants is precious because minutes can be easily taken away due to lunch breaks and security checks. Once a month a volunteer visits the boys juvenile detention center to make a three hour comic workshop about 100 kilometers away from Moscow. The girls juvenile detention center needs a night train to get to because it is located in southern Russia, 12 hours away from Moscow. Due to the long distance, volunteers have 3-4 hour workshops for two days and visit only once every three months.
Graphic stories and making comics is a medium that is approachable for youngsters to create in. Voronkova’s approach to creating comics is personal and gives room for one to safely travel between comfort zones. In one of the workshops, she asked her group of teenage girls, Who knows the story of how their parents met? Only two girls raised their hand. When she asked if they would like to share that story, only one of the girls volunteered. That is how the story, Fight for Love. Prison destroys love was born. From the girl’s personal story, every participant could then tell their own interpretation of her parent’s love story. This activity made space for discussion on what really happened, how the listener’s perceived the story, and then actively choosing how each person would like to make the ending of the story. Voronkova shares that by “retelling the story it is not your story anymore.” This process of revealing, taking distance, and then listening to your story told from another voice is a powerful form of creative self expression and rehabilitation.
Image 2: Anna Voronkova presenting an example of a comic made by a prisoner. Photo by Anastasia Artemeva.
Over the course of three months, once a month, Varvara Yakovleva, animation artist and film director, teaches animation at a juvenile prison housing 14-18 year olds in Russia. Together with the participants, they have created an animated version of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Despite having prison guards present at all times Yakovleva successfully created an environment for everybody to feel safe and trusting. So much so that there were times the participants forgot they were in a prison and would reveal information that even Yakovleva should not know about. Animation is such the process where it requires every person to carry their weight in order to have a beautiful outcome. Through this sort of group work every participant felt important and at the same time wanted to learn more. In this sense, building an environment where people work together positively and can immediately see the fruits of their work is the most healing, encouraging and rewarding part of the process.
Trying to get to the bottom of this, Brunilla raises the question of responsibility. Is it a matter of who, what, when, where and how? Prior to making comics with the prisoners, Voronkova was fascilitating writing workshops where the participants would write an essay about their childhood. After a while, patterns appeared in the writing. The stories started to be formulaic, in the sense that, “Everything was so great in my childhood until one day I met some people, started to drink and do other things and then now I’m in jail.” What about taking responsibility for one’s own choice? Yakovleva shared that one of her student’s said to her, “If I was encouraged, even a little bit like this, by my teacher my life would have been completely different.” How can we resolve trauma and not let it build up before it’s too late? How can we teach responsibility as a tool to empower?
One person in the audience asked Black if he was worried about losing trust and credibility from the community once he is freed. Sincerely he responded with, “That’s not my job to prove to anybody that I’m changed. I can only make music and show change through that.” His straight answer reveals self-confidence, ownership in action and in thought, and knowing superficially what he has been through- a changed man, for lack of a better word. In that sense, Black has put Bell’s pedagogical approach to practice when she urges “all of us to open our minds and hearts so that we can know beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable, so that we can think and rethink, so that we can create new visions (Bell 1994: 12).” Accepting transgressions paves the path to freedom.
Movement on the surface can continue to glide, but friction is needed in order to pause for deep reflection. We know so much and yet how can use this information to truly benefit us, people in need, all of us living our interconnected lives? Listening to each other and critical thinking is key here. Simple conformity is not a resolution; it only furthers marginalization and suppression. From this, I urge us to be radical, and radicalism taken from Bill Ayer’s perspective, which is “someone trying to go to the root of things.” This process may take more time, but the results will be worth it. What’s the point in rushing to disaster or deepening wounds when the option to heal is in front of us? I ask these questions in search of answers.
Brunila, Kristiina (2011). Mielentilan markkinoilla [State of Mind on the Market]. Rikostaustaisten nuorten aikuisten koulutus, ohjaus ja kuntoutus. Nuorisotutkimus, erikoisnumero Väkivalta ja kiusaaminen 2/2011, 81-95.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell. Emotion Work, Feeling Rules, and Social Structure American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 85, No. 3 (Nov., 1979), pp. 551-575, Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Hooks, Bell. (1994) Teaching to transgress :education as the practice of freedom New York : Routledge.
Prison Space https://prisonspace.org/
Solomon, Deborah. Radical Cheer, 10.2.2009, The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/magazine/15wwln_Q4-t.html
Street Life Records http://www.streetliferecords.org/nuorisotyoe
Summers, Dhyan. How to Recognize and Overcome Childhood Emotional Neglect, 18.2.2016, GoodTherapy.Org. http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-recognize-