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Ryan and a tale of jail and drugs

Prison means bullies, boredom and missing your mum. Biddy Passmore on a hard hitting video for primary children.

MEET Ryan. Ryan is not having a good life. "What do you see when you wake up in the morning?" he asks. Ryan sees his cell - 16 hours a day. He faces three years in prison because he "got caught nicking".

"It's the same as from your 10th to your 13th birthday," he points out.

That example will strike home because the viewers of the video Ryan's Choice are likely to be final-year primary pupils, watching it as part of their drugs education. If you want to know the real reason why Ryan is in prison - why most of the inmates in the film are in prison - he says that "drugs is as good an answer as any".

Caught lying in the street, "smashed out of his head", with a stolen CD player on him, Ryan has learned a lot about choices and about the "friends" who abandoned him. The viewer learns a lot too, as the film shows in bleak detail what drugs and prison are really like.

We see how Ryan is double-crossed by a jealous fellow-inmate into losing his prison job and talked by his roommate Harry into taking a tranquilliser that makes him miss a visit from his mother and sister. When he wakes up with soiled trousers and goes to take a shower, he is intimidated by an inmate demanding the return of his "burn" (tobacco).

Made by prisoners aged 18 to 21 at Woodhill Prison in Milton Keynes, in conjunction with Safe Ground, a charity working with young people, Ryan's Choice has won many awards from the video industry. They include one for best performance for Dean Fullman, the former Woodhill inmate who plays Ryan (and who has stayed out of prison since it was made).

It forms part of an education programme launched at Hillborough junior school in Luton last month with warm praise from Keith Hellawell, the Government's drugs co-ordinator. One of his priorities is to target children before they fall under the influence of youth drug culture.

"Prisoners say they didn't know enough early enough," he said.

Ryan's Choice has 14 teaching units, starting with a catchy rap-song and moving through activities ranging from role-play to worksheets.

The programme was developed in collaboration with 10 and 11-year-olds from three primary schools in Luton and Milton Keynes. The children were asked what they wanted to know and how they wanted the information taught to them.

Part 1 focuses on drug awareness, with an emphasis on alcohol, tobacco, solvents and chocolate and introduces children to their physiological effects.

Part 2 - which incorporates the video - focuses on the legal and social implications of breaking the law and substance misuse.

An evaluation by the psychology department at Luton University found that Year 6 pupils who had experienced the whole programme had greater awareness of both legal and illegal drugs and more ability to make cogent decisions about their use than older pupils who had simply studied the introductory rap song.

Ryan's Choice was developed with primary pupils in mind but secondary schools in Luton, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire have also found it helpful in their personal, social and health education. And, on the recommendation of the Woodhill prisoners the pack is - with some adaptations - to be used in inmates' life skills programmes this autumn. As Marjorie Boon, governor of

Woodhill, said at the programme's launch: "today Luton, tomorrow the country, the world".

For information about 'Ryan's Choice', contact Joc Rose of the Health Improvement Team at Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Tel: 01908 217121.

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