Life of crime? It's not like TV

28th October 2005 at 01:00
The long arm of the law catches up with Raymond Ross and a stream of secondary pupils tasting prison life

On entering a secondary school, you might well bump into the community police officer. Bumping into a fully uniformed, burly prison officer has a different effect.

A stream of pupils is being escorted from the hall to shouts of "Hands out of pockets! Arms by your sides!" and "You there! Who gave you permission to speak?"

Welcome to HMP Galashiels, the second school prison to be set up in the Scottish Borders ...

No, this is not some jaded educationist's nightmare of education in the future; it is part of a Crime and Safety Awareness Day at Galashiels Academy, organised by the No-Way Trust, a registered charity which has visited some 3,000 primary and secondary schools throughout the UK over the past seven years.

The slogan "Prison! Me! No Way!" encapsulates the ethos, style and intention of the awareness day where, in this instance, some 200 S2 pupils are being schooled in the realities of Her Majesty's pleasure and the consequence of making the wrong choices in life.

Beginning in a street scene set up in the school hall, pupils act as under-aged drinkers disturbing the neighbours before the police (also pupils) come along, in a role-play led by local police officers and a retired prison officer. After the drunken debacle, the group discuss the difficulties of policing as well as the problem of anti-social behaviour and its consequences.

What makes an action anti-social andor criminal is a matter of where, when and how.

With bonfire season coming up, talk turns to fires and fireworks which are safe, legal, anti-social andor criminal, depending on where, when and how they are ignited and used.

"Remember, no one has ever been injured or killed by a firework. It's the person who throws the firework or who pushed it through the letter box who does the injuring or the killing," says retired prison officer Tony Baker.

Bullying in its various forms is also raised, with Mr Baker concluding on the blunt point: "If you think bullying is bad at school, try prison.

Imagine being locked up in a cell with a bully for 16 hours a day."

Time to move on. But there is no escape. We are now inducted into prison by serving officer Dave Witt.

"First of all, you lose your dignity. We take away your name and give you a number. We take your possessions and your clothes. We strip search you."

We are introduced to the delights of HMP "designer gear", as Mr Witt describes the prison garb. It includes "the three day pants", with his demonstration leaving little to the imagination.

We learn about the basic, standard and enhanced regimes of life inside. We visit a prison cell, learn about "the digger" (solitary confinement) and listen to a tape of an actual prisoner talking about boredom, loneliness, lack of privacy and private pain and grief.

"Young people pick up a lot of false information about prison life from television," says John Johnston, the deputy chief executive of the No Way Trust and a serving prison officer for 18 years.

"We are about dispelling myths and raising awareness.

"It's difficult to gauge the effect we have, but we do know of young people who have got involved in community work through this experience," he says.

Watson Crawford, the modern studies principal at Galashiels Academy, says:

"I brought them here to fit into our S2 course on crime, law and order and because it enhances the idea of citizenship, the idea that with rights come responsibilities.

"It is a positive educational exercise academically and socially. It is preventive and participatory and it works because it is real."

As well as local police, the fire brigade takes part, with workshops about personal safety, as does the Orange mobile phone company, whose representative shows how bullying calls or text messages can be traced, if reported. A psychologist and youth worker lead workshops on cognitive behaviour, peer pressure and decision making.

The day ends with a disco after prizes have been awarded to the best written responses to the day.

Each pupil leaves with an education pack in which they will find the following, fond farewell: "We hope that beyond today, unless we pass you in the street, see you again at school, or you take up a future career in the Prison Service, we never see you again."

No-Way Trust,

Michael's Story

Morning light streaming through, A bit of hope, the day is near, But then you realise where you are, You're in prison, behind bars.

With sinking heart you make yourself ready, The prison officer comes to keep things steady.

Down to breakfast and get your metal tray, Straight back up to the cell to spend your day.

This is what it's like To live in a prison.

Boredom and loneliness

Rejection because of wrong decisions.

Louise Cormie, S2 Galashiels Academy

written in 10 minutes in response to listening to a young offender's recorded account of life in prison

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