Thank God it's Friday

21st April 2000 at 01:00

I arrive at one of the two prisons I work in to discover that two students are missing. One went into premature labour on Saturday and has given birth to her fifteenth child, and the other is on an adjudication for some misdemeanour over the weekend. I have a new member of class. She is here for four weeks and wants to learn to spell.


When I turn up at prison B, I'm told that one candidate won't be able to sit his exam this morning as he's been shipped out for fighting. One of the major problems on our courses is the ever-changing student population and the claims on their time - anger managementdrugs awarenesspreparation for work courses, visits, medication, dentist and the all-important gym.

I coach a former legionnaire in French who will take his GCSE this year. I also proof-read a student's personal writing. It is powerful stuff and wonderfully evocative.


Back to prison A where key skills communication absorbs us until break, when several women leave for aerobics. We learn how to write a job application - I hope this is not too unrealistic. The class discusses conjugal visits. There's unanimous approval but dissension creeps in when we try to efine "partner". Married? Live-in? Same sex?


The start of my lesson is delayed by the arrival of a sniffer dog - a beautiful springer spaniel. We settle down to work but one student is in tears because her application for home leave has been turned down. Jenny tells me her interview for a hotel receptionist's job has been successful. She will be out on tagging next week but there might be a problem because it's shift work.


A spelling test in prison B. As usual, "necessary", "separate" and "definite" create the biggest problems. At coffee break we are told that a new student on the NVQ food preparation course said there is nothing he doesn't know about Cheyenne pepper. Some exam results come through - excellent as usual, with several distinctions. It is enormously satisfying when a student is presented with a positive educational achievement.

At the women's prison in the afternoon, Kim is so excited she can't concentrate; she will see her children tomorrow for the first time in four months. No wonder they call it a double punishment.

The author works in the education departments of two prisons in the north of England. She wishes to remain anonymous

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