Learning Together – reflections from students on the Butler Law Course

By | 2019-03-27T16:09:02+00:00 May 9th, 2018|0 Comments

At our end of course conference for the Butler Law Course in HMP Warren Hill two of our students, Hayden and Aaron, shared some of their reflections on taking part in Learning Together. Both spoke thoughtfully and passionately and so, with thanks to them both for sharing the text of their words with us, we are delighted to publish their speeches here, so that they can be enjoyed more broadly within our learning community. On the day, Hayden and Aaron set their reflections to music, which can be found here. Hayden on Learning Together Enrolling in Learning Together has been, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I’ve made in my time at Cambridge. I’ll leave here and tell everyone I know: if you have time, do it. And if you don’t have time, make time to do it. Many things have reminded me of the programme over the last few months. I want to tell you a few things that have spoken to me throughout this process. Obviously, the message of our course of ‘access to Justice’ resonates often in the media and in pop culture. However, interestingly, the first thing that happened was when I was listening to a science podcast about the galaxy. I should probably preface this by saying that I understood very little of it, so I may be completely misinterpreting it, but it suits my overall message. Basically, our galaxy is expanding. But it isn’t expanding INTO anything, as if it wasn’t already full. Rather, the borders of the galaxy are stretching, like if you are blowing more air into a full balloon. That’s how I feel about my mindset after the first session in Learning Together. I thought I was open-minded, and I’m sure I was open-minded. But like the galaxy stretching its boundaries, I immediately felt my boundaries expand past limits I didn’t know they had. The second thing came from a talk I was at last night about forensic psychotherapy. The talk was … interesting, but I did gain fruitful insight from a few comments. She talked about how prejudice, particularly regarding criminality and anti-social behaviour, is lazy intellect. She said that our society is obsessed with victim-hood and fails to recognise the victim-hood in perpetrators. Our society wants to control or correct someone, rather than understand someone. As someone who has studied victims throughout her PhD but has also grown to deeply respect the people in this program with me, her messages seemed particularly pertinent and urgent. And they directly relate to my last point. The last comment that really touched me throughout this experience was a comment that Aaron made about the Norwegian criminal justice system. We all semi-joke about how the Scandinavian countries do life better than everyone else, and I saw no reason to assume differently about their justice system, but I’d never heard of their prison system before. The Norwegian system is one of the nicest and most comfortable prison systems in the world, accompanied by a recidivism rate of only about 20%. Norway views a crime as not only a loss for the perpetrator, but a loss to society. Reading up on it last night, the junior minister for justice remarked ‘It is in the public interest, when it comes to security, that you receive rehabilitation when you are inside the prison system so that you can go out and lead the life that everybody else takes for granted.” I agree with Norway, and my belief has only been strengthened by my involvement in Learning Together. Crime not only punishes the perpetrator and the victim, but it is a loss to society. Society loses the incredible potential, the intelligence, the passion and curiosity that would contribute to its development. As well, it’s a failure on the part of society. Because every person is valuable and capable, we should continue to strive for a society that gives everyone a fair chance to find that potential, intelligence, passion or curiosity. I’m sorry for rambling on! I just want to reiterate how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to get to know you all, both Cambridge and Warren Hill students. Thank you for stretching my mind past its boundaries, and for sharing with me all of your passion, your brilliance, and your thoughtfulness. Learning Together has certainly been an experience I’ll never forget. Aaron on Learning Together It may be true that today… we live in an age of greatness. An age in which our intellectual capacity out-muscles all previous historical era’s… where people, in many cases, are living for longer… where poverty lines are lifting across the globe and where the machinery we use to fulfil our needs is becoming ever more efficient and effective. But even while we are in such a great era of human progress… our society is currently going through some of its deepest problems in recent history. Many injustices have come to light in a concentrated period of time that have served to deepen the distrust and disrespect that many people hold towards the authorities that govern our lands and institutions. Events and subjects such as; Brexit, austerity, police corruption, institutional racism, child abuse, political dishonesty and disunity, sexism, terrorism, hate crime, gun crime, gang crime… to name just a handful… have all served to turn people away from the type of citizenship a great nation needs in order to utilise and justify its greatness… And it could be argued, that society as a whole, has become more divided and self-serving as a result. This wider context of our world today is important to hold in our minds, especially the disparity between our progress and our problems. Because it’s this disparity that paints the most intricate picture… and tells the most beautiful story… about what this Learning Together team is achieving within our society. As an initiative it’s bringing together two very different environments… two very different sets of people… with two very different types of history – in the name of building a common future together. It’s a way of allowing our progress to inform our problems and for our problems to inform our progress… whilst at the same time, reducing the disparity between the two. In an age where the unifying of perspectives is such a critical part of the solution – this initiative is very important for the future shape of this nation. Throughout my time growing up on the landings of this prison institution, I have learned some fundamental lessons about humanity… about justice – and about perspective, which for me acts as the binding agent between the two. The more I learned and understood, the more my perspective changed… and so did my judgements about people. I began to see the truth behind choice… and the reason enshrined within circumstance…. and since then, I’ve been trying to make a positive difference. But such a task is by no means easy in environments such as these – and I have seen many good people become disbelieving and dejected about what they saw to be their failed efforts to make a difference. I’ve seen people become embittered and harsh in their judgements about the people and problems within this environment… and I have seen a great many people give up on the humanity here, at least in their hearts anyway. This learning together team – Amy, Ruth and Jack… and the governor here at HMP Warren Hill have demonstrated a strong commitment and a belief to make a lasting difference on this institution which I hope only gets stronger the further in they travel. Because I believe, that these environments hold the key to the next evolutionary stage of our society… There’s a story within me that keeps playing when times get tough… I’m unsure where this story comes from, it could have come from a book, a film, or it could be a manifestation of my personal experiences about the people and environments within our world… But the story is about an old man from an old village… and every day he would make the same trip. He would travel down to the local swamp with a big bucket of fresh water – and he would throw this water into the swamp… Now the rest of the villagers were unsure about this man’s intentions… some people were wary of him and said that he was mad – insane. Others would laugh at him and say that his efforts to change the environment were futile… as a result the old man became isolated and distant – the kids would throw stones at him and mock him – and at times they would ask him why he wasted fresh water on a dirty toxic swamp. The old man found it difficult to answer these questions because he didn’t possess the correct language to explain his purpose. He would struggle, not just with the outside world – but even within himself at times – and he would try to make sense of his purpose. What the villagers didn’t know about this man – was that he understood something about his place in this world and the duty enshrined within his wisdom. He understood that he was a part of a large system and he felt the connectivity within all things – even though his place small, and his time short – he understood that his actions today would have a great effect on tomorrow’s world… and so this feeling is what motivated him to keep sharing his water supplies with the local swamp – and even though he may never see the results of his actions in this lifetime – he was assured that they would one day assist both the swamp – and the villagers in more ways than one. This story sings a song to me about this universe and our place within it. It tells me that no matter how hard the task may seem and no matter how many people block the way – it’s important that we keep assisting our environments and the social worlds they are. We are a part of this whole – and in turn, (especially for those who can feel it) this whole is a part of us. People have said to me in the past -and someone said it to me very recently – that I am too positive and optimistic about the world around me… they call me an idealist – and say that I am naïve about the big bad people out here. But these judgements have not understood my perspective – and at times fail to see who and what I have been through. So today – I want to tell them something about this subject whilst finishing my point about this initiative and its relevance within today’s society. I’ve met corruption and I’ve been harmed by it. I’ve met ignorance and I’ve been harmed by it. I’ve met hate, and trust me I’ve been harmed by it. I’ve met loss, I’ve met pain, I’ve met anger, I’ve met distrust, befrayal and misfortune – and I’ve met people that aligned themselves against me for believing in and promoting goodness… within environments that were built for the bad – and I’ve been harmed by it, hardened by it. Scarred by it… so if you think you know me – think again…and realise that it’s not naivety that channels my perspective or utopianism that directs my aim, but it’s an understanding about what’s wrong with our judgments in today’s world and their self-fulfilling capacity. The fabric of my love and compassion is in fact, built in defence of all people and what I believe humanity to be…which is a family. A family that must learn together… for its learning together that keeps us in balance, in sync and instead. This prison institution is a dark and hard place at times and some of its environments mask great human tragedies. I believe that it’s here, within this troubled place that our society will find itself. For if its true that a structure is only as strong as its weakest part and if these environments represents our greatest weaknesses – then it is the study and evolution of this place that matters most. It is within the art of rehabilitation that humanity will both; learn and exercise some of its greatest lessons. My name is Aaron and I thank you all for listening.

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