“It’s one of the highlights of my degree”
“I was really interested in it. I read on the Scottish Prison Service website that one of their key beliefs is that people can change. I think, I really liked that because it was something I believed in as well.”
Shona Peterson, 4th year BA (Hons) English student at Edinburgh Napier opted to complete a placement unlike any other during her final year with the Scottish Prison Service in the Education Department of HMP Edinburgh.
Shona’s placement, which lasted for 6 weeks, was a particularly unique opportunity. Set up by staff at Edinburgh Napier and the Scottish Prison Service, a handful of students were given access to the Education Department of the prison which is run by Fife College, where they supported and tutored prisoners who had opted to learn new creative skills whilst serving their sentences.
“People I told about my placement were sometimes shocked. Especially when I said that I enjoyed it and that it was really interesting!” Shona says about working in the prison but explains she’s always been interested in working in the criminal justice system.
“I come from a long line of lawyers which might have something to do with it I suppose! When I did jury duty last year, I just loved the whole court system. Every other teaching placement that had been offered to us on our course I had no interest in! I didn’t want to be a teacher, I thought it's totally not for me. But then when I was in the prison, I just thought, yeah: this is what I want to do.”
Having now successfully completed the placement, Shona explains that in hindsight working in the prison challenged many of the conventional stereotypes she had heard before.
“A lot of people that I spoke to about this placement, they assumed I would be teaching people to read and write, but that really wasn't the case for me. I spoke to people doing degrees; I spoke to people doing their highers and people just creative writing for entertainment, so there were a big variety of skills on show.”
“The prisoners surprised me, with their enthusiasm more than anything else, and their creativity. Some of the work I saw was unbelievable, to a really high quality. Some of it was just so creative and different that I was really impressed. The creative writing as well, some of it was incredibly well written and well crafted, and clearly they'd spent so much time, in particular with poems and things, you could see the whole structure had been laid out so carefully. I was really impressed by their enthusiasm towards their education.”
Shona says her placement with the Prison Service has also had huge benefits for her, too. “It was just such a unique and interesting opportunity, and it was interesting to see how I could use my degree in 'the real world', as it gets called too often, in terms of actually helping people. I think it's given me more confidence in terms of my ability to help people and knowing that I have quite a lot to offer as a graduate. We're often told that 'everybody's a graduate these days' so it doesn't make much difference, but I definitely feel that my degree has given me a lot of skills in being able to communicate with people and to help people.”
“I also learnt a great deal about criminal justice in general. There is a lot of prejudice around prison, and prisoners, and what they are like. I didn't find pretty much any of it to be true. It just hammered home to me that I really want to work in the justice system, especially doing some kind of prison support work, where I can help people.”
Shona, who will graduate from Edinburgh Napier in July 2015 after finishing her course, plans to use her experience with the Prison Service to apply for a role as a Court Officer. To finish the interview, we asked Shona to sum up her placement in three words.
“3 words? Challenging.... Insightful... Maybe inspiring? I know that sounds really clichéd, but my placement gave me a much clearer view of what I want to do after graduating!”