Working in a prison to support the right to education


Paola at the seaside. Sicily, summer 2020.

I’ve always wanted to work among people, sharing experience, helping others, doing team work, and having a friendly environment around me. However, I’ve never thought to find a combination of all this in a prison.

Hi there! I’m Paola. I’m from a small town in Friuli Venezia Giulia but I’ve always studied in Padua. I also lived in England and France, working and studying abroad. In the last few years, I’ve become really involved in human rights and in the international context, especially through volunteering experiences. That is the reason why I decided to attend the HRG master’s program.



My openness to the new (and, clearly, a pinch of luck) brought me to work in a prison to support detainees’ right to education. How did this happen? Last February 2021, I received a random email from the University of Padua asking for students interested in a tutoring experience in prison. In fact, there is an agreement between the university and the male prison of Padua named Due Palazzi. For me, it was a huge opportunity to grow and experience something real, in the field. I immediately applied and, shortly after, I got accepted.


My job was, and still is, to support detainees to graduate in their bachelor degree in Political Science. I held various tasks such as going to the libraries to get the necessary material, bringing it to prison, contacting professors, revising programmes before exams, keeping weekly meetings with detainees.


At the beginning I really didn’t know what to expect from this experience: I was excited but also nervous. Both for the place itself, as I had never been inside a prison; and for people I would have met, especially because detainees are males only. I still remember my first time going there: I felt so overwhelmed with memorizing all the rules, paying attention to every detail, trying to remember the prison’s map. However, I was primarily nervous about the first meeting with the detainees: I was anxious about what to say, what type of language to use, how to behave, how formal or friendly I was supposed to be.

In the end, the reality was completely different from what I imagined. What changed my expectations? My students. It is thanks to them that prison became immediately a place where I’m glad to go and work. I always feel safe, welcomed and motivated because of their kindness, their respect and their enthusiasm to do this project. They give such a high significance to our meetings that I’m inspired to go there as prepared and organized as possible. I strongly believe that they teach me more than I could ever teach them. At the moment, I’m the tutor for six students. Each of them has his own personal history and his own struggles, but all of them are grateful and passionate about this project, in the most various and diverse ways. My job isn’t limited to revising the programme for the upcoming exam: it’s about listening, understanding and sharing.

Paola climbing. Gran Sasso D’Italia, summer 2021.

As a human rights defender and student, this experience gave me the chance to re-think many aspects of the penitentiary system: its organization and the legal framework, especially the life sentence legislations in the Italian context. I’m deeply grateful for this opportunity and it is going to be hard saying goodbye to my students and this project when I graduate. Yet, everything I learnt in prison will stay with me forever.



Written by Paola Falcomer Edited by Giulia Rosina Photo courtesy of Paola Falcomer

 

Paola Falcomer is a second-year HRG student passionate about social justice. She has always been an active and curious person, open to new challenges and experiences: she loves travelling, backpacking, going to the mountains and doing sports. Follow Paola on her social media accounts: on Instagram @paolafalcomer and Facebook @Paola Falcomer.

 

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