Play. No response. Play. Still nothing. Finally everyone is back from the break and the TV won’t play the video.
The volunteers had been a bit nervous before starting the first Change on the Inside course in South Australia. Some entering a prison for the first time; nerves mingled with excitement as all their training was about to be put into practice.
Eight inmates lumbered into the room. Each man aged between 25 and 35, somewhat standoffish, but their curiosity could not be masked.
A Change on the Inside (COTI) session is delivered in three 50-minute sections, with a break in between, where inmates can get a coffee, chat, and stretch their legs. “The break is 10 minutes, but I only tell them it’s 5!” says Ian Townsend, laughing at the struggle to have all participants back in the room after the break.
“Normally we play two little video clips [on the TV] that go for about two minutes, but this week the TV didn’t read the video file! So instead of just watching us like they could do, the guys were literally helping us work out what to do, suggesting we could try playing it on the computer,” Ian says. “To me it was a sign of their engagement with us, being helpful.”
Given the sensitivity of topics covered, the prisoners’ engagement is always encouraging. Covering themes such as values, choices, and consequences, COTI helps prisoners talk about some of the most difficult times in their lives.
The group discuss the ‘Mad Minute’ – what one minute of your life would you change if you could go back in time?
“I wouldn’t have gone to that party…”
“I shouldn’t have been there…”
The answers fall painfully in the room.
Ian says the course opens a chance to talk about his own life. “They hear my story and see my perspective… but then I explain that my choices still have consequences… I think that really affects them.”
When volunteers share about their own lives, their own mistakes, their own personalities even, it has an impact on the prisoners. Chris, one of the Prison Fellowship volunteers, adores the course. He comes across a bit eccentric to the inmates when he is passionate. “I think they see him as a funny uncle,” says Ian. Sharing about his own sons, and how he missed a lot of their lives due to work commitments, the prisoners are quick to defend Chris, justifying his desire to provide for the family, and remind him of his commitment to remedy those consequences now. “They have a lot of affection for him,” says Ian.
Connecting with inmates is the highlight of the course. “I feel as though if we were in the outside world, and circumstances were different, we could still sit down for coffee and have a chat.” Ian reflects on the relationships already built with the participants.
Encouraged by the growth in the rapport with each inmate, and the changes in perspective they have already witnessed, the whole team are very excited about what the next few weeks hold.