Cre­ativ­ity finds re­lease be­hind bars at the Ko­ry­dal­los Sec­ond Chance prison school

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY EVA KARAMANOLI

It wasn’t the first time I had passed the gate of Ko­ry­dal­los Prison, near Pi­raeus, but it was the first time I had ever seen a bright side to life at the pen­i­ten­tiary.

The area where the prison’s Sec­ond Chance School op­er­ates does in fact look more like a school than a prison. It’s a cheer­ful ex­cep­tion within the fa­cil­ity and the oth­er­wise suf­fo­cat­ing at­mos­phere that per­me­ates the mood of its 2,300 res­i­dents – 1,800 in­mates and 500 cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers.

My visit to the prison was oc­ca­sioned by a ta­ble ten­nis tour­na­ment be­tween the Ko­ry­dal­los Sec­ond Chance School and its coun­ter­part in Agioi Anar­gy­roi, western Athens, to celebrate the end of the 2014-15 aca­demic year. I en­coun­tered laugh­ter, lots of loaud ban­ter and a ref­eree keep­ing a watch­ful eye on the ac­tion.

The stu­dents qui­etened as they picked up on the ar­rival of Hara Kout­somichali, the prison’s di­rec­tor, ac­com­pa­nied by the war­den and the gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Min­istry of Jus­tice’s pris­ons di­rec­torate, Efty­chis Fy­trakis. The in­mates dis­cussed their con­cerns with Fy­trakis, with one of them proudly an­nounc­ing that he is grad­u­at­ing this year.

Ko­ry­dal­los Prison’s Sec­ond Chance School was es­tab­lished in 2005, giv­ing all adult in­mates the op­por­tu­nity to en­roll, with the min­i­mum re­quire­ment be­ing their suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of ele­men­tary school. Last year, the prison also in­au­gu­rated a vo­ca­tional train­ing in­sti­tute, of­fer­ing cour­ses in graphic de­sign and de­sign.

Last year, 17 in­mates re­ceived a diploma, 41 were pro­moted and 13 missed the school year due to their re­lease, while only two in­mates vol­un­tar­ily in­ter­rupted their stud­ies.

The pro­gram has been a suc­cess, and this was ev­i­dent not just in the state­ments of the of­fi­cials who spoke at the tour­na­ment – Sec­ond Chance School di­rec­tor Ge­orge Zouganelis, the di­rec­tor of the in­sti­tute of vo­ca­tional train­ing, Vangelis Kaliousis, and Fy­trakis – but also in the faces of the stu­dents.

“Our goal is for the stu­dents to suc­cess­fully rein­te­grate them­selves in so­ci­ety. Some of our for­mer stu­dents are now en­rolled at univer­si­ties and vo­ca­tional train­ing in­sti­tu­tions in the free world,” said Zouganelis. “Our aim is to of­fer in­mates an op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate them­selves. You know what’s im­pres­sive? In nor­mal schools, there is a lot of vi­o­lence. Here, there is none,” he added.

“These stu­dents are much more cre­ative than most of their other free coun­ter­parts,” said Kaliousis, ad­mit­ting that when he first took the job as di­rec­tor of the vo­ca­tional train­ing in­sti­tute, he had reser­va­tions. Now all he feels is pride, es­pe­cially when he gets a chance to an­nounce that one of his stu­dents has re­ceived an award for cre­at­ing the best logo de­sign in the in­ter­na­tional Eras­mus Plus com­pe­ti­tion.

“Re­search and cre­ativ­ity can­not be locked be­hind bars,” he said.

“I’m here to learn from you,” said Fy­trakis, ad­dress­ing the stu­dents. “The ex­pe­ri­ence gained from the Ko­ry­dal­los Sec­ond Chance School is valu­able and our vi­sion is to bring this pro­gram to ev­ery prison across the coun­try.”

Kout­somichali told Kathimerini about the school’s ac­tiv­i­ties and the prob­lems the in­sti­tu­tion faces on a daily ba­sis.

“Our big­gest prob­lem is the psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sure the staff is un­der,” she said. “They are con­stantly be­ing threat­ened and of­ten come un­der phys­i­cal at­tack. The work­ing con­di­tions are ugly and they haven’t been paid overtime since Novem­ber. Yet in our meet­ings the only com­plaint they have is that they don’t have any days off,” said Kout­somichali.

I asked her what it is that gives her courage and her re­sponse was sur­pris­ing.

“When some­one who has been re­leased from prison comes back af­ter a while to thank me, it makes us feel use­ful, help­ful,” said Kout­somichali.

The area where the prison’s Sec­ond Chance School op­er­ates does in fact look more like a school than a prison.

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