‘Don’t let people tell you this stuff is too sophisticated for prisoners. They always think things are too sophisticated for us. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing painting and decorating, but sometimes I want to be mentally challenged. Astronomy isn’t something I’ve ever thought about learning before but this is the stuff we should be learning about!, I’m definitely keen to be involved.’ Prisoner, HMP Brixton
To celebrate their bicentenary the Royal Astronomical Society established an Outreach and Engagement Fund to support astronomy and geophysics projects for diverse sections of the community. In May 2017 Bounce Back were announced a winner and we are now developing a project which aims to engage prisoners in astronomy and other STEM subjects. This gives us the opportunity to stimulate new ideas and approaches to prison education and demonstrates the diverse range of training and education initiatives that are on offer in prison to employers. It also shows how such opportunities offer individuals the chance to learn a variety of transferable and valuable skills.
Although a slight departure from our everyday work in training prisoners in construction, it is an exciting and thought-provoking time for the us. The aim of the project is to stimulate interest in astronomy, whilst helping prisoners “See beyond the prison walls” and their current circumstances. Facilitating an environment that encourages prisoners to think about their place in the universe will help them re-evaluate their priorities and alter their mindset. Aspects of mindfulness will underpin the project activities, and participants will learn to think differently about life.
Since May 2017 the project has been in a research and development phase as we reach out to other organisations and explore potential partnerships that will maximize the reach of the project with new audiences. We have also been working closely with a number of fellows from the Royal Astronomical Society who are excited to offer their expertise to teach prisoners about the solar system.
‘It’s brilliant that Bounce Back recently got an RAS 200 award! The ideas are great and I can’t wait to be involved.’ RAS Fellow
The project was introduced to HMP Brixton, (chosen site for the pilot phase) at the end of last year. The responses from prisoners has been overwhelmingly positive and somewhat unexpectedly – many have prior knowledge of astronomy from documentaries featuring Professor Brian Cox and Tim Peake.
Beyond Prison Walls is an innovative project that will offer us the opportunity to break boundaries in prison education. With the hope of using Virtual Reality headsets to allow prisoners to explore the universe, the project will provide prisoners with new and exciting opportunities that will advance their astronomical knowledge and could also inspire curiosity and stimulate new interest in learning.
Watch this space for developments!