Who's Teaching Who?

Text:  Rupert Evans


As the very first inmate entered the arena type space my heart skipped. A momentary panic entwined within the tight grip of anticipation.  With hand outstretched I stepped forward to introduce myself to the members of the group.


After a number of formal introductions I found myself chatting to Trevor. An inmate in his late twenties, who some years before had auditioned, and received a place, at The Drama Centre.  However, as is often the way, family pressures prevented him from accepting the place. After only a few minutes it was clear how much he valued the theatre as well as the workshop.


As the day progressed I became aware that every inmate had one overwhelming common goal. The need for variation.  This manifested itself in many differing forms; and is one of the prominent benefits of the workshop. For some, it serves as a means to break up the monotony of the days, weeks and months. The maddening habit of routine. As Samuel Beckett wrote in Waiting for Godot, ‘Habit is a great deadener’.  

For others it feeds a passion for literature and the Arts. It allows them a moment to think, to feel and most important of all – to imagine.  In reflection, I hope some of the inmates, perhaps only one or two, managed to use what I think to be the most powerful give we possess – the imagination.  


The ability to forget, to run wild inside the cavern of one’s mind is such a wonderful feeling. As Keats says in Ode on a Grecian Urn, ‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter’. In short, some of the inmates may not say much. Many hardly speak. The body language invariably speaks for itself. But there were several moments throughout the day, particularly during the individual poem readings, when I saw men stand up and give real feeling to their work; to risk humiliation amongst their fellow peers.


I cannot remember the last time I witnessed courage on such a scale. I wonder if I could ever find that kind of bravery inside such an institution again.


On the way home, sitting on the Tube, I suddenly stumbled upon a thought. ‘I wonder if we are the learners and they are the teachers’?

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