Blogging behind bars: my experience teaching inmates to blog
“Are you going to blog about us, Miss?”
That’s what I was asked on my first visit to the prison.
To be honest, I hadn’t even considered writing a blog about it until that point; but when he asked the question, the answer seemed obvious. After all, why wouldn’t I write about such an interesting experience?
It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this post. Mainly because I wasn’t quite sure how to approach the subject.
I don’t want to use my business as a platform to start a debate about whether rehabilitation in prisons works. However, I couldn’t have gone in and worked with the inmates if I didn’t genuinely believe it could make a difference.
I also don’t want to write a self-righteous post about how we should all do our bit for society. I do think we should all do our bit for society but I got paid for my time; it wasn’t a selfless act.
In the end, I’ve decided to write an honest account of my experience; how it came about and what it means going forward.
How I ended up teaching inmates to blog
Back in August, a lovely lady attended my Blogging for Business course. During the day, I found out that she was running her business around a full-time job teaching business classes to inmates at a Category C prison.
She felt the contents of my course could be adapted to suit the inmates and I am always looking for new opportunities. She kindly arranged for me to go in for an hour to talk to her class and see whether they felt a full-day workshop would be beneficial.
I’d never been in a prison before and didn’t know exactly what to expect. It’s a pretty daunting experience. I was escorted everywhere with heavy doors being locked behind me. I knew I could leave at the end of the day, but it still felt unnerving being locked inside.
Once I got into the classroom, I felt less uneasy. Then I saw the inmates pass by the window and the nerves returned. I had no idea what crimes these men had committed, how they would act or how they would respond to me.
I introduced myself and started my presentation, hoping that the nerves weren’t showing.
Then, someone asked a question; that was the turning point.
I realised all I had to do was talk about a subject I’d talked about hundreds of times before. The nerves disappeared, and I felt completely at ease.
Running the courses
The introduction was a success. I was more than comfortable working with the inmates and they decided that what I could teach them was valuable. It was agreed with the prison that I would go in for two days and run a combination of both my courses.
I worked with the English class in the mornings and the Business class in the afternoons. The first day, I ran a half-day version of my Blogging for Business course to both classes. The following day, I ran a half-day version of my Write to Sell course to the same two classes.
Many of the inmates had no idea what a blog was when I first arrived. By the end of the first day, they were coming up with brilliant ideas for blog posts.
The great thing about blogging is it’s easy to get started. There is very little cost involved in setting up a basic blog. I think this is why the course was so interesting for the inmates. Starting a blog is something they can actually go on to do. It isn’t unrealistic for them to believe that they could set up a blog and maybe even turn it into a profitable business.
The copywriting element of the course is also beneficial. Many of the skills can be used in job applications and CV writing.
Some of the inmates already have businesses and jobs to return to, so the skills I taught them can be put straight into practice when they finish their sentences.
If my courses inspired just one of the inmates or gave them just one new skill, then I consider the day a success.
I started my training courses because I wanted to help other business owners by sharing my expertise. The thought of delivering the content in a prison had never crossed my mind, but I am so happy that I had the chance to do it.
I thoroughly enjoyed both days and had a great time learning about the prison system, chatting with the inmates and getting their opinions. From a business perspective, it was a brilliant opportunity but I also got a lot from it personally. I’ve always been interested in social issues and criminology, so the whole experience was fascinating for me.
The highlight for me was the visit to the prison library. As a book lover, I always get a bit excited by libraries and book shops, it’s like a mini-paradise. I could see my enthusiasm was getting the interest of one of the inmates who I’d noticed had very little confidence or self-esteem. He tentatively picked up one of the books I had been raving about and when the time came to leave, he checked it out.
I found out a couple of weeks later from the tutor that he had come to her very excited because he was over half way through reading it and was really enjoying it. The best part was that he was so proud because he had never read a book before. Knowing that I inspired someone to achieve something they had never achieved before is just an amazing feeling. I feel so proud of him and so happy I have opened him up to the joy of reading.
Not only was the feedback from the inmates fantastic, some of the tutors also felt they benefited from the courses, so I’ve been asked to go back again. I’m also hoping to connect with other prisons who would like me to deliver training.
It’s truly amazing the directions your business can go in if you are open to new opportunities. I’m all for having a strategy but sometimes it pays to be flexible.
Of course, I’ll still be running my training days outside the prisons too. You can book one of my scheduled dates or I can come to your business and deliver my courses as in-house training for your team.
You can find out more about both my training workshops at https://www.makeyourcopycount.com/training-workshops/
I’d love to hear other people’s stories of how their businesses took on a new direction unexpectedly, so feel free to post your story in the comments. My advice is to always be open to new opportunities; you never know where they will take you!