Learner Voices: The Journey of a Prisoner

This is a piece of writing which I composed to discuss my experience as a participant in the journey towards the Gaisce, bronze medal award.  For me personally, I believe and still do believe, that this award is an absolutely fantastic accomplishment to achieve in life.  However, I will note that it is not an easy task, it requires three fundamental components, these components are, perseverance, stickability and a monstrous magnitude of motivation. But hey, most aspirations worth accomplishing aren’t easy right? Because, if it was easy, we would never feel challenged, and would never push ourselves beyond our comfort zones and intellectual capacities.

We would let the fear of ‘I can’t do it’, ‘I’m just not capable’ and ‘I’m not smart enough’ overcloud our thoughts and actual capabilities.  Where in actuality, if one can be of a motivated nature, this motivation can irrefutably embellish us with such grace and harmony, in turn guiding us through the avenues of the skill chasing adventure, as motivation has done with me.  Motivation then, was the most important component for me.

I suppose you may be wondering, what where the skills which I elected to pursue? As part of the Gaisce, you must choose three skills to develop on, these three skills are, a personal skill, a physical skill and a community integration skill. The first skill I choose to develop on, was a personal skill, this personal skill was, education.  I choose to study Arts and Humanities with The Open University.  This for me was a first, as it was my first time to ever engage with third level University education,

I remember, when all the materials first arrived, volumes of books and scattered papers lay disseminated across my desk.  ‘Oh no!’ I thought, doubting myself and my own capabilities.  Luckily for me however, I had motivation standing at my side, guiding me through the scattered pages, and helping me turn the heavy manufactured printed pages of the books.  I paced myself, I gave myself structure and routine, weeks and months ticked by, and before I knew it, I was flying as free as a bird through education, thoroughly enjoying it, and receiving great pleasure from my studies, as my academic skill meter elevated even higher and higher on a daily basis.

This might sound strange for some, but do you know the way people use the phrase ‘I found God’, well let me tell you, as a matter of fact, let me assure you, ‘I found education’, and all this deriving from the courtesy of the three fundamental components, perseverance, stickability and motivation, all three components stimulated by the Gaisce.

I also had to elect a physical skill to enhance, this physical skill then was, the art of calisthenics.  Now… some people out there might wonder, what exactly is the art of calisthenics?  Calisthenics is a form of exercise in which you must only use your own bodyweight to build lean muscle and almost herculean like strength. For example, push-ups, handstand push-ups, squats, bridges, leg-raises, and pullups, are all forms of calisthenics.  These are known as ‘The Big Six’ in which I learned through my reading of Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade.  This book also thought me that fundamentally your body is your own personal gym, accessible anytime, anywhere.

If in rather honest, wrestling with calisthenics was quite an adventure for me as I progressed through the steps of bodyweight training.  It has opened other doors for me, such as, yoga, mindfulness, and even gymnastics.  It has thought me discipline and how to respect my body in a healthy way.  I remember starting this bodyweight training, executing headstands against my cell door for balance and letting myself get familiarised with the blood rushing to my head from being upside-down.  Before I knew it, I was doing handstands against my cell door, then graduated to handstand push-ups against my cell door.

Months of vigorous and if I’m honest, at times tedious training sessions passed by, and just like that, I was away from the cell door, walking on my hands with such excellent balance and strength.  However, once more, I must stress, that without, perseverance, stickability and motivation, this would have been an impossible task for me.

For my community integration skill, I choose to participate in the Irish Red Cross.  This was rather interesting as I learned some very basic but simultaneously important life skills, such as, first aid, health and hygiene, and how to run and lead campaigns to spread awareness of certain topics.

This has also been quite the journey, as it has made me be actively involved within the prison community.  Leading me to meet new faces, hear new life stories, and be acquainted with some of the most interesting characters I have ever met.

Many campaigns passed by in the Red Cross, many sessions of first aid passed by, and once again, before I knew it I was so involved with the prison community.  I gave many speeches, many talks within classrooms to fellow inmates.  My confidence and oratorical skills grew in abundance, I became comfortable with speaking to large groups, and this a very important aspect for me, as I was always the shy kid, which found it hard to speak, almost socially incompetent at times. The Red Cross however has made me excel, I now deliver a speech every year within the prison about certain things I participate in, hoping to maybe one day inspire someone as I was inspired and Enlighted by this life changing award.

After all three skills were complete, I then had to be involved in an adventure journey.  For this, I and the teachers in the school set up a cake sale that lasted for over two days.  All money raised was donated to charity, the exact sum of what we raised I am not aware of.  However, I did observe quite a few twenty euro notes being dropped into the money box, so I would imagine, thanks to the generous donations of the school staff, it was a respectable amount and it was put towards a good cause.

My Gaisce card was now completed and the next step was to receive my bronze medal.  In order to do this, there was to be a graduation ceremony in which I would receive the bronze medal at. Our families were left be at the graduation, the teachers were also there, the Gaisce staff and prison staff was there.  I prepared a speech for this graduation day, as I was beaming with confidence and enthusiasm after all I just completed.  I delivered the speech and received my bronze medal. People clapped and cheered, and I recall my English teacher saying to me ‘I was proud of my student’.

I’m now embarking upon the journey towards the silver medal, and after that I have plans to get the gold medal within my grasp.  So for the next while, I’ll be rather busy if I’m honest, but I will enjoy this journey, savouring every last second of it, taking it all in and then enjoying these minority experiences in old age through reflection as the soil from the earth calls my name.

In conclusion then I think it’s plausible to say that the Gaisce has opened my eyes like a parent would to reveal the Christmas presents to their offspring.  It has taken me upon a journey of blood, sweat and tears, mind body and soul.  It has initiated academic curiosity within my brain, making me fall in love with education and the art of speaking and writing.  It truly has been a life changing award, completely changing the way I look at life, I now see the art in life, the poetry in life, the sheer beauty of life. However, I must note that I would have never achieved this without the three components, perseverance, stickability and motivation, these then were the angels that carried me through my times of exhaustion and depletion of motivation.