A ground-breaking study about how teaching philosophy in prisons helped long-term prisoners build positive relationships, trust and explore what it means to live a good life

PERU’s Kirstine Szifris has published a new book about her experiences of teaching philosophy in prisons.

Szifris’s starting point is that long-term prisoners need to be given space to reflect, and grow. With some spending decades of their life within the prison system, this ground-breaking study involved engaging men in the ‘deep’ end of the system in a series of philosophical conversation classes. Szifris found that engaging prisoners in philosophy education enabled them to think about some of the ‘big’ questions in life and, as a result, to see themselves and others differently.

Using rich description, Szifris describes her experience of teaching in two very different prisons. Placing the voice of the participants at the heart of the story, she takes us on a journey to understand the lived reality of people in prison and demonstrates the thirst for intellectual conversation among this population. We hear from the participants who describe the importance of being given a space for self-articulation and self-reflection, and to be, for a while, not an offender, but a person. This is a story about being human.

Using the prisoners’ own words, Szifris shows the importance of this type of education for growth and development. She demonstrates how the philosophical dialogue led to a form of community which provided a space for self-reflection, pro-social interaction and communal exploration of ideas, which could have long-term positive consequences. This was about providing a space where, for a short time, people’s status as prisoner could fall away and they could be philosophers for a time.

“An engaging and insightful account of the meaning and effects of a philosophy course in two contrasting prisons. We learn about relationships, trust and what it means to live a good life. Read it!” (Alison Liebling, University of Cambridge)

“There is so much to learn from this important and fascinating book: Szifris provides us with countless examples of what a better way might look like. Everyone who wants to find hope of and resources for change in our penal system should read this book.” (Fergus McNeill, University of Glasgow)

“Weaving in philosophy, social science, pedagogy, and the wisdom of prison-based student philosophers, Szifris has produced the rarest of masterpieces in this engaging and fascinating work. The reader will go on a journey of discovery, identity and truth, along with the prison-based students.” (Shadd Maruna, Queen’s University Belfast)

Published by and available from https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/philosophy-behind-bars

Also available in Waterstones https://www.waterstones.com/book/philosophy-behind-bars/kirstine-szifris/9781529205558

Email: k.szifris@mmu.ac.uk / kszifris@gmail.com

Twitter: @kirstineszifris