prison education, performative space, transformative education, Walls to Bridges
Prison education is often cited as the only redeeming experience in an otherwise cruel environment. While educational programs are found in prisons across Canada, they are often guided by philosophies of punishment, risk, and security rather than more transformative frameworks. In addition to prison staff and management who struggle to find value in education for education’s sake, the physical spaces in which learning takes place in prison also interfere with efforts at promoting agency and autonomy amongst incarcerated students. In this paper, we conceptualize the prison classroom as a performative space and demonstrate ways in which prison classrooms can become critical public spheres. We review theoretical literature on performative space, specifically in relation to prison education classrooms. We then examine the dynamics of: (1) navigating institutional policies and practices when teaching inside carceral spaces; and (2) the constraints that structure the carceral classroom. Finally, we take up the program Walls to Bridges as a case study example to demonstrate these findings and the transformative power of prison education.
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