The Elephant in the Room

I knew that I would learn a ton on my study tour to Scotland, but I did not anticipate how profound of an impact our academic visits would have on a more personal and emotional level. Although I am technically the program blogger for Swedish Language and Culture, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share some of the most incredible moments that I’ve had while abroad so far. (For more on Forensic Psych, check out Liz’s blog!)

First of all, I have to be honest and say — I really didn’t do much research on the cool opportunities DIS provides until I arrived in Stockholm, but now that I have gotten to spend a week traveling in Glasgow and Edinburgh with my classmates, I fully encourage you to check it out! DIS organizes an entire trip complete with academic visits and many ~social~ activities: between visiting various parts of the criminal justice system in Scotland, we got to go to a famous tea room for afternoon tea, canoe on Loch Lomond, and go on a walking and eating tour of Edinburgh!
I can’t remember the last time I went on a field trip before coming to DIS, and I guess I was a bit skeptical of the emphasis on traveling and field studies for your courses. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I am about to tell you about Positive Prison – one of the organizations we visited while in Glasgow this week, because it had such a profound impact not only on my study of psychology, but also on me personally. That’s one of the cool things I’m learning in my studies of psychology here (I am actually an Econ major back in the U.S.) — not only can you apply psychology to academic endeavors, but learning new things often affects how I think about and interact with other people.
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On the last day, we got to summarize and present all of the awesome opportunities we had to learn about the criminal justice system!
When I walked into the small basement of an ordinary building on the streets of Glasgow, I was a bit perplexed upon seeing four men and an enormous blow-up elephant. Instead of lecturing us or showing us a fancy PowerPoint, we got to hear first-hand about the work of the four people with convictions that we met. They are working with both the Scottish government and men who are coming out of prisons to help support them and turn their experience into something positive, as well as inspiring and helping them to change old behavior patterns and become a better member of Scottish society.  For me, it was being able to have honest, open and frank conversations with these men that made me reflect so much on the issue of people with convictions re-integrating into society.

We were split into small groups, and got to talk in-depth with one of the people from the organization. We got to talk to Tosh, who was SO awesome! His personal story was not only inspiring, but honest as well as humorous at times. He talked a lot about the mentoring of people coming out of prisons – how the moment you walk out of the prison gates can actually be one of the most difficult moments of the whole process (this is something I hadn’t really considered). Often, when leaving prison, people have no home, no money, no bank account, and/or have been estranged from friends and family members. This puts them in an extremely vulnerable situation to be prone to committing more offenses and falling back into the disadvantaged or less positive communities that they offended in in the first place. Tosh told us how the mentoring process helps so much to have someone who has been exactly in the same shoes, as well as how it can be a very restorative and healing process for the mentors themselves. He mentioned that the mentoring process can lead to more feelings of acceptance and appreciation in the society.

On the more humorous note: Tosh mentioned that one of the most popular attractions of Positive Prison is Nelly, the giant elephant! They decided to get Nelly because it was a lighthearted and humorous way of addressing “the elephant in the room,” or the stigmas and concerns about people who had previous convictions and offenses in the law. As it turns out, Nelly turned out to be an excellent marketing tool for their organization — lots of people like to take “Elph-ies” with the giant blow-up elephant. My group even got to take an authentic Elph-ie with Tosh himself!!
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Our Elph-ie 🙂

Grattis (congratulations!) if you made it through this entire post – sorry for the length! But as you can imagine, this was only one of the seven different academic activities we had, and not even including the fun other exploring we got to do in Scotland! I could write a book on all of the things we learned and got to experience on the study trip. Below are some links and pictures, feel free to reach out if you want to hear more about any of our other endeavors!

Ab- “Tosh kept saying ‘boys and lassies’ and it made me SO HAPPY ily @scotland” -by

Vox Liminis – Rehabilitation and reintigration through song and film
Kibble Education and Care Center – Safe center for at-risk children or young people with convictions
Queen Margaret University – Research study on eyewitness testimony
Willow Centre – Caring for women who have been through the criminal justice system
HM Prison Edinburgh – One of the largest prisons in Scotland

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