Prison tales told by foreign minors in print

“The Golden Bird” (To Chryso Pouli) is no ordinary tale. It is a story that would have remained locked in the notebooks of its creators, eight boys being held at the juvenile detention center in Volos, eastern Greece, had it not been for an educational initiative. It is a story about hope that was written behind bars but which managed to “escape,” making its way to us, the readers.

The story begins in a creative writing workshop for the young inmates at Volos Juvenile Prison, coordinated by Costas Magos, an assistant professor of preschool education at the University of Thessaly. The Ioannis S. Latsis Foundation and Kaleidoskopio Editions found out about the project and helped the boys realize their dream of seeing their work in print.

The eight youngsters, all Pakistani nationals who immigrated to Greece, wrote the story as part of their Greek language lessons after finding themselves, for various reasons, behind bars.

Talking about his first classes with his students, Magos said: “I asked the kids, ‘Who can tell us a fairy tale from Pakistan?’ At first there was nothing but silence, then Irfan, who already spoke quite a bit of Greek, spoke up. ‘Fairy tales have a happy ending, but I will tell you a story with a bad ending.’”

Ifran began his narrative. At first it did sound like a story, but it soon became apparent to Magos that it was about his own life.

“No one interrupted Irfan, but once his tale came to end, other students wanted to speak too. They wanted to tell their personal stories as well,” said the educator.

The stories had common elements: Most concerned large families where children were forced to work, teenage dreams of a different life, immigration as the way to achieve it, and then prison.

Magos incorporated the personal narratives into the curriculum of the Greek classes, using them as a way for his students to practice the language orally and in writing.

They would write words, phrases, extracts or summaries of their narratives in their notebooks, with the exercise gradually turning into a challenge, a game that helped alleviate the reality of prison life.

The idea to meld all of the separate stories into one came from the boys themselves and from their desire that their tale be read by pupils in elementary schools around Greece.

“The real ending could be written when we get out prison,” one of the boys suggested to Magos, adding that one day they would read “The Golden Bird” to their own children.

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