Prison Narratives is a collection of stories told and informed by prisoners. The series’ narrators are both prisoners of conscience and people imprisoned for common law crimes. They tell their life in prison and guide the reader through the environment and the people they meet. In this article, inmates of Greater Tehran Penitentiary describe the contradictions of “vocational” training behind bars.
“Professional training of inmates is an effective factor in reducing the likelihood of them returning to prison”, declared Abdolmajid Keshvari, director general of prisons in Iran’s Lorestan province, on January 30 this year. The training “not only contributes to public safety”, he said, but “supports the livelihoods of families”.
In many countries and in many individual prisons, Keshvari would be absolutely right. Other officials also extolled the virtues of vocational training for inmates; in May 2021, Mohammad Ali Arab, Director General of South Khorasan Technical and Vocational Training Agencysaid it was predicted that over the next year, more than 224,000 inmates would be sent to prison workshops to learn new skills.
In October 2021, Habib Erfan-Manesh, Director General of Implementation Strategy at the National Agency for Technical and Vocational Training, noted than the previous year, 50,640 inmates, including more than 6,000 women, had undergone training in the prisons. He added that about 70,000 detainees in Iran take these courses every year.
So what is the reality? Shahin, an inmate at Greater Tehran Penitentiary, described his own “vocational training” to IranWire.
“At 8 a.m., after roll call, the service representative would call us and tell us to be ready to leave the service at 10 a.m. We first thought they were taking us to the chapel for Ashura prayers. Then we learned that we were going to the workshop.
“They had asked the neighborhood representative to bring 60 detainees from his neighborhood there. We hadn’t left the service for about a month. They had put rows of school desks there and as soon as we sat down they gave us each a form. The top of mine said ‘Barber, 3rd Grade’. The name written on it was not mine, but the name of someone I didn’t know. It bore the logo of the National Agency for Technical and Vocational Training.
Shahin went on to say that once he and his cohort were all seated, the director of the vocational training division came and told them exactly to answer the questions. “They cut each pencil into three pieces and gave us one each. We completed the forms as requested. Some involved making mosaics or welding.
“We were halfway there when they brought the cameras; they surrounded us with cameramen and photographers. We stayed there for about an hour. A few costumed visitors also entered. Then they put the forms together and we were sent back to the ward.
Sahin is being held in Ward 5 of Greater Tehran Penitentiary for financial crimes. So far, he says, he has been called three times to take “exams” under the names of other inmates, about every term.
The Potemkin Vocational Training Village
Morteza is another inmate who has first-hand experience of wacky exams. He, too, was imprisoned for financial crimes and was allowed to do computer administration for the training office for a while, as he knows one of the prison officials.
“It’s a joke,” he said. “At the end of each season, they would call me to help them type up the lists. I sat behind the computer for 12 hours. I had to enter the list of inmates working in the prison and the names of those taking vocational training courses and send them to the Rey Technical and Vocational Training Agency [a city near Tehran].
“All our work consisted of falsifying documents. We had to enter a bunch of inmates into the system with falsified working hours and wages, while those who actually worked there weren’t being paid. The whole issue of vocational training is to falsify documents. »
Three months before preparing each set of rosters, Morteza said, he would receive another roster that was supposed to take courses in various fields. The reality, he said, was that “some of them were the cronies of officers and prison officials” who would grease the palms of examiners in advance to pass. “They would give him a painting or some other gift, right in front of us. Then they would bring in 50 or 60 inmates from various quarters to take the exams under other people’s names and register them. Sometimes the answers would have already been written in the form.
“There are no courses and there is no training. And they call we crooks.
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