The mission of the African Prisons Project is to bring dignity and hope to the men, women, and children living and working in prisons across Africa.
African Prisons Project is creating the world’s first prison-based law college. The program offers a law degree following a three-year program run through the University of London’s international program.
Treviño’s work with the project included best practice research on the processes, timelines, and risks involved in creating the world’s first prison-based law college in a maximum-security prison.
Your International Public Service Project was spent conducting best practice research with the African Prisons Project in London. What did that entail?
As far as the best practice research, that really included looking at other institutions doing prison-based education. So most of my work looked at the United States, because that’s the context I’m familiar with. I looked a lot at writing and math classes inside prisons in the U.S. They weren’t specifically toward law because the United States doesn’t offer anything like this, although they should. But best practice research basically came down to prisons in the U.S. and United Kingdom that offer prison-based education. I looked at timelines, examinations, and how to deliver education programs inside the prison. That’s where the research came in.
Next was determining how A.P.P. (African Prisons Project) was going to change this research or use this research when applying it in the African context. There are obviously going to be differences in how the prisons are run.
To go along with that, we did benchmarking. So I actually visited a prison in Brixton, a small borough of London, and got to see firsthand the educational programs they have. A lot of theirs is vocational and not so much academic, but there still was plenty that could be applied. Prisoners have certain expectations when they enroll in these programs. They have eligibility requirements they have to meet while in the programs. So it was important for us to benchmark this kind of program and see how we could make it fit for the African context.
Describe an average work day.
Based in the U.K., it was a little different than if I had been based in Uganda or Kenya, because they do have offices in those countries. But in my U.K. office, my day started around 9 a.m. when I would go into the office and begin doing desktop research for two to three hours using their databases. They had lots of information on their own programs. I would analyze that data or do my own research, and then I would meet with my supervisor and go over what I found and ask questions to push the project forward. We had brainstorming sessions where we would try to come up with ways to make the program better.
We would have Skype sessions with the team members in Africa, and there were definitely cultural differences. A lot of the team members from Kenya and Uganda are native to that region, so there were some things that get lost in translation and it could get difficult to keep everyone on board. So those were some of the things we struggled with – making sure everyone knew what kind of research I was doing and that they knew how to answer some of the questions I had on an institutional level.
But it really just depended on the project I was working on, and they had me working on a lot of different things. But an average day was, again, a lot of correspondence with the team in Africa.
Based on your previous answer, is it fair to say coordination and communication were among the best professional lessons learned from this experience?
Absolutely. Obviously with a charity or a nonprofit, their biggest concern is keeping the lights on. So a lot of the work that their founder, Alexander McLean, is fundraising. He is a great orator and storyteller, and he has a beautiful story about how he started the organization, but a lot of his time is spent fundraising. So, that to me was one of the biggest eye-opening experiences – seeing just how hard it is to keep everything running. On top of that, you are coordinating with team members in the U.K. and organizing with team members in Kenya and Uganda. Although they are a small organization, they have a lot of moving pieces in three different countries. So definitely communication and coordination were the two important issues, as it is to a lot of charities and organizations this size.
You were in London during two major terrorist attacks. The first at the Ariana Grande concert in May and the second at the London Bridge attack in June. How did that affect the city and your time there?
I got there May 15. Just a few days later was the attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Just after the attack there was a huge police presence in London – officers walking around with military-style weapons. So yes, the Manchester attack really put the city on edge.
Then just a few weeks later the London Bridge attack happened. Actually, myself and Megan Kurten, who is a classmate, were out having drinks that night. We decided to call it a night; we were tired after a day of work. But about an hour and half after we both got home was when the attack happened. And we were not too far away from the attacks.
My family was very, very worried about terrorist attacks in London with the two happening while I was there. For me, it wasn’t too concerning. But I know my wife and my family were very concerned about it.
How did you spend your free time away from work?
I definitely got to enjoy my time away from work. Every weekend I was in the U.K. I went into the city. I was able to get a full enjoyment of London. Also, I was able to go to Scotland for five days, which was really, really cool. I was in Glasgow and Edinburgh for work – they needed someone to go to another benchmarking assignment at a law college in Glasgow to check out their legal clinic. That gave me an opportunity to explore the rest of the U.K., which I really enjoyed.
I was also able to visit family in Berlin. So I got to travel to Germany and enjoy about five days. I had not been outside North America before going on this trip. I got to see a lot of the U.K., even small towns like Oxford outside of London.
What effect, if any, did this experience have on your career pursuits?
I am a concurrent law student at the Bowen School, so this project was perfect for me. That’s why I picked this project – it incorporated public service and law. I think the biggest thing for me is working with an organization that is dedicated to giving hope to people who are currently hopeless. That is something I want to do with my career.
I knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit or start my own nonprofit. Just being able to see the day-to-day operations of a nonprofit – the strategy, the marketing, the fundraising, branding, vision – for me, that perfectly translates to what I want to do with my career. It definitely was an experience that I will be able to continue to use in my career.
This story was written by Patrick Newton of the Clinton School for Public Service. Photos were provided by Andrew Treviño.