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Lessons in eloquence to help prisoners prepare for the aftermath: “It makes us work, think, things we don’t do in the cell”


The seven detainees left their cells in the early morning, Saturday, November 19, to join the library of the Nanterre penitentiary center, in the Hauts-de-Seine. In a few minutes, a supervisor will let in three young visitors, provided with a notebook and a pencil. They are still on the ground floor, in the reception area, where they have just been given a so-called “dead man” alarm, which sounds only when its wearer is in a lying position.

A first corridor, bright, runs along an interior courtyard; a green door leads to a staircase; another green door, one floor higher, opens onto a hall where no more light filters through. Ilan Volson-Derabours, Lucas Galand and Alexia Colin-Bonardot enter the library.

Around the table, the small assembly enthusiastically greets their arrival. Since the start of the school year, the three students in criminal law, co-founders of the association Through the Walls, have been paying the seven detainees a somewhat special weekly visit, lasting two hours, to practice speaking in public. Mastery of language, emotions, posture: so many social codes sent back light years from prison life.

Read also: The number of detainees reaches a historic level in France

In the “vulnerable quarter”, as this wing of the Nanterre prison is called, the detainees have been put aside, because of the rejection they arouse and the bullying they suffer from other detainees. There are ex-police officers and those nicknamed “the pointers”, who are awaiting trial or serving a sentence for rape or sexual assault.

“You are no longer the same person”

Ilan, Lucas and Alexia don’t know the reasons that led each member of their audience to prison. “We refuse to know what they did so as not to add to the security fear and not to modify our behavior towards themexplains Ilan, a master’s student in criminal law at the University of Paris-I-Panthéon-Sorbonne. One is on a wire, when one makes judicial eloquence. They are not taught to defend themselves better in the face of an interrogation but to respond in a less anxiety-provoking way. The goal is not to help them in the legal framework but that this framework is understood, because we have it in common. »

The three co-founding members of the Through the Walls association, Lucas Galand and Ilan Volson-Derabours, 22 years old, both students in a master's degree in criminal law, and Alexia Colin-Bonardot, 23, a student in a master's degree in justice and law of the trial.  They are facing a prisoner who participates in the eloquence workshop, at the Nanterre prison center, on November 19, 2022.

Under the two rows of neon lights, some scribble a few notes during the reminder of the previous session devoted to job interviews. “There will necessarily be a cold streak with the employer, Ilan points out. He may want to dig into your story. You have to guard against it by planning for it. “What matters is what you are going to send back to the interlocutor at that momentcomplete Alexia, master student at Paris-II-Panthéon-Assas. You have to mark a break: prison is a problem that is no longer a problem because ultimately, you are no longer the same person. »

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