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Case Study – Anti-Sectarian Work in Prisons in Scotland

After taking part in one of our workshops, a participant from a prison wrote this report for us.

A few weeks ago I was asked if I was interested in attending a workshop “a couple of ex pros are coming in” I was told. Given football is a big passion of mine I was immediately interested. The rumour mill started soon after and we were drip fed some further information, it’s to do with show racism the red card I found out, something that I have known has been growing over the years and is a great cause. Then the bombshell came, it was 2 ex-rangers players! Here we go, I thought, that’s all I need to be sit and lectured to by a couple of ex huns.

Given my current position any time out of your cell is a bonus so I decided to go despite my reservations. Growing up in the west coast of Scotland an avid Celtic fan, over the years I have seen my fair share of racist and sectarian abuse. I will admit I have even taken part in both in my younger days. I recognise that racism and especially here in Scotland sectarianism is a major issue so I was interested to see how things would go. The day before the workshop the names of the ex pros came too light, Derek Ferguson and Gary McSwegan, a couple of billy big times no doubt, I thought. Och well at least if I go along I can give them a bit of stick.

So we are sitting in the education room awaiting the big twos arrival, then in saunters two average Joe looking guys, tracksuit bottoms on, a hoody over the show racism the red card t-shirt. I must admit I was awaiting the staunch Rangers shirt and tie with a pair of brown brogues. So I was pleasantly surprised at their attire. The introductions were made and there was a bit of back and forth between them and us cons. To my surprise it wasn’t a one sided speech from them but they seemed genuinely interested in our input. Derek and Gary gave us some stories from their playing days and we spoke about how as a society we judge people just by looking at them or even without knowing what someone looks like we judge them based on prejudices that in some cases have existed for hundreds of years. We discussed the tired old patter of Protestants being Rangers fans and Catholics Celtic fans and everyone in the room could give an example to blow this misconception out of the water. After the first part of the morning we went outside to the 5 a side park for some drills and a game of football and to be honest I had a brilliant time. At the end of the session Derek and Gary thanked us for our time and the respect we had shown them and the feeling was certainly mutual.

Over the next two sessions we discussed the issue that has blighted our beautiful game, sectarianism. Everyone shared experiences they have had with sectarianism over the years and Derek and Gary told us some of the war stories from their time with Glasgow’s second biggest team and also that they had experienced as fans. One thing is for sure the stories we could all recall represent a stain on our society and the expectation of violence that goes along with the bigotry is truly a national shame. On the last week we spoke about hate crimes and delved further into how as a society we judge people. I think everyone who took part walked away with a greater sense of how we can impact others and how our ignorance can be genuinely hurtful. I certainly look at myself and the judgement I gave Derek and Gary before they came for the workshop. As a prisoner I will often be judged by people in society who don’t even know me and know nothing about me. The workshop has made me conscious of how I do this to others without even thinking about it. Derek and Gary came in and treated everybody in the workshop with the respect that they no doubt treat everyone else they meet. After getting to know them a bit better the image I had of them has been shattered and I hate to admit that they were two genuinely decent guys, they have helped me to see that if I want other people to see past the criminal then I need to stop judging others and treat them as I would like to be treated.

Show racism the red card was a great success and I hope that they have the opportunity to get their message out to as many people as possible, especially youngsters in the West Coast of Scotland to whom the course would definitely be an eye opener.

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