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Inside Europe

Polish Prisoners Learn The Ropes of Television

In Poland, inmates and guards at a prison in the country's northeast have decided to develop a local TV network. The project is giving prisoners a new sense of worth and will also reach out to the local community.

A prison cell

Prison TV can bring color to many inmates' lives

One of Poland's top television hits this season is "Four Down," a comedy set in a prison cell. Its inmates use surreal humor to while away the hours, while the hard-hitting dialogues bring viewers a taste of what it's like to be cut off from the rest of society with little hope of being reintegrated.

This purely literary creation has resulted in a real-life spin-off. Inspired by the show, the inmates and supervisors at a prison in the remote town of Czerwony Bór in Poland's depressed northeast have decided to set up a television network of their own.

The shows are to be prepared exclusively by prisoners in and outside the compound. They will include reports on everyday life inside the cells, sports and cultural events held within the compound, as well as coverage of events from the region.

The organizers are also planning to shoot corporate presentations for local companies and air them inside the prison, to let the inmates know about job prospects available to them once they get out. There will be interviews with personnel managers at the companies, so that the inmates can see for themselves that the companies don't mind working with former convicts. Doing something useful behind bars

The idea is to show Prison TV programs also outside the compound on a local cable network. The organizers want viewers in the region to find out about the many public initiatives the inmates are involved in -- such as the "clean the world campaign" -- to change the popular perception that they are just hardened criminals.

Prisoners playing ball

Sports play an important role for prisoners at the Czerwony Bór prison

Wojtek, who's in his late twenties, is serving a two-year sentence at Czerwony Bór for breaking and entering. He says he really enjoys coming down to the TV studio in the prison.

"I've been involved in community radio at the prison since I arrived here last year," Wojtek says. "It's an interesting job and it's good fun, but I also feel that I'm doing something useful. It's something I can be proud of when I talk to my family when they come to visit me here." Helping other people is important

The popular Polish music television presenter Hirek Wrona often visits prisons to work with inmates as a volunteer.

"Apart from having fun playing videos to entertain the inmates, I feel that you are only worth as much in life as you can help other people," Wrona says.

Before Prison TV goes on the air, the crew is to undergo technical training at one of Poland's local television stations. The organizers are hoping that this experiment, which will often enable the inmates to work on the outside, will bring them closer to normal life -- and will make them less likely to reoffend.

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