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Organization and Education Among Salvadoran Political Prisoners

NCJ Number
Crime, Law and Social Change Volume: 25 Issue: 1 Dated: (1996) Pages: 17-41
J L Hammond
Date Published
25 pages
During 12 years of war in El Salvador, the Salvadoran government imprisoned thousands of activists; confronting massive violations of their human rights, these political prisoners struggled against prison authorities to resist their oppression and also educated themselves.
In educating themselves, the prisoners applied the principles of popular education widespread in the Salvadoran popular movement, which emphasized the close integration between pedagogy and politics, both in the content of education and in the political process. The prisoners formed a collective that established its own regimen and rules; it focused on challenging prison restrictions. In prison, education classes were typically held for 3 hours a day. The first step was to teach illiterates to read. A lesson was organized around a key word with a highly charged ideological significance, and learners discussed its meaning and related it to their own experience before confronting its written form. The second level of education provided the fundamentals of elementary education, arithmetic, and more advanced reading. The third level was political education, which was designed to reinforce the prisoners' ideological commitments, so as to help them withstand the difficulties of prison life. Although the human rights movement that worked to protect them against violations of their rights used a rhetoric that presented the prisoners as helpless victims, the prisoners' own testimonies show that they were active protagonists who opposed injustice even in prison. 44 notes