Elizabeth O'Brien

The classroom for teacher Beth O'Brien is unlike any other. For 16 years her classroom has been inside a maximum security women's prison.

Honour Roll

Whilst some might believe that her students should be doing their time 'tough', Beth believes bigger gains come from respecting her students and nurturing their minds and spirits. In her classroom, graduating successfully takes on a whole new meaning.

"Beth supported me to study, as much as a way to do my jail time, as to assist my educational needs," said one graduate. "These studies have assisted me to gain employment and most of all to ensure that I never ever face the blackness and depression that leads to jail." A current inmate said Beth is extremely well liked and respected, with the patience of a saint, despite facing occasional "difficult situations". Learning computer skills in Beth's prison education centre, the inmate said she feels human again and not a number as she is elsewhere in the prison. "Beth is one in a million" she said. One senior prison officer described Beth as "a beacon of hope who inspires and contributes to long-term behavioural change".

Alongside like-minded teachers from Kangan Batman TAFE, Beth provides extraordinary leadership in the field of prisoner education and is hailed as a role model within the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. Beth enables post-prison pathways by involving groups, including Somebody's Daughter Theatre and Swinburne University, to give inmates the chance to take their newly-acquired skills into the community. These skills range from literacy, creative writing and numeracy to art, computer, woodwork and horticulture.

In providing hope, opportunities, and the possibility of change, Beth is credited with returning many women to the community as useful contributors, not only to society, but to themselves and their families. "I love this job because it's all about being a mentor and empowering women so they can aspire to anything," said Beth.