up ANNUAL KOESTLER AWARDS SPECIAL
Chris Wilson Horse Latitudes Slamming Gates in Holloway Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan
Issue 23 / Autumn 2013 ÂŁ3.50
Distributed free of charge to prisons and other secure establishments around the UK
Art & Writing by the unfree www.notshutup.org
International Art of the Unfree
n June, I attended a prison art conference in Marseilles, France. It’s theme was Borders: Inside / Outside – a dialogue between art, prison and society, and marked the completion of a five year programme, organised and hosted by Lieux Fictifs, an arts organisation based in Marseilles and mainly concerned with film and photography projects in prisons. The project was sponsored by Grundtvig, the adult education stream of the European Union’s life-long learning programme. Six European countries participated France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Norway and Slovakia – by running interlinked film projects in prisons in their respective countries. Several of these projects used material from local film history archives, teaching inmates to re-edit this material and create films of their own. Delegates also attended from many other countries, contributing to the ‘round-table’ discussions and throughout the five day conference and its film programme. Out of the 200-odd present, only six came from the UK. Kirsten Kearney FRONT COVER IMAGE SElF PORTRAIT IN CEll, Michael, HMYOI Stoke Heath, Brent Sketching Bronze Award for Portraits
and Tom Magill of the Educational Shakespeare Company from Northern Ireland presented Mickey B, a contemporary version of Macbeth cast and set in the fictional Burnham Prison and shot in Northern Ireland’s maximum security HMP Maghaberry, all parts played by prisoners and prison staff. The Irish artist Jonathan Cummins presented his video installation When I leave these landings. This consisted of four simultaneous screenings of IRA inmates reminiscing about the Republican cause they’d sacrificed their freedom for. Filmed at Portlaoise Prison (the Republic of Ireland’s only high security prison, heavily guarded by the Irish Defence Force), it was part of a collaboration between the National College of Art, Dublin and the Irish Prison Service.
Marseilles is 2013 European City of Culture (along with Londonderry, Northern Ireland and Košice, Slovakia) and a certain amount of rather tedious trumpet-blowing took place during the conference. But it was impossible not to be excited by the exchange of ideas across national borders and languages, and in France itself the self-evident collaboration between the Ministries of Justice and Culture – both represented at a high level at the conference – could only be envied. The primitive insularity, capricious outsourcing and punitive philistinism which characterises so much of our criminal justice system made me feel I was from another planet. Matthew Meadows, Art Editor
Matthew Meadows, Meet our art editor
I’ve been working in the criminal justice system for ten years, mostly in prisons. After a stint as a Koestler judge, the Koestler Trust commissioned me to research and write Insider Art, a book about art in the UK’s criminal justice system, published in 2010. More recently, I’ve been organising one-person exhibitions for prison artists – all part of finding wider audiences for the masses of locked-up talent – and unlocking it. I work as an artist too, doing lots of drawing and printing strange political wallpaper…
Art and Writing by the Unfree Welcome, dear Readers, to another issue of our
magazine, celebrating the creativity of those in custody all across the UK. As you will see flicking through its pages, something again has changed - our first full-colour issue marks five years of our partnership with the Koestler Trust, featuring award winning work from their Southbank Centre selection. Alongside amazing artwork and serious literature, we also include writing for screen and stage and song lyrics to help brighten up your days and widen your choice of art to enjoy. Some of the writing is only in shortened extract form, so you don’t get to read the whole thing, but that is
because there is so much great creativity happening behind bars and only so many pages for us to fit them into. Thanks to a generous grant from Arts Council England, we are now working on new initiatives, such as Slamming Gates (page 38), Jail Journals (page 45) and the Not Shut Up Academy (page 53). All these will give us greater reach – a new website, educational initiatives, the capacity to publish books and ebooks – to take the art and writing you are all creating and send it out into the wider world. Marek Kazmierski / Managing Editor
whAt Is InsIDE? 40
“If we can only change round some of the public perceptions of who offenders are...” Interview with Tim Robertson
“I’m thinking of committing my next offence in Brazil...” Koestler Awards, Non-fiction
“I could think of cells that had been nicer. Quite a few actually.” Koestler Awards, Fiction
“Poet reluctant retreats, mirrored by the frame, dips the ink again.” Koestler Awards, Poetry
“They let us in as they wheeled her out: Mam already forgetting where she was.” Koestler Awards, Poetry
“Like a blood orange waiting to fall from the table, the setting sun lingers on the edge of a watery world.” Koestler Awards, Fiction
“Speech Debelle’s own experience makes her an authentic voice for a younger urban demographic.” An introduction from Matthew Meadows
“Experience of prison, addiction, love, violence, death, birth and - as they say much, much more. ” Koestler Awards, Poetry
“I know that the modus operandi of breaking rules is very complex.” Koestler Awards, Prose
“Impact Art Fair took place over a sweltering late July weekend in Brixton. ” Art Pages
“The big word which keeps cropping up is ‘authenticity, authenticity, authenticity...’” Interview with Chris Wilson
“Emotions move, they shift faster than a tear running down the curved surface of grief.” Prison Librarian
26 27 31
“Like being taken to an oasis once a week...” Brenda Read-Brown
Koestler Awards Gallery selected by Speech Debelle
“Burnt down my pad, life outside drove me mad, Now I’m in Walton...” Koestler Awards, Song Lyrics
“They were tears of joy – his story was now out in the open and he was truly free.” Buried Treasure
“Just the odd slap... She always was a passionate woman.” Koestler Awards, Play
“The 160 plus women who signed up hear the final eight stories raised the roof in support of the finalists.” Slamming Gates
“The streets outside this musty rubbish strewn pit are a long way from St Petersburg.” Koestler Awards, Journals
“In infamous San Quentin State Prison resides a population of prisoners shunned by the state.” From Death Row
“Like some Dickensian character, forever on the take, and mindless of every heart he would break.” Koestler Awards, Poetry
“ I am interested in art which deals with human experience rather than theory.” Souzu Outsider Art interview
Art organisations worth knowing about / Not Shut Up information Matthew Meadows’ Art Pages
Interview: Tim Robertson chief executive of the Koestler Trust The trust is the UK’s best-known prison arts charity, named after Arthur Koestler, one of the key writers and thinkers of the mid-twentieth century nsup: Please tell us how you became involved in the arts and
especially working with the unfree. tIM RoBERtson: Well, my start in adult life and education was with a degree in English and a masters in English and American literature. With my mum being a nurse and me being a churchgoer, involved in Church of England and socialist politics, I wanted to make a difference in life. So, I trained in various social projects, as a volunteer, and then I trained as a probation officer, though I went on to work as a social worker, in Camden. I worked for 14 years in children’s and young people’s services and I kept reading and writing a bit. For 12 years, I was also part of the editorial team of Magma poetry magazine. In Camden we commissioned various projects for families, and it was in the arts projects that I saw people engaged and really growing, much more so than in the other terribly well-researched parenting programmes and things. I threw that career in the air and decided to work in the arts, and the Koestler job combined for me the creative and the social welfare aspects.
nsup: That was 2006, since then how has the Koestler Trust changed with you in the driving seat?
tR:It’s not just me, it is actually about having a great team of
people. I arrived as the chief exec at the same time that Joe Pilling, former director general of the prison service, became the chair of trustees. He’s been a wonderful support and leader in the team. There’s a whole lot of other people in the trust who contribute to our growth. In 2006, we had an exhibition in a church hall, showing to about a 1,000 people, a very nice, but kind of smallish show. The people who knew about it came and bought the work, we had an award scheme which had a couple of thousand entries, and that was what the trust did. It almost run out of money – as there is no Arthur Koestler bequest left to us, we have to raise all the money. What I felt at that time was that the trust had an amazing tradition, and was kind of a famous brand and people had heard
of us, but we were limited in our impact. So now, seven years later, the UK exhibition is at the Southbank Centre, attracting 20,000 visitors over two months, curated differently every year. In 2012, we had over 8,000 entries, and around the competitions we had a mentoring programme, with visits to around 50 prisons a year. Everyone gets feedback, along with a fast stream for under-18s. So it is an amazing tradition, no other country in the world has something like this! Actually, every prisoner in the country is able to submit their achievements to this prestigious scheme. We also have a programme of exhibitions outside of London.
nsup: Liverpool, Glasgow, Cardiff... tR: And now we’re about to do one in Gateshead. When you come
into a charity, you need to know if you are doing something like other people, because if you are, you really should be merging. Your job as a charity is to do yourself out of a job. But nobody else does what Koestler Trust does, and being unique is what makes it so powerful. The model which I inherited has an impact on individual offenders. With the number of entries we get, people aspire to do better, and so we are raising the quality of the arts being produced in custodial settings. We see it happening, but it is tremendously difficult to thread all those things through scientific measurements. Plus, we are also looking at social and cultural change, so as well as the impact on the individual, we are impacting on public attitudes. The most fantastic thing in our exhibition at the Southbank Centre and all our other venues is the visitors’ book, which fills with page after page of people saying ‘I had no idea prisoners had this level of skill and talent and I am so moved by the stories I see and hear’.
nsup: You mentioned offenders, do you also work with other people?
tR: Yes, the Koestler Awards are open to anybody in a British
prison, anybody supervised by a probation team in the community,
or in a secure psychiatric unit or special hospital, or an immigration removal centre, as well as British prisoners overseas.
nsup: Have you noticed any differences between the art
produced within the criminal justice system and other secure institutions, where people have not been convicted of an offence? tR: For many prisoners and secure psychiatric patients, their previous lives outside were too pressured and too chaotic for them to sit down and write a poem or paint a picture. Funnily enough, secure settings are on one level traumatic and difficult, but on another level they provide our artists with enough stability and space in which their creativity has a chance to come out. One of the things Koestler and Not Shut Up do is release the voices of people on the margins of society. We get to see the world as it looks to them in a way you don’t get from any other source. It’s one of the things Arthur Koestler realised about incarceration – that it generates creativity by taking you out of the mainstream, where you get to look back on your own life and the wider world in a way those of us caught in every day reality out in the ordinary world don’t get a chance to do. And that’s the revelation, I guess. Something all of us need to hear.
nsup: You are a very busy person, a trustee of Clinks, chairing the Arts Alliance, acting as a churchwarden, and also a poet. Do you still write and how do you manage to make time for that? tR: Before I arrived at Koestler, I used to write more, although of late I started a new project at St Pancras Church writing poem prayers. We are quite an engaged church, so we are writing about homeless people in our community, about women being included as bishops and about gay marriage being extended. So I think that will get me back into writing a bit, although most of my creativity at the moment goes into writing funding bids, I’m afraid. That’s what happens when you run a charity. There is that George Bernard Shaw quote, ‘He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.’ At some point you realise that some of us are organisers and teachers and communicators and managers, and some of us are doers and writers and artists, and you have to work out what you are best suited to be. Though you can be a combination of those things, I’ve realised that the best way I can use my talents is to bring money into this sector, by trying to work together, to keep doing what the Koestler Trust does. nsup: Mark Haddon did make it clear creative writing is not for everyone, but reading is the starting block for everyone. What are your favourite books, your ‘starting blocks’? tR: My Desert Island texts would be by two very different poets: first, Frank O’Hara, the 1950s New Yorker, and the second has to be our own Wordsworth. I’d always have him. He is the great artist who changed our world. There is nothing like his Prelude for looking at your life and relating it to the world and using this
as a springboard for going forward and doing something different. Wordsworth fundamentally shifted the way we relate to reality. And there is a wonderful poem on prisons and creativity, a sonnet which opens with ‘Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room; And hermits are contented with their cells,’ which is great and interesting on prisons and creativity. And the novel would be Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. A great book!
nsup: And on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the
Koestler Trust, which you celebrated last year, a cheeky question – any predictions for the next 50 years? What do you think will happen within prison arts, what would you like to see happen? tR: I would like to see us, as a society, realise that although prisoners have made serious mistakes in life and made poor decisions and have caused harm to others, as well as themselves, that actually they are our failure as well. I would like to see every prison become an arts academy, to see prisoners developing creative skills which would help them develop all kinds of practical and spiritual and emotional levels to who they are, then come back and make a positive contribution to society. And funnily enough, I think some of this will happen, because financially we cannot afford to carry doing what we are doing at the moment, warehousing people and coming up with more and more laws. I think the Berlin Wall came down, things will eventually change, and some of the things we regard as criminal now, for example drug use, will not be so in twenty or thirty years time. So, I think there’s reasonable hope that the balance of criminal justice will tip in favour of rehabilitation instead of punishment.
Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room; And hermits are contented with their cells; And students with their pensive citadels; Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom, Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom, High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells, Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells: In truth the prison, unto which we doom Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me, In sundry moods, ‘twas pastime to be bound Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground; Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be) Who have felt the weight of too much liberty, Should find brief solace there, as I have found. William Wordsworth
A selection of short stories from the 2013 Koestler Awards Like so much great writing, the stories here are lean, not flaunting their power, but twist and turn like a pro boxer can just before delivering the winning blow. Whether telling a plain old story of a dying boy, or painting images of a dying day, the love of good writing is in every line – especially the closing sentences, which are as important as KOs are to a good bout. And I wonder if you can solve the puzzle contained in the last line of the last story in this selection?
I remember the smell of dried grass in the hot hazy playing field. I could feel the dust particles at the back of my throat. I don’t remember the look on Pete’s face when the paramedics pushed him away, told him to give them some room. I don’t remember the name of the boy lying there, pale-faced, lips blue. I remember the sound of his laugh that turned to a cough that turned to a wheeze and then to silence. And I remember the sirens blaring. I don’t remember the taste of my school dinner that day, but I’m sure it tasted the same as the day before and the day before that and even last week, last month. But that taste lingers now, like reflux. I will always remember the day that boy passed. The day Pete’s friend wasn’t there any more. I wish I didn’t remember the days after – the girls crying, the sadness. And I wish I didn’t remember that death can strike any time.
Veil of Tears, Paul, HMP Whatton, shackleton Memorial Highly Commended award for Theme: forgiveness
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
all stories by anon., hMp shrewsbury, Gold award for Fiction
Love leaving EscapE with a Book, timothy, hMp & Yoi Exeter, Benjamin G. Lewis highly commended award for sculpture
The black book It had been six months since the reading of Alfred Dodds’ will before Jackson, Alfred’s son, could even think about opening the wooden trunk he had inherited. The trunk had been sitting in the unused spare bedroom of Jackson’s flat for five of those months. He woke that Sunday morning at 6:30 with a strange urge to open the trunk; he desperately needed to see what was inside it. Jackson went into the living room and retrieved the key from inside the blue vase that sat on the oak cupboard. He walked across the hall to the spare room and knelt in front of the trunk again, pushing the hefty key into the chunky lock. Reluctantly, and with a clunk, the latch was freed from its hold. After a few seconds and a deep breath, Jackson slowly lifted the lid. The hinge squealed all the way up. He peered inside the trunk. ‘What the... Is that it?’ he exclaimed out loud, to himself. All that was inside was an old, dusty uniform. It wasn’t until Jackson had taken the uniform out of the trunk and hung it from the wardrobe door that he realised it must have been his granddad’s uniform, the one he had worn in the Second World War. ‘Woooow,’ he whispered slowly. Then Jackson noticed the hole in the breast
pocket of the jacket. That must have been how he died, Jackson thought, as he poked his index finger through the hole. He had never known his grandfather, who had died 20 years before Jackson was born. Suddenly, Jackson felt an urge to check the trousers. He shoved his hands inside the front pockets. Nothing. Both were empty. When he put his hand in one of the back pockets, he felt something; it was about four inches wide, five inches high and hard. He pulled it out and saw it was a little black notebook. His hand trembling with excitement, Jackson opened and began reading it. The book was a mini-journal of the last few months of his grandfather’s life in the war. Jackson sat and read the book for about an hour. Even the humour in between the horrors of war was grim. But it was the last page that truly shocked him, making him sit bolt upright – even scared him a little. Because what he read on the last page was impossible. It shouldn’t be there, couldn’t be there. Jackson sat frozen to the spot, reading the last line over and over and over: This journal is dedicated to my grandson, Jackson Dodds. You are always in my heart. 23rd March, 1944.
Like a blood orange waiting to fall from the table, the setting sun lingers on the edge of a watery world, taking a moment for one last glance at love leaving. Behind it sits a perfect sky of purple crushed velvet. No blemishes, no clouds, white, black or grey; they stay away out of respect. And the only stars out tonight are the red, yellow and orange ones skittering along the ripples of a sea singing a melancholy song. The silhouette of a sail slices through the sun like a sword cutting through its heart. And its light spills out like blood across the horizon. And like a dying ember the sun finally rises up, slowly dipping behind a sympathetic earth. The stars fade away and for a moment the sea falls silent. I step from the balcony and enter the bedroom and for a brief moment I stare at the empty pillow next to mine and I think to myself, ‘I give up.’
siGht, anon., hMp & Yoi parc, Recycling or papier Mache
Speech Debelle’s Koestler Selection
Matthew Meadows, Art Editor
t’s that time of year again – the Koestler Trust’s annual exhibition opens at London’s Southbank Centre in September. In recent years, it has been selected and curated by varied but directly concerned interest groups: victims of crime, magistrates, a group of young prisoners from HMP Downview. With each selection came a new perspective, making an inspired series of very different exhibitions. Last year, artist Sarah Lucas curated a predictably edgylooking exhibition, giving the Spirit Level exhibition space under the Royal Festival Hall a slightly claustrophobic feel with her trademark breeze block display plinths interspersed with toilet pans. This year, another celebrity curator’s selection will fill the Spirit Level gallery – that of Mercury Music Prize-winning rapper Speech Debelle. Putting together an exhibition of this work is a challenging task for one person, even with expert help provided by the Koestler team. With approaching 8,000 entries in nearly 50 different art forms from open and closed settings across the UK’s criminal justice system, making coherent sense of it all might seem almost impossible. But choosing someone with strong views on social justice and a passionate belief that a creative vocation can transform your life is a good place to start. Speech Debelle’s own experience of homelessness and hostel living, and her subsequent political interventions and three albums addressing social issues, all make her an authentic voice for a younger urban demographic. Commenting on
the 2011 UK riots, she said ‘only people who cannot envision a positive future will take part in the destruction of their own community and if we acknowledge that, then we’re to ask the question why somebody so young feels they have so little to look forward to?’ In this issue we have reproduced some of Speech’s choices of art and writing – but given her own creative talent, it may be that her music and performance selections are closest to her heart. Though not a visual artist, her choice of artwork is distinctive. Lots of portraits and prison scenes, with an eye for strong graphic images: most with something to say. As usual, the curator is allowed to select from all entries, not just the award winners, which have been picked at an earlier stage by specialist judging teams. During the judging and the selection of the exhibition, entries cover all available wall space in a large nineteenth century house at the entrance to HMP Wormwood Scrubs, which is home to the Koestler Trust. Rooms, stairways and landings are given over to different art forms: soap carving, calligraphy, pastels, portraits, photography, animation, poetry, drawing, soft toys…. and so it goes on. 2013 entry
submissions were down a bit from last year – evidence of prison art classes closing down as education providers seek to enhance profits by ‘streamlining’ delivery. As well as this introduction to Speech Debelle’s forthcoming exhibition we also present Not Shut Up’s own selection of artwork, by both award winners and other entrants. Given the task of choosing our favourites, we would each no doubt have made very different choices. But setting aside any individual preferences, the artworks featured here demonstrate the extraordinarily diverse range of locked-up creativity released through the work of the Koestler Trust. Long may it continue. The Strength & Vulnerability Bunker, the Koestler 2013 UK exhibition 24 September – 1 December 2013 Spirit Level, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London Other Koestler exhibitions around the UK: Release, the Koestler exhibition for Scotland 2 November – 15 December 2013 Tramway, Glasgow This year’s exhibition has been curated by young people from Kibble Safe Centre – a secure children’s home in Paisley. Reflections, the Koestler exhibition for the North East 19 October – 1 December 2013 BALTIC, Newcastle and The Gallery at Gateshead Central Library The exhibition has been curated by students of the Behaviour Support Service, Gateshead.
CheCk Mate...Mate, Paul, hMP Whatton, Mixed Media
VoICe In MY head, Patrick, Bracton Centre, Space Station Sixty-Five Platinum award for Mixed Media
WoMan, Jacqueline, hMP & YoI holloway, Gold award for Ceramics
Photo by Brittany App
Judging the individual poem category was once again a delight this year. I worked with poets Louisa Hooper and Nicholas Murray. The collection category was judged by Tim Dooley, Ruth O’Callaghan and Tricia Durdey.
he poems we selected reflected the mix of themes you were writing about this year. The experience of prison, addiction, love, violence, death, birth and – as they say – much, much more. There were a lot of poems among my personal favourites that were about places. Poems that really drew you into that place. The old house drawn for us in The Footsteps on the Stairs is quite spooky. The contrast between the ‘awfully alive eyes’ of the female character in the poem and the creaking joints of the ‘weary old house’. There’s lots of mystery in this poem and there are things you are never quite sure of. Clifford’s wonderful close up look at Croydon High Street does the same for a public space and this is more unusual. Another platinum prizewinner has drawn us a word picture of life on an Arctic mission, with its ‘progress as slow as a glacier’. The Notting Hill poem gives us a flavour of the carnival and its spirit. In Clifford’s Croydon poem, he is waiting to cross the road and a bus is in his way. The description of the people looking out is so intense and vivid, you really feel you are there. The rain must have been very heavy for the people of the bus to appear as if they were in a submarine. He also compares them to people in photographs ‘captive behind glass’. So – this will be your workout exercise this time round. Here is a list of things to try, they are triggers to help you find your way into a place poem. You won’t want to use all of them. None of our prizewinning poets did that – sometimes less really can be more!! But, have a go at all of them at first and take notes, then use those notes to write your poem from.
1) Think of a place you know well, a public place, like a high street or a park. Relax, close your eyes and picture it. Not being able to go there shouldn’t be a barrier to your imagination and your memory of it. Make some general notes about the place. 2) Home in on one small aspect of what you can see, like the bus in Clifford’s poem. Make some notes on the object you are thinking of. 3) How would you describe it to a blind or partially sighted person? Make sure you are describing it as thoroughly as you can. What does it look like? What other thing(s) does it remind you of? If you touched it or smelt it – what might that be like? 4) Is sound relevant to your description? Perhaps the way people speak in this street might be worth noting – what accent are they speaking in? Are there any odd phrases linked in to this place that people don’t say elsewhere? 5) Is the place you are remembering that same way now? Or, are you remembering it many years ago – if so, find a way of depicting that without telling us outright. Show don’t tell! Then write your poem. Keep it short like Clifford’s poem. Don’t necessarily put in everything you noted, only what builds into one cohesive picture. Then send us your results. We will publish a selection in the next issue.
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
The Old Blues Men Look at them Mississippi Delta boys, all Sunday suits in faded monochrome, shoe-shine dulled by the years, but not their eyes. Look at them looking at you, A hundred years of waitin’ in those eyes. They had something to say, something to sing for – Lord have mercy – when music broke its chains down at the crossroads, the jailhouse, the cemetery. Instruments made out of what... packing cases, kerosene cans, chicken wire? ’Till that precious Martin, cherished like my first car, sang for freedom, justice, love gone oh so wrong. Well, I woke up this morning, Woman done left me for another man. And those voices – Lord, those voices – like the river’s, still rumble up through my feet, my belly, near enough crack my spine, near enough carry me home. Hard-hearted woman treat me so bad, turned to drinkin’ and gamblin’ and singin’ the blues while she rock that cradle, cooing the chile – All my trials, Lord! Well, you know the rest. Clifford, HMP Brixton, Platinum Award for Poem
Waiting to cross Croydon High Street in the rain I’m watching for a gap. A 466 comes by, a row of faces framed like prisoners on a strange submarine, staring out at the underwater peep show, a million darting colours amid the teeming reef of shops, cafes, pavements. Some, with exhausted eyes, see nothing – have seen it all. I’m twitching to dive in, swim across and feed, but the hulk wallows, my way is blocked. Unknowable souls, chanced together in transit to home or job, appointment or affair, ponder their fates, captive behind glass like a photograph. But the image on my retinas fades in seconds, in a line-up I could never pick them out. Except one – a girl, eight years old, harpoons me with her gaze, so that all I can do is return it. What is this life? We seem to say, Who are we? Clifford, HMP Brixton, Platinum Award for Poem
The sound of my thoughts The sound of grinding metal Plays like Rage Against the Machine Out of sync with an Old black-and-white movie. Shattered glass hangs in the air Like a million tiny diamonds Glimmering in the night sky. My senses slowly fade to numbness As the dark descends over me And the stars fall to earth. The soundtrack to my death ends And now I have nothing But the sound of my thoughts. Anon., HMP Shrewsbury, Platinum Award for Poetry Collection
The View of the Snicky Bush The snicky bush is where I waved to the borotak on the river diffeldrip, diffeldrip, flyk was the sound as he floated on hither the goku and dalak mounted their bike and challenged him to a race ‘pluub’ said the borotak and stumfly gave chase the wallago falls is what they all fear and once passed the ending is near schwimm schwimm too late for the carpot and the dalak fell too ’till only the borotak and brave little goku passed the line the borotak the winner the latter a quiver the snicky bush is where I waved to the borotak on the river Anon., The Wells Road Centre, Platinum Award for Poem
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
Is it worth it? Bitter cold scythes into the tent. Boiled snow rehydrates the breakfast pack. Utter silence akin to deep space. No living person for hundreds of miles. I strap on skis to trek through the Arctic desert. Winds whip shards of snow crystals against exposed skin; someone is rubbing coarse sandpaper against me. I plod into the ice field. A giant has thrown together random ice cubes to form a mishmash of irregular forms. Blinding sun reflects piercing white light on my goggles. Progress is as slow as a glacier. Will it never end? Ten hours later, relief is in sight. Flat clear snow, like iced cake sprinkled with icing sugar. Anon., HMP Shrewsbury, Platinum Award for Poem
The Footsteps on the Stairs Resting with long legs curled beneath her On the worn, stained mattress Sideways glancing through the grimed window Her background a mess of peeling, faded wallpaper. What a contrast then, her space-black hair Long and dripping curls and Life-tanned wood-brown skin. The breeze and trees sway outside Reflected in those awfully alive eyes And a mighty mighty heart pumps Deep red heat red life That shows in her skinâ€™s shine And throbbing neck. The weary old house creaks and grumbles Around her and then The footsteps on the stairs. Each slow step brings a complaint And the smelly tramp mattress Is suddenly empty and slowly returning to shape. The wind flares to silence And the joints of the house tick Like a wooden clock slowly Running down. Slow and full of purpose The footsteps on the stairs Become the footsteps at the Door. One last creak to a stop. The door begins to open soundlessly, And she terribly alive and deadly crawls Across the ceiling. Anon., HMP Frankland, Platinum Award for Poem
These Mortal Cells the Green An extract Author’s note
Any resemblance any of the characters in this novel bear to people either living or dead is entirely coincidental. But just in case that isn’t enough, how about this: I don’t believe anyone is to blame for anything that happens in their life or anybody else’s life. That should be kept in mind at all times if you happen to see some resemblance between yourself and a character in this novel and are thinking about suing. Suing is very unwise because, as I understand it, the plaintiff needs to prove that the information is true.
Now We See Through A Glass Darkly
It’s only in contrast that we see clearly. The greater the contrast the greater the vision, the greater the vision the greater the contrast. Before I came to prison, strange things happened to me frequently; I was disinterested and unrestrained. In confinement they too have been largely confined. I needed darkness to understand light. Now, in open conditions, back in the light more or less, I can write. Tuesday and Wednesday last week are good places to start. On the Tuesday, I’d been out in Bristol at my community placement, an ex-offender organisation called Believe. I’d arranged to meet another
inmate, who also works in the community, at the prison gate at 6.30pm, so that he could give me a mobile phone. As his boss had given him two, he kindly offered one to me. We’d asked staff and a senior officer had told us to put an application in to the governor. Mobiles are uncertain territory, because we can’t have them in the jail, but we can keep them in a locker at the gate and use them when we’re out working or on town visits or home leave. They aren’t listed on our property card. If a non-prisoner gave us a phone, there wouldn’t be any need to ask. It was only because the transaction was between inmates, where there might have been bullying involved, that we had to get permission. So we didn’t bother with the application. We broke the rules: something I try my hardest to think carefully about doing. As I’m ten years into a life sentence, I know that the modus operandi of breaking rules is very complex. It’s a difficult decision. You can break draconian rules or try to change draconian rules, and get punished – and everything, in the end, will turn out for the best. Or it might not. You need to think very carefully about breaking rules. When you’re ten years into a life sentence, it can mean spending a lot of extra time in jail. At 6.30 at the prison gate I had to wait for Scottish John to get back from work. Watching me pace around the entrance, a
prison officer yelled, ‘What are you doing out here Davies?’ ‘Waiting for an inmate to give me something.’ John pulled up in a car and, in full view of staff, gave me a plastic bag. We queued. I followed John through the gate and reached through the window with my locker key and plastic bag. ‘What’s in the bag?’ asked the officer who’d yelled out to me. ‘A mobile phone.’ ‘Is it yours?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then why did he give it to you?’ ‘Ahh well...’ Then John came back and explained. I’m not much good at explaining, or maybe I just think I’m not. My diffident stuttering normally does get people’s attention in its own way, whereas John’s assertiveness, on this occasion, only caused the officer to sigh and threaten, ‘Have you heard the one about the Scotsman and the Australian? They got grounded for not speaking English properly.’ Not a nice way to speak to a self-conscious stutterer, I was thinking, but then realised he didn’t mean it that way. When we got to reception, another officer told us ‘Mr Rolls and Mr Davies, could you please go to the community placement office.’ The gate had already phoned through and, by the time we got to the CPO, stories of mobile phone smuggling, up to ten in some of them, had circulated all over the jail. Though we spoke to the same senior officer who’d told us to put in the application, we weren’t placed on report or even reprimanded. But we’d broken the rules and there are always consequences to breaking rules, whether you think you get away with it or not. The cleaner you get, the rules of the universe tell us, the easier it is to get dirty. The next day, I was out on a town visit. I was going to Gloucester to meet an old Australian friend I’d gone to university with in Brisbane 20 years ago. Neil had come to see me on remand almost ten years ago in Pentonville and Brixton
DOn’t Let gO, Anon., rossie Secure Accomodation Services, theme: Forgiveness
prisons. He’d been rather opinionated in a statement to my solicitors and I told him I didn’t want anything to do with him ever again. When I became a born again Christian about three and a half years ago, however, I had to forgive everyone. That’s what born again Christians do. I sent a lot of letters to people I’d been fighting with for years, Neil included, trying to patch thing up. Most didn’t write back, or perhaps they’re still on the way; it took Neil more than three years. He’d been travelling all over the world as a TV sports cameraman, an exciting life which came to an abrupt end almost a year ago now at the Australian Tennis Open. The Australian PM John Howard had snaked by, as Neil put it, and Neil let him have it over Australian immigration policy. Mr Howard liked opinionated cameramen even less than I did, so Neil was sacked, and shortly after joined his wife and young boy just north of here in Hereford. Mr Howard hasn’t yet, as far as I know, become a born again Christian and written to Neil to apologise. Town visits have almost become real. I still feel like a spectator, but each time I go out people seem more insistent that I
take part in their lives. Even after having about 50 of these ten-hour excursions into the unexpected, I still observe people so closely, I feel like I’m in a relationship with them all. Is that a good thing? Before I came to jail, I was too self-absorbed to be in a relationship with anyone or anything; drunk, I could sleep with someone many times and remain as emotionally detached from them as a shopkeeper I bought a newspaper from. I didn’t want to feel anything for anyone. I don’t really know what would have happened if I had slept with people sober. I’ve only done it a few times and then only with prostitutes or Anne. I think I’d have fallen in love with a blow-up doll if I’d had sex with it sober a few times. The first town visit I had was in Bath after nine years in closed conditions. It was very strange. Everyone looked so young and attractive and interesting, but I couldn’t speak to them. I was later told that Bath is a prosperous, student town. Everyone is young, attractive and interesting, and at the time I’d been in prison for so long that I thought I was, but I had become old, unattractive and uninteresting. I avoided
going into shops for the first few hours, looking for prisoners in the faces of everyone who passed. I expected them all to nod and say ‘Alright,’ as inmates do when you pass them on the landing. I was surprised that no one talked to each other in queues. I joked to the prison officer who was escorting me that I almost started a conversation with the man behind me in the McDonald’s queue by asking ‘How long have you been in for? You got long left to do?’ The world was brand new. There were internet cafes and computer screens all over the place. Everyone was walking around, talking to themselves, which still caught me out, even after I discovered that they were speaking into mobiles. Cars looked so self-contained and clean. Everything travelled at a much faster speed than I remembered. The escorting officer said he couldn’t believe, after a few hours, the change in me. I stopped stuttering and became chatty and funny, something I hadn’t been for nine years. Writing, Owen, John Howard Centre, random House group Platinum Award for Fiction
TheImpact Art Fair for socially marginalised artists July 2013
rganised by Creative Future – the Brighton organisation that promotes marginalised artists and writers – the Impact Art Fair, with stalls run by artists and arts organisations, took place over a sweltering late July weekend in Brixton, South London. It showed a wide range of artists whose work is rarely shown in UK galleries, because they are selftaught, have mental health issues, physical disabilities or learning difficulties, have been homeless or in prison, or are socially marginalised for any other irrelevant reasons. Contributors were advertised collectively as Outsider Artists, though as exhibition director Simon Powell admitted in his introduction, none could fulfil the condition imposed by Outsider Art’s originators and gatekeepers Jean Dubuffet and André Breton, namely ‘unaculturalisation’. In other words, it is no longer possible for artists – however isolated and uncontaminated their creative vision might appear – to be untouched by the multi-cultured world we share and exist in. (It should be noted that – with the
B-NUT, Billy Weston
exception of The Museum of Everything, a travelling gallery – this ‘outsider’ status, or cultural apartheid, is particularly evident in the UK; the USA not only has museums and galleries which specialise in outsider/ untutored/naive art, but integrates work by these artists into general collections, as do other European institutions.) It might have been partly due to the lack of air-conditioning, but Impact had an intimate atmosphere quite unlike most art fairs I’ve been to. The artworks spoke to me about transforming their makers’ lives, exposing and redeeming the challenges they faced. Perhaps this personal quality explained why there wasn’t much art that was abstract, and the work was less experimental than what you see in some galleries. Limited resources too meant less access to sophisticated processes – etching, casting, etc – but such limitations were more than compensated for by the expressive power of these artists’ artworks. Also present were organisations concerned with promoting art by different groups represented at Impact: Cooltan Arts (arts and mental health organisation), The Other Side Gallery (outsider artists), Studio Upstairs (therapeutic art community),
Shape (disabled artists), SELAN (South East London Art Network mental health support), Outside In (national outreach and exhibition programme and agency for socially marginalised artists based at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester), SLAM (South London and Maudsley NHS Trust’s arts strategy for mental health recovery) and the Bethlem Gallery, based in the Bethlem Royal Hospital. The last two in particular represented convicted artists from both secure and open forensic services settings. Among the many artists exhibiting their work, ex-prisoner Chris Wilson’s powerful portrait paintings demanded attention. Describing them as a ‘freeflowing ritual encounter with the vestiges of love, damage, sex, innocence and violence,’ Chris illustrates episodes from his turbulent life, much of it spent within the American criminal justice system, and eventual release back to the UK, where he discovered his creative vocation. On the following pages, our editor Marek Kazmierski interviews Chris about his life, work and writing. Matthew Meadows
Interview: Chris Wilson Author of Horse Latitudes ‘I want broken people to heal. I want fucked up people to have choices. People who just carve themselves up or whatever. The big word which keeps cropping up is “authenticity, authenticity, authenticity...”’ Chris Wilson, London, 2013
MareK KazMiersKi: In terms of
introducing yourself, can you say something about yourself to our readers. chris wilson: I was a runaway kid in the US, I was a self-harmer, I was a teenage prostitute, I was on heroin for years and years. I had a good life in many ways, but I ended up a serial offender, incarcerated time and time again, and every time I got out I’d just do the same thing and come back for stupid little things. Then I got deported back to the land of my birth from America, to England, and I ended up in hostels here. I had a diagnosis of hypermania, I was on anti-psychotic drugs, I was on methadone. I didn’t want to do any more crime, didn’t want to go back to prison, so I spent three years pretty much lying in a fucking bed, 24 hours a day, then something happened when I met a lady who was from the other world, a professional worker. I needed affirmation, someone from the ‘other side’ I could believe in, and from that point started the long journey of coming off the drugs.
MK: Was painting the start of your art practice?
cw: Luckily for me, I discovered painting
in rehab very early on, they had art therapy every morning, but we did it among ourselves at Thurston House in Clapham Common. Every morning, we painted
and painted, I was pretty much ‘out there’ back then and I was convinced I had a lot of energy and I was sure when I put paint on my hands spirits would come through and I saw them and other people I thought saw them too, and I would try and catch the spirits with my paintings. So it became this sort of adventure where I was catching things, and my arts developed from there. I started doing something called ‘frottage’, Da Vinci apparently used to do it, where you throw paint at the canvas, you just see shapes in something that expresses something within you perhaps. And then I discovered Jung and archetypes and I realised for me to come off of drugs I needed to be inspired by life. It hasn’t been easy every day, but I’ve decided I’m on this holy grail chase in a way, and it’s the place I’m at right now.
MK: What can you tell us about the prisons you’ve been in? Can you remember the first time you got locked up? cw: First time I went into prison was in Dallas, Texas. I was seventeen and a half, I went in just for three days, county jail, ‘cause I nicked my dad’s drugs and got caught, then I started doing little bits of time for being drunk, but I didn’t start going to proper jail until I was in my midtwenties. Then I got my first proper pen term in California, in state, six months,
nine months, then two years with a four year tail, and I ended up doing all of the parole ‘cause I never showed up to meet my parole agent. I learnt to play pelota, Mexican handball, I learnt to speak Spanish ‘cause there were so many Chicano inmates, I learnt meditation from an Indian guy, so I did really well in prison.
MK: I ask about prison because it’s a big
part of the book, which is an amazing read. Do you remember how you started writing? cw: When I was a kid, I was in bands, punk music and stuff, when I was 18, 19, so I never wrote books or painted, but I wrote songs, which I think was really good grounding for the way I write. The bands didn’t last long, because I became a fucking chronic heroin addict, every instrument went to the pawn shop, as Johnny Thunders would write in Chinese Rocks, you know. Then, many years later, I went to Chelsea College of Art and Design, took them this painting when I applied. There were 100 people wanting to get in and I brought this big roll of canvas I had done, and they rolled it out on the floor and said, ‘Some people would find your art contentious,’ and I said ‘Define contentious’ and the guy just spat back ‘I hoped you would...,’ and I got in. A lot of hard work, but it was a good experience.
Mk: How did it feel to get that feedback,
ST GENET, 2013 Chris Wilson
because you say there were a lot of mixed reactions to the book? cw: I felt that anyone who was kind of damaged, who had lived any kind of pain, gets the book. Someone else said ‘Do you have to have lived this sort of life to get the book?’ and I said ‘I have some very fucked up friends out there who’ve read this and who get a hold of me and say – “Fuck, Chris!” – and it seems the more fucked up they are, the more they love it.’ I’ll tell you something confessional, when I was very young I didn’t have the belief that I have now in myself. Prison taught me that I had everything I needed. I didn’t know that before, it was a really interesting experience for me. Not the prisons themselves, but being in that environment made me realise I had a lot more abilities and strengths.
Mk: What are some of the books which
shaped you, then? cw: My first book that has stayed with me was Papillon by convicted felon and fugitive Henri Charrière, I read that when I was 12, again and again and again. I read The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski, fucking awesome. These books, the birth of my poetry, describe these places that are all wrong but then they have some kind of beauty. I’m not trying to put down some kind of romantic thing, but it was the drugs that got hold of me when I got older. I got psychotic, I shot up so much cocaine, a lot of my story is that I had prostitute girlfriends, pretty girls, and we’d start doing drugs and it would turn into this routine, one that went on for 10 years straight. This came from being adopted at an early age, and having mad fucking surrogate families who took me in because I was a friend of their sons. So it’s been a long process to say ‘Hey, I don’t need anyone’s validation, I can get through, what are you scared of?’
Horse Latitudes – an extract Let’s stop being coy, I know god or whatever the fuck you want to call the feeling that rises up our of the blades of grass that you’re meant to be weeding as punishment for eternity in the field behind the house, the Indian field, he-she rises up through tears of rage and the lumps of dirt you’ve been eating to make yourself choke. The devil is a raging bull from Sicily and he sticks his tongue in your mother’s mouth and works it back and forth, he sentences you to hard labour for life without the possibility of parole and you’re too frightened to fight him and haven’t yet mastered the arts of running away as all you can do is self implode. God is the clear stillness that brings the cracks in the dirt to life and pulls you down through your eyes into ancient lands that surround us beneath and above. God has a dim sister and heroin is her name. Buffalo was an old con, he looked like Wild Bill Hickock on a bad day, six two, 240 pounds, long brown hair and a big handlebar moustache, he used to carry around an ancient coffee mug he never washed in his
nicotine-stained fingers, he’d say ‘you never know when things are gonna dry up, dog’ meaning if he ever ran out of coffee he could scrape the sides of his mug like you pound an old cotton. Buffalo taught me the basics, never walk around with your toothbrush in your mouth ‘cos someone could jam it down your throat, how we keep old newspapers to roll up and line the insides of our jackets in case it went down and people started getting stabbed, when you’re at chow stare straight ahead and – the holy commandment – never smoke after or eat anything off a black man’s tray. But none of this means anything in the end, all it does is provide you with a society where people think twice before mouthing off, where the potential repercussion of carnage are enough to make the clever dicks from the streets hold their tongue. That’s part of the reason I liked prison so much, you didn’t have to put up with the petty bullshit of society and when something did go down you knew it was going to be real.
Horse Latitudes was published earlier this year by Sorika. To order copies, write to SORIKA, 5 Classic Mansions, Well Street, London E9 7QH
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
The Connoisseur’s Guide to
rison is essentially the paramilitary wing of the dole... a waste of life on an epic scale. It is very effective at locking people up and next to useless at anything else. I would recommend coming here only if, like me, you have lived a bit and are so sick of the tragicomedy outside that a change is as good as a rest. HMP Liverpool reeks of retro chic, reminiscent of all boys’ grammar schools I attended in the 1970s and my father’s tales of national service... that is, state prescribed boredom and futility of monumental proportions. Utopia it is not... no cars, no dogs apart from the sniffer variety who at least are trained to shut the fuck up, no shops, no money
perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. If you have lived an isolated life of unemployment and shite housing it is home from home, without the indignities of means testing, the work programme and remote officials controlling your life by proxy. And that is the great thing about prison, the agents of the state are not just sad inaccessible jobsworths in some distant office, they are also ever-attentive domestic staff, on hand 24/7... Let me introduce you to that strangest of creatures in its natural habitat... the screw. Mark, HMP Liverpool, Silver Award for Non-fiction
The Turn of The Screw Agents of Babylon they may be... but prison officers are almost recognisably human. I prefer to treat them as I would like to be treated. That is, as fellow Homo Sapiens who have made an unfortunate career choice and erred from the path of righteousness. True, they are making a raise out of other people’s misfortunes, but as one Monsieur Bastiat once said: ‘The state is a great myth whereby everyone tries to live at everyone else’s expense.’ I think any self-respecting crim can relate to that. And if you really want to feel superior, just remember, they chose to come here, most of us didn’t. The other day, I walked into the S.O.’s office and heard three screws remonstrating: ‘This fucking jail is a joke,’ a sentiment I’ve heard uttered countless times by us punters, but it was nice to hear it confirmed by the opposition, so to speak.
Pity the poor screw, trapped in this most meaningless of Orwellian nightmares and condemned to make sense of it. Cursed with a wanker’s cramp from endlessly turning keys in locks for a living... the money is better, but the kudos is zero. Turn on your TV, there are criminals coming at
you faster than from the induction wing, but TV screws are bit players, sidekicks with a single line at most. Whereas... stand up all we clichéd arch-villains and antiheroes... rappers think they want to be us, vicarious viewers can’t get enough of us. Henri ‘Papillon’ Charrière put it most succinctly: ‘I’d rather be a convict than a screw.’ There is always the odd exception, for instance the religious nutter of a screw that I overheard telling an inmate the other day: ‘Astrology is the work of the devil...’ Mental defectives like that should have been burnt at the stake centuries ago. They can be petty, supercilious and their mindless servility is nothing less than tragic. But, generally speaking, the screw is your brother in suffering, even though he’s a rather effete part-timer. He is as trapped as you are.
Girls in the Hood In an environment of wall-to-wall testosterone, even the queerest or most misogynist of us loves the female touch... and female officers in jail stand out in their minority. One of the greatest surprises upon my arrival was how little unwanted attention women passing through the wings received from the hordes of sex starved prisoners... a cursory, lingering glance at most, perhaps the authorities put bromide in our food. It is far more onerous for a woman to walk past a building site than through a prison wing. Oh yes, we love the girls, the attention flatters both parties. I’ve been called ‘Love’, ‘Chick’ and ‘Sweetheart’ and treasure those sweet moments. I have tiptoed in a dream along my landing, surfing the perfumeladen wake of a female officer at dawn... Prisoners flock to their favourite female officers like flies to shit, they are always referred to as ‘Miss’, I’m not sure whether that is to infantilise us or whether we are addressing them as a submissive would to a dominatrix, or whether it is a subtle torture, the unmarried appellation making them sound more available... whatever it is, it works. One disturbing aspect of this relationship was revealed when I discovered female officers exchanging volumes of Fifty Shades of Grey and I got to wondering whether it was suitable reading material for women who lock us up and wear chains? I guess you have to be some kind of sadomasochist to end up here... No matter girls, vive la différence!
Fair Justice?, Gunita, HMP send, Oil or acrylic
Education, Education, Education, So Thick I Learned It Thrice Work or education is compulsory in prison once you are sentenced, which, not surprisingly, leads to half-hearted punters and woeful standards. Remand prisoners should avoid both like the plague. True, it gets you out of your cell and provides a few coppers to squander on your canteen sheet, if that’s your bag. But if you are looking for a challenge, try picking your
nose left-handed. The qualifications you gain are about as much use on the outside as the gold stars you may have received for good behaviour in infant school. The educationalists are provided with a captive audience and take the piss accordingly. I think it was Socrates who said: ‘Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.’ The sad thing is that many inmates are eager to turn their lives around: these activities prey on their misfortune, yet simply keep them subdued and occupied until they return to the outside world to discover their certificates aren’t worth a wank. In other words, they are simply a confidence trick. Notice the difference when you watch a group of prisoners returning from their voluntary gym sessions, as opposed to another returning from a
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
The Prison Library
Johnny “The enTerTainer” nelson, anon., hMP Bure, Benjamin G. lewis highly Commended award for Portraits
compulsory dose of education. The former are refreshed and invigorated, the latter look as though they’ve just witnessed an execution. The tutors are a nice enough bunch, but too many are unmotivated and careless, cowed by the regime and thinking primarily of keeping inmates quiescent and collecting their salaries. Institutional manipulation of levels and qualifications is rife, enabling the courses to meet irrelevant management targets and obtain funding. When I arrived, I took numeracy and literacy tests on computer. I exited the program, assuming the results would be auto-saved, they weren’t, so the nice lady invented them. It is truly education of the lowest common denominator, no need to try too hard, standards are so low that it’s nigh on impossible to fail. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers,
they are written down somewhere, all you need to do is copy them. There is also a disturbing degree of censorship as to the inmates’ expression, as in this decree of the output of Walton Radio: we are not supposed to ‘broadcast defamatory material about individuals or groups which will tend to lower them in the estimation of right thinking people generally...’ Show me a right thinking person and I’ll show you a hypocrite of the first order. This wonderful piece of newspeak reveals the totalitarian face that spouts the diktat of rehabilitation, a myth perpetrated for the benefit of the management, not the prisoner. In one sentence it dismisses any constructive criticism of a regime which demands collaborators who rubber-stamp the official line.
i’m with Malcolm X, rubin Carter and countless other celebrity inmates who can’t get enough of the prison library. here at hMP liverpool, the Bibliothèque Nationale it ain’t, but the head librarian runs a quality establishment and has saved the sanity and probably the lives of many more prisoners than myself. Just about every taste is catered for and if it ain’t here, it has probably been stolen... therefore there are half a dozen stalin biogs, but zero hitler. nice to confirm that the left wing is more public minded than the right. The true crime section also seems rather depleted, an occupational hazard of catering for crims, i guess. But here there is no censorship, you can borrow underground schlockers such as Naked Lunch, tales of bizarre sex and violence such as helen Walsh’s Brass and the oeuvre of James ellroy. as George Clinton once said: ‘Free your mind and your ass will follow.’ Get your head in a good book and the walls dissolve. Check out the stories of prisoners past in the Gulags, nazi death camps, Cambodia’s killing fields and realise what a pampered pussy you are. it appears there has never been a better time to be a convict... though i’m thinking of committing my next offence in Brazil as you can now get remission for reading classic literature and writing essays about it and i like the idea of writing my way out of jail... Unfortunately, most of the education department here wouldn’t know basic literature if it bit them on the arse... so i guess i’ll just get myself a transfer to rio. one further piece of advice: lovers of literature needn’t apply to work here, the library is also the prison newsagent’s, you’ll just spend your time delivering The Daily Star.
(after a charcoal drawing by RN) Distracted hero on the way to becoming follower-less fool (THINKS) ‘Fortune’s fountain freely flows for one and all save for hero, me.’ .............. Florid fountain bows free giving gifts never owned, beauty ever loaned (SIGHS) ‘Rest a while you may take refuge beneath the wing. Children please, dive in!’ .............. Poet reluctant retreats, mirrored by the frame dips the ink again (WRITES) ‘Why, fine artist You! You blush because you’re human touching the divine.’ .............. The water singing babbling and a burble-ing ‘’S all the same to me.’ Tim, Wathwood Hospital, Platinum Award for Poem
To Score Rain rivulets ran down my windows as I watched simultaneous matches. Rain plastered hair, Spectators with makeshift brollies and footballs skidding on grass, way too fast for rain-slick gloves. That was yesterday. Today, I follow an earth-churned memory of where a coach gesticulated and remonstrated ‘Come on Lads! Heads up!’ his trail just slightly less boggy. My destination: to score myself, at high rise flats, whose inhabitants take their shots, only to hit the woodwork, their dreams, like a pushed arm, ferrying bare over the rim, then downtrodden and forgotten. As for me, if only for a while I will have scored, reached my goal. Until I return to the quagmire. Jason, Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust, Platinum Award for Poem
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
Sectioned I live in a rubber room with a rubber bed. I have a rubber pillow where I lay my rubber head. I have a rubber mind full of rubber thoughts and dreams and since I’ve turned to rubber I find nothing’s as it seems. I have a little plastic spoon a plastic fork and knife. Oh, plastic is fantastic when you live a plastic life. I eat my plastic dinners from a plastic plate and bowl. I’ve eaten so much plastic I’ve got plastic in my soul.
SockS ANd SANdAlS, Anon., HMP & YoI Parc, oil or Acrylic
My window opens one whole inch, one whole inch and no more. I have a broken wardrobe which is bolted to the floor. They saturate my broken mind with pre-packed legal junk that doesn’t solve my problems, it just bolts me to my bunk. Nicholas, HMP Elmley, Gold Award for Poem
In my room
Two crows are sitting in my room One called ‘Midnight’ and one called ‘Noon’. All day long they watch this space One for horror and one for grace.
A distant smoke rises from embers that burn under spicy jerk chicken – sensational, sizzling; filling with aromas this island in London.
They sit here all day morn and night Hoping all will turn out right, But hope and glory never tarry In such a place where all are barmy. Two crows are sitting on my shelf, They make me conscious of myself. Always staring, looking, laughing, They watch me when I’m thinking, napping. These crows that sit upon the shelf There’s one looks right as one looks left. I know I’m never quite forgotten They look as though they’re quite besotten With everything I do. And so they watch me night and day, I want to leave, but have to stay. Fate or kismet, crow or rook, They always sit and watch and look. Two crows sitting by my books, They give me the strangest looks. Dark room, light room, night or day, I know that I just have to stay With crows and gnomes and cuckoos. Andrew, State Hospital, Platinum Award for Poetry Collection
For two days of the year everybody plays here – the rich with the poor. Cultures clash on the street to the sound of steel bands and the humming of bass. Sound systems stand tall on mapped-out street corners, like proud reggae soldiers blowing their horns. On a small part of London the crowds are descending, where houses are painted in arsenic green, or pink like flamingos, and bunting is waving, stretched ear to ear. The pace is insane. Rewind that, mate! A local boy shouts to the big dreadlock rasta playing loud drum and bass. I can hear the sirens coming. I can hear the sirens coming. The police have a presence, but they’re just not relevant to the midday marijuana and milkshake revellers. Goat meat and Guinness is not for the timid, or those who are slimming. It’s our time to celebrate our history: the Windrush, and all its mystery. Now embers settle and we have our fill on the island in London we call Notting Hill. Anon., HMP Brixton, Silver Award for Poem
Prison Librarian Reading on Her Majesty’s Pleasure
ho was it first said “the pen is mightier than the sword”?* Not, you may think, anyone finding themselves on the business end of a machete. And you’d be right. But then again, perhaps we’d be confusing ‘mightier’ with ‘scarier’. There can be no doubt that on the sharp end of an armed assault, whether the weapon be a scimitar, a semi automatic .22 calibre straight shooter, or a plain old shank, the person with the hilt in their hand is most definitely holding the power. Their ‘might’ is not a might at all, nor an if, or a but – it’s a certainty. But ‘scary’ has a shelf life. Fear is never certain for long. It’s an emotion and like all emotions, it can’t be depended upon. The clue’s in the title: E...Motion. Emotions move, they shift faster than a tear running down the curved surface of grief. It’s impossible to live for long on the knife edge of fear, not least because the wielder of that kind of strength can only hold it for so long, because, well, at the end of the day, you can only hold it for so long, if you see what I mean. You have to piss. You have to eat, sleep, and when you do your immediate power is lost. Then you have to rely on threats, and threats are made up of words, and words are nothing other than the biro’s bullets. Let’s look at this another way. The Home Office may have all kinds of ideas about how to run its prisons, their regimes and rules, right down to the size of your portion of porridge. And prisons will have any amount of telescopic batons, short shields and C & R techniques to enforce those regimes. The thing though that makes the regime enforceable, isn’t the use of force. The force comes from what it’s built on. Just like the weight of the punch comes from the strength of the muscle behind it. Indeed, you could arm every officer from
Peterhead to Dartmoor with Kalashnikovs and polearms, the fact would remain that the real might lies in the words that make up the policies, that pass through the parliaments, to be pressed into the starched pages of statutes. And from these ironed Laws come all of the Prison Service Orders and Prison Service Instructions that make up the prison experience as you, and indeed I, know it. Once again, it’s those projectiles of the pen, those pellets shot out in speech and sprayed across the page, like submachine gun fire in a confined space, that have the lasting impact. Words are sustainable. The printed word can hold you. Indefinitely. Why else do you think judges deal in sentences? What though, has any of this to do with the prison library? Well, apart from the fact that your prison library will give you access to almost every PSO and PSI ever written**, and even the Prison Act 1952, if you should want to read it, there’s a wider point. If the pen really is mightier than the sword, if real strength is lasting strength
Who is this by? The Prison Librarian’s Top 10 Prison Writers
A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun (2005) Noel ‘Razor’ Smith A Life Inside (2003) Erwin James Hard Time: A Brit in America’s Toughest Jail (2010) Shaun Attwood Stolen Time: One Woman’s Inspiring Story as an Innocent Condemned to Death (2008) Sunny Jacobs
and if might turns to maybe when it’s premised on fear, then every book becomes a weapon – which brings a whole new meaning to a ‘piece’ of writing. And every prison library is an intellectual armoury. A cache of imagination and knowledge open to anyone who steps through its door. The narrow spine of every book is a rapier sharp edge against which to test the metal of your own ideas. When you do so, not only will you understand the power of the pen to hold you, but also how you can use it to cut yourself free. No one knows this better than the bibliophile brethren of prisoners and former prisoners who have squinted down the barrel of a pen and given us the full force of their thoughts. Your Prison Librarian * It was, in fact, the English author, Edward BulwarLytton in his 1839 play, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy. ** PSOs and PSIs are available to be read by prisoners unless they have been marked as Restricted.
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (1995) A Prison Diary, Volumn 1, Hell (2003) Jeffrey Archer Orange is the New Black (2011) Piper Kerman The Little Book of Prison (2012) Frankie Owens De Profundis (From the Depths) (1897) Oscar Wilde Why We Can’t Wait (1964) Martin Luther King, Jnr.
If you’d like to write a review of any of these books, or indeed any book written by someone who has spent time in prison, send it to Not Shut Up magazine.
The last word from HMP Shrewsbury
“Like being taken to an oasis once a week...”
t’s difficult to feel sad about the closure of a prison, but HMP Shrewsbury wasn’t just any prison. Visitors always commented about the pleasant atmosphere; relations between staff and men were always pretty good; and the food, so I was told, was reputed to be the best in the prison establishment. And for me, the end of “The Dana”, as Shrewsbury was known, is the end of an era. I have been Writer in Residence there for four and a half years, as part of the Writers in Prison Network, and it’s been one of the most rewarding periods of my life. Of course, I have faced the usual frustrations and irritations of work in any prison; everything takes five times as long to get down as in the real world, and some of the staff and a few of the men have been difficult. But there were shed loads of good moments against the few bad ones. I have seen one man, a claustrophobic who would go no more than a yard out of his cell, develop through his writing so that eventually he read a piece to a group of some 40 men in the prison chapel on Holocaust Memorial Day. I have seen a man who wrote with a wild imagination learn to edit and structure his work until he became a Koestler Gold award winner. I have been humbled by the writing of some men, far better than anything I could do. And we’ve had such fun in the groups! I’ll treasure the outtakes from our last radio play for ever. Men in my writing groups have taken on everything I have asked them to do, working way outside their comfort zones; those not in the groups have contributed to books and the newsletter. We have published books and created plays, and won many Koestler awards. I’m especially proud of the fact that since Not Shut Up became open to all prisons for contributions, every issue has contained
work by men from Shrewsbury. I have had support from officers, education staff, and governors, as well as the men. And I have learned so much – about resilience, and patience, and tenacity, and good humour. And I am convinced that writing in prison works. Creativity gives people confidence, pride, and most importantly new ways of looking at things. One of the prisoners in my group gave an interview to BBC News Online after his release, and said that creative writing had changed his life – before when he got angry he would get into a fight, but now he could write about it. As it happened, the last day I was in the prison before the closure was announced, I said to some of the education staff, “I love working here.” I wouldn’t have missed the experience of working in HMP Shrewsbury for anything, and I’m really sorry to see it go. Brenda Read-Brown, Writer in Residence
COMMeNTS fROM MeN I HAVe WORKeD WITH ‘For a couple of hours a week it’s as if you’re somewhere else. You’ve introduced me to something I never thought I’d do, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ll keep writing. It gets your mind going in completely different ways.’ ‘The only thing that would have been better is if we had had two sessions a week.’ ‘You’ve given us our own set of keys.’ ‘You made me want to do more than the homework said.’ ‘I never thought I would ever write anything that there wasn’t anything to criticise about – I’m absolutely made up.’
‘The creative writing course, apart from giving a channel for my feelings and thoughts, has provided a therapeutic release, otherwise denied us within prison. It provides an environment whereby we can express without judgment or consequence, with the ultimate effect of growing one’s self esteem and confidence. Regardless of experience and perceived talent it shows and brings forth the potential that lies within us all.’ ‘Working with you was one of the few things that made this bearable.’ ‘Any plant has the potential to bloom, but they need a good gardener; they need to be fed and pruned, and that’s what you do. You bring out the best in people.’ ‘This course gives me the feeling of achievement every Thursday morning. At no other time while I’m here do I have these feelings. It’s a lesson I wish I could be part of every single day. You come out of the lesson with that “I feel good” factor. It has forced me to try and start using my imagination again, after lying dormant for so many years.’ ‘It’s given me something to look forward to, every Thursday morning. It’s a bit like going to the gym regularly - it’s helped me stay sane. As you can imagine, so much of prison life involves a challenging routine, despite the best efforts of the staff. So it’s like being taken to an oasis once a week, where all of us can be more creative. It’s probably the nearest thing to normality that we have here in prison.’ ‘One practical way in which it’s helped me is that whenever there are the moments of inevitable frustration and anxiety, then I’ve learned to write them down. I have a little book that I do this in; I call it my relief valve.’
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
A selection of art from the Koestler Trust Southbank Exhibition 2013
The Long Road ahead, anon., atherton Probation Service, Bronze award for Theme: Forgiveness, Koestler 50th anniversary Scholarship award
The Ukrainian hen ParTy, Michael, hMyOi Stoke heath, Oil or acrylic
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
Untitled, Patrick, HMP leeds, Bridget Highly Commended Award for Oil or Acrylic
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
Koestler song lyrics
We have a new category in this year’s Koestler Awards – song lyrics! How do they differ from poetry? The challenge is for some of you out there to try singing or playing the words below, to see for yourselves... You wouldn’t necessarily go messing with lines or adding stanzas to other people’s poetry, but why not try that with these songs? Adapt them for your experiences, change names, dates, make them yours – music is the art at the heart of all of us! Home Sweet Home
Burnt down my pad, life outside drove me mad Now I’m in Walton A three-year stretch, no choice but to accept That I’m in Walton Living the dream, Victorian housing scheme Yes, I’m in Walton Singing the blues to the Guvnor & screws Now I’m in Walton
I really love the dance, like Murakami said You gotta take the chance, don’t stop until you’re dead That’s really all I’m doin’, tryin’ to keep up with the best I can keep this up forever, never need to stop for rest
I can talk to my pet roach all night I can watch the Scallies fight It’s all over before it’s begun So much bughouse fun... They fight with pool balls in socks, Before they’re dragged down the block ’Cause they’re in Walton Play up, you win a first class seat to G wing ’Cause you’re in Walton Learn what you’re worth, you scum of the earth Now you’re in Walton You can fail an NVQ or two Overdose on prison food Life on the out I can well do without Now I’m in Walton Counting my time on the Costa del Crime Yes I’m in Walton Anon, HMP Liverpool, Gold Award for Songwriting
Never stop, never ill, regret the time I take to blink Not treadin’ water, shouldn’t oughta, if I do I’ll surely sink Look at all those bastards takin’ time to have a think What’s the point of anyone if they’re not up for everythink?! Paint it purple! Shout it loud! Throw it from the roof! Do a jig! Play trombone! Be a tad uncouth! Learn to speak Swahili! Drink a bottle of vermouth! Just do somethin’ or bite the poison capsule in your tooth Grrr... Whatever you decide to do, don’t get upset with me You got your dance and I got mine, that’s how it has to be Whether we’re together or dancing separately The dance itself is what counts, the anthem of the free... It don’t matter if you’re stoopid or have a dumb moustache Two feet left, can’t hear the beat, a little short on cash Get a gun and shoot the sun and through its surface splash Keep on movin’ till you drop (or catch a nasty rash...) Why are you still standing? Break the barriers in your head Worried what the vicar thinks of what your mother said? Why is your town looking grey? Get out there, paint it red! There’ll be time enough for sleep when you’re done and dead! John-Paul, HMP Liverpool, Gold Award for Songwriting
he door opened and it was Maria, carrying heavy shopping bags. She had ended up buying a great deal more than she had originally intended. All three brothers went to help her, but as soon as she saw them and their furtive glances towards her, she knew something was wrong. Had there been a problem with Papa Juan? They reassured her immediately and told her that ‘No – they’d just been reminiscing together’. Pablo left and said he’d come back later and Maria went upstairs to see her grandfather. Francisco fussed around, putting away the shopping in places where it would probably never be found. Papa Juan was peaceful, still asleep and breathing normally with no difficulties. In fact, everything the doctor and nurse had said they wanted him to be like, he was. So that was all good. Maria again arranged his silly old dressing gown, to keep him all warm and comfortable and went downstairs to prepare some dinner. A bottle of wine was opened, the bread was broken and together they ate some ham, cheese and tomatoes with olive oil, pepper and salt. It wasn’t until they had nearly finished that Francisco finally remembered where he’d put the membrillo. Earlier they had searched everywhere for it!! At half past ten Pedro returned and then together, Maria and her three uncles spent the next few hours telling each other their stories of Papa Juan. There was plenty of laughter and a little sadness. Nothing was mentioned of the earlier conversations concerning the diamonds. Just past one o’clock in the morning they were still there, sitting talking in the kitchen, when a taxi pulled up outside. Car doors were opened and closed and voices were heard. It was Manolo and a huge sense of relief swept through them all, as if somehow now he had arrived, they would know what to do. He came in and they greeted him warmly, their clever brother who had flown through the night to be with them. The brother they all admired so much! While everyone watched, Manolo
Buried treasure pa rt 3
Juan Cortez has lived all of his 85 years in rural Spain. Now he is dying, his many sons and daughters come to discover a huge family secret... or two... or maybe three? Just how many diamonds does old Juan have? Will they make them rich? Will this wealth be a blessing or a curse? Read on to find out, but don’t expect all the answers just yet... The final chapter of this amazing story in the next issue of Not Shut Up! washed his hands and then went upstairs with Maria to see his father. Pedro looked quizzical. ‘Do you think he can make him better?’ he asked. ‘Is such a thing possible?’ Francisco chimed in. ‘Idiotas! He’s a surgeon, not a miracle worker.’ Pablo put them right. But the question had been asked and so, inquisitively, the three of them crept up to see for themselves. But as soon as they started to speak in their father’s bedroom, Manolo put his index finger to his lips to signal for them to be quiet and together they all went back downstairs. Maria explained that the doctor and nurse would be with them first thing and then all together they looked towards Manolo for his opinion. He told them that as far as he could tell Papa was in little pain, but that pneumonia
felt sometimes like swimming in dangerous seas, where eventually too much water would be swallowed to allow the person to carry on. Papa was very old now and although he was once so strong, it was debatable how long he could stay afloat. He would speak to the doctor first thing in the morning and talk to them again immediately afterwards. They drank more wine together. The bottles were disappearing fast – someone would have to fetch replacements tomorrow. They picked again at the food, although Manolo ate well as he was hungry from his long journey. Maria was so tired she kissed her uncles goodnight and went to her bedroom. The brothers continued their stories of Papa, reminiscing as they had been before, until Manolo took centre stage. He told them all of the support Papa had given him while he was a little boy
at school. His unfailing support and encouragement. How, when he was teased by the other boys because he was quite useless at football and also when he came last at running in those stupid races the school forced him to take part in, his Papa was always there for him, telling him he was proud of him, even though he was completely uncoordinated on the sports fields. ‘Screw them, the little bastardos,’ he’d say and he’d tell his little Manolito that at least he took part and tried, which is more than they could do at those complicated science things he was doing. Wasn’t he already the top student of the whole school? All the time he would tell him he was proud of him. Papa had been there of course to take him to his first day at the medical university in Barcelona. He’d even put his suit on for the occasion. How crazy that picture in his mind now seemed. Papa on
the bus, in his suit! But he was so proud of him and Manolo knew that. He never understood anything that his son was doing, but he tried to explain it all, how great his Manolito was, to all his friends in Miguel’s bar in the Old Town. Manolo told them of the time Papa dropped one of his Petri dishes which he kept carefully at the back of the old fridge they used to have. It was for one of his projects at the university and he had tried to explain to Papa how important it was that these skin samples remain unmoved and please not to take them out or put the meat stock too close to them again. He told them how Papa had that evening rushed to see his drinking friends to tell them his son was growing human skin in little dishes saying: ‘This is how clever my son is – he’s making human body parts in my fridge!’ As they all laughed together Manolo continued. ‘After I graduated, well, you know how
pleased Papa was. But what you don’t know is that there was a problem. I had been offered the position at the University College Hospital in London and it was such a dream come true I can’t tell you. Everything I had ever worked for was there before my very eyes and in London! Of all the places! The very best for everything I had ever wanted. But it looked for all the world that I would have to turn the opportunity down. It would have meant working for nearly two years with next to no income, until I qualified to practice in the hospital and I simply couldn’t afford to do that.’ Pedro, Pablo and Francisco looked at each other. Somehow they all knew where this was heading. It turned out that this time Papa had gone to the Banco Nacional in Barcelona and arranged a loan using his recently valued diamond as security. He was furious that the bank had made him
pay their ‘thieving bastardo’ expert for a valuation. Manolo went to the bank and signed the agreements that would enable him to have the loan he needed to fund his training in London. Once there, things had gone about as well as they could have done for Manolo – he even obtained a bursary from the university. ‘So, much sooner than expected, I found myself earning more money than I had ever dreamed I would be able to earn.’ ‘How much?’ asked Francisco. ‘That doesn’t matter now. What’s important is that I paid off the loan and Papa was able to go to the bank to retrieve his diamond. Papa told me that he would hide the thing away safely and that “this business” should remain a secret between the two of us.’ The brothers then told Manolo of the conversations they had had together earlier that day. How Papa had helped each one of them individually, each time swearing them to secrecy. It was a great deal for them all to take in and with these thoughts of their father in their heads, they called an end to the evening. It was very late. Manolo checked Papa once more and then Pedro went home saying he would be back first thing in the morning and the remaining brothers went to the beds which Maria had earlier made up for them.
hey were all woken in the morning by the wonderful smell of ham and eggs being cooked, freshly baked bread and coffee. Maria was the first downstairs, wrapping her gown around her as she went. It was 7am and she had been fast asleep. Martin was there in the kitchen. He’d driven up through the night from the south and was hungry. On the way up he’d stopped at the little mercado and bought enough food for all of them. He looked up and smiled at Maria. There was no doubting Martin was the best looking, most handsome of her five uncles. He was incorrigible though, always up to mischief and in some kind of trouble or another. But that smile. It could melt a thousand hearts she thought. And the man knew it! They hugged and slowly the other
‘Papa told me that he would hide the thing away safely and that “this business” should remain a secret between the two of us.’ three brothers, awoken by the irresistible aromas emanating from downstairs, appeared one by one and greeted their brother Martin. Pedro arrived at 7.30am. He was taking the day off work and after checking Papa, they all had breakfast together. So it was that all five brothers were together again. The first time this had happened, they calculated, since Christmas seven years ago. The conversation returned to Papa and carried on to some extent from where it had left off the night before. But it was clear that Martin was distracted and he wanted to speak. He looked round the table and took everyone by surprise when he told them that he wanted to make a confession. No one said anything. He looked deadly serious. ‘I was thinking about things all the time while driving back here last night. About you guys, about Papa and about me. And I decided that I had to tell you that a few
years ago I did a terrible thing. This is not easy, so please bear with me. You remember the golf course down by Estopona? Where I had the option to build all those luxury houses. Beautiful beachside villas with swimming pools. They really would have been something, you remember? No?’ They all nodded. ‘I had spoken to all the landowners there. They were mostly the old farmers who had owned their land for generations. Half of them didn’t even know where the title deeds were. Most had got lost, can you believe? So I had all the paperwork drawn up and I got together all the money I could get my hands on to buy the options on the land, section by section, plot by plot. I negotiated with Señor Alonso at the Council. In return for the best villa on the estate, he was going to rush through all the planning for me and make things as easy as possible.’
‘Señor Alonso?’ asked Pedro. ‘Yes.’ ‘But I know him. He’s not meant to do that. Why… What…’ ‘Pedro, please.’ ‘But a whole village?’ ‘Yes, Pedro, a whole village.’ ‘Madre mia! The best villa you say? I had no idea.’ Francisco couldn’t help himself. ‘Maybe you should move to the planning department darling!’ ‘Please, please. Let me carry on,’ Martin asked. ‘I need to say this before Papa, you know, before he goes. So, I thought I could organise everything with the banks, once all the options were tied up and the planning was officially stamped as approved and I had everything ready. It all looked good. But that bastardo Señor Hernandez held me to ransom over the last section of land. It was the key to all my riches and he just wouldn’t sign it over. He had found out what I was doing. You know
how these old people talk and he wanted 20 times what the land was worth. I was so desperate. Desperate enough to ask Papa for help. ‘Like you haven’t before.’ said Pablo coldly. ‘Yes, yes I know, I know, but this was different. There was a great deal of money at stake, but that’s not why I’m telling you the story. You must listen. I thought maybe I could persuade Papa to put this place and the casitas up as security, maybe in return for one of the new villas. Well, Papa came down and he went through everything thoroughly and he agreed to do the deal. To help me. But the problems, they just grew. I hadn’t been completely honest with Señor Alonso as to exactly how much the whole scheme was going to make. I had exaggerated the building costs a little and he found out, so he now wanted three new villas and the best ones too.’ ‘Three villas you say?’ asked Pedro. ‘Yes, Pedro. Three villas.’ ‘Madre mia! Que bastardo!’ ‘Yes, and when I finally agreed a price with that thief Hernandez, another problem arose as to who owned the access road. Some new company had sprung up out of nowhere and I had this greedy notoficario telling me how much he wanted for it.’ ‘Do you think it was Alonso again?’ Pedro was incredulous at the very thought. ‘It ended up that there were so many people with their hands out, that if I had done the deal I wouldn’t have made any money. I didn’t want to admit all this to Papa, so I just carried on. He came down to see me and told me he had made arrangements with the Banco Nacional in Barcelona to lend me the money. I had to go down there and sign all the papers. It turns out that he hadn’t used this place as security though. I had to take valuation papers, which for some reason Papa was very angry about and a little parcel…’ ‘The diamonds!!’ Francisco exclaimed ‘Yes, but how did you know? Papa swore me to secrecy.’ ‘Never mind that’ said Pablo. ‘What happened? It ended up with that old boy
Hernandez doing the development himself – everybody knows that.’ ‘Yes, the traitor, with that bastardo Alonso.’ ‘Martin. What happened to the diamonds?’ ‘Well, that’s what I wanted to tell you. By this time I knew I couldn’t go ahead, whether the bank lent me the money or not… I just couldn’t. But I was holding Papa’s priceless package. So I just took it.’ ‘Martin. No!’ they all exclaimed together. ‘I’m so ashamed to say it. I took them to Madrid. I thought I’d start again. I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking straight. I took them to a place to sell them. I had them in my hands, ready to accept the money. Can you believe it?’ ‘Well, now you mention it…’ Pablo said. ‘Madre mia, Martin,’ said Francisco and the brothers looked around at each other, unsure quite how to react. ‘And then, thank God, something clicked in my head. I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t. It was just so wrong. I was going against everything I knew was right, against everything I truly loved. So I came to my senses and I ran out of the place. I ran and ran. In fact, I ran all the way back to Papa and I told him everything. Well maybe not exactly everything, but enough for him to know that the deal wasn’t going ahead and that I had been tempted. I asked for his forgiveness. We went to see the Father and Papa made me tell him everything. And since then I’ve been a different man, I really have.’ ‘I doubt that,’ said Pablo who, over the past minute or two, had veered from being downright furious, enough for him to want to kill his no good, womanising brother, to just plain angry. ‘And you gave the diamonds back to Papa, Martin?’ he asked. ‘Yes. I handed the package back to him. I was so pleased I had done this, my brothers, so pleased. It felt good. They were back with Papa. It felt good. All six of them.’ ‘Six?’ they all exclaimed. ‘Yes. Six. Well, how many did you think there were?’
In and Out Act 1: Code Blue / an extract
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR This play is a fictionalised account of a death in custody. Whilst it is inspired by real events, it is nonetheless a fiction. As such, all the characters described are generic types. None is intended to represent any specific individual. The play is set in two opposing cells and the narrow corridor in between. With three clear acting areas on stage, cuts between them – and between scenes – can be very quickly executed in an almost filmic way using lighting cues. TONY’S CELL
THE CELL IS EMPTY
TONY: I don’t care. I came here to change.
THEN WE HEAR THE SOUNDS OF THE PRISONERS’ RETURN FROM A WING MEETING. CONVERSATION, SHOUTS, DOORS BANGING.
MIKE: You don’t get it, do you? There’s lads here’d gladly kill you – and not lose a wink over it.
THE DOOR IS UNLOCKED. THEN TONY SLIPS THORUGH, QUICKLY CLOSES THE DOOR BEHIND HIM AND LEANS AGAINST IT. HE SEEMS SHAKEN, PALE.
MIKE: Do you? Really? So what on earth made you call them “parasites”?
AFTER A MOMENT’S BREATHER, HE PUTS ON THE KETTLE, THEN SITS IN THE CHAIR, HEAD IN HANDS. IS HE CRYING? AFTER A PAUSE THERE IS A FAINT KNOCK ON THE DOOR AND MIKE ENTERS.
TONY: I know...
TONY: Well, they are! Most of ‘em have never had a job in their lives! MIKE: Perhaps, but still... TONY: Yeah, I know. I should bite my lip and go get a quiet life, eh? ANDY APPEARS AND HOVERS AT THE DOOR
ANDY: I would. If I were them. I’ve seen it before. MIKE: Don’t overdo it, lad. ANDY: I’m not. MIKE: We’ll see. (TO TONY) You need anything? TONY: I’ve put the kettle on. I’ll make a coffee, have a sit down. I’ll be OK, it’s not like I didn’t expect it sometime. (PAUSE) ANDY: Was it true, Tony? That stuff they said? TONY: What? Oh, yeah. Most of it. ANDY: That’s disgusting.
MIKE: You OK, mate?
TONY: It’s OK, Andy. You might as well come in.
TONY: You think? Can’t say it’s something I’m proud of. We all have a reason why we’re here. Except for Mike here, of course.
TONY: (TURNS TO HIM) I dunno... I don’t...
ANDY: (ANGRY) Why would you go and do that?
MIKE: Now, come on Tony... TONY: Mike, how many more times?
MIKE: I know they tell you to speak your mind, but Tony...
TONY: Do what?
MIKE: I deserved all I got.
TONY: It just slipped out...
ANDY: Piss them off like that. Give them stuff they can use against you.
ANDY: (SUPRISED) What do you mean?
MIKE: Some things you just don’t say.
TONY: I was only being honest.
TONY: They were giving me such a hard time.
ANDY: You were stupid! Now they won’t leave you alone. They’re gonna make your life hell.
MIKE: I know. That was out of order. All that offence stuff is supposed to wait until
TONY: You think?
(TONY AND MIKE LOOK AT EACH OTHER) TONY: You tell him. I’ve done enough talking already today. MIKE: (TEASING) You think? Andy, you know I’m in for murder?
it? ‘Cept she put him in hospital. Twice? MIKE: Three times... TONY: Three times! And not little stuff either. Broken arm? Concussion? ANDY: Didn’t you fight back? MIKE: I’d never hit a lady.
Bird Box, Jason, HMP Blantyre House, Sarah lucas Gold Award for Sculpture
TONY: Some lady. Tell him the worst bit. MIKE: You mean? Well... things hadn’t been going so well in the bedroom department. I’d been sleeping on the sofa, and she’d been going online and out to nightclubs with her mates. TONY: Paid by you. MIKE: Well, considering, it was the least I could do. ANDY: Yeah.
TONY: Oh, there’s lots would disagree with that.
MIKE: ‘S coz I killed my wife. Strangled her.
MIKE: Anyway, after a bit I realised she was seeing another man.
TONY: (MOCKING) And what did you get for it?
TONY: Tell him how you found out.
MIKE: What I deserved. (BEAT) Life with a minimum of twenty five years.
MIKE: She was always getting texts and then grinning as she replied to them. When I asked her who it was she’d say “No one”.
TONY: Like fuck you deserved it. Tell him what really happened.
TONY: Right under his nose.
MIKE: I won’t talk ill of the dead.
TONY: Not to you, maybe, but I bet it would to a court. There’s a new law now: spousal abuse or whatever. You should at least have told them she hit you. The Hospital would have confirmed it. The broken bones and stuff...
TONY: No? Just tell him the facts then. The ones you wouldn’t let them use in court. MIKE: I... umm... TONY: Just tell him! (THEY EXCHANGE A LOOK) MIKE: Jane and I were married nearly twenty five years. Had three lovely kids. All grown up now. Anyway, after the third one she changed. Got angry. Just little things at first. She’d snap at me while we were out shopping, make me sleep on the sofa ‘coz of my snoring. But then it got worse. TONY: She started hitting him. MIKE: Just the odd slap. She always was a passionate woman. TONY: Is that why she used a frying pan? (ANDY LAUGHS) Sounds like a joke, don’t
MIKE: Don’t make any difference.
MIKE: I won’t speak ill of the dead. TONY: Even if it means five years inside instead of thirty? ANDY: That’s insane. MIKE: I won’t speak ill of the dead! We were married in sickness and in health – for better or worse. Code Blue, Peter, Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust, Catherine Johnson Artistic Ambition Platinum Award for Stage Play, The Willis Scholarship Award 2012
Holloway Pilot Project
Last month, we introduced you to the idea of StorySLAM:Live, a literary X Factor, where writers come to the Southbank Centre in London to read in front of a paying audience and a panel of judges from the publishing industry.
ell, as promised, StorySLAM:Live - Slamming Gates took place this summer in HMP Holloway! Working with Not Shut Up and English PEN, with generous funding from the Arts Council, our team went into Holloway and worked with women on all the wings to select their champion writers, who produced some of the best quality stories we have seen in our five years of operation. After running a series of workshops to help the women hone their writing skills, Joelle Taylor hosted an exciting final in the prison chapel. The 160 plus women who signed up hear the final eight stories raised the roof in support of the finalists. We had some clear favourites–but we don’t judge our winners on popularity - instead we bring in a panel of experts to make the decision. Writer Femi Martin was joined by the literary agent Samar Hamman on the judging panel. When Samar said that the stories she had heard that day were better than stories from some of the top creative writing schools in the country — including Oxford University — the whole place cheered. We are delighted to bring you two of the eight winning entries from the first stage of our project. These will be published in an upcoming Slamming Gates anthology, hopefully the first of many! If you would like us to come to your prison and organise a literary X Factor, bringing entertainment, education and powerful storytelling, get in touch!
Joanne Donovan, Director, StorySLAM:Live
Rhubarb is my favourite food. Strange for a 9 year old kid. Suppose I was strange, to most of the kids around my way anyway. I was small for my age, Ma used to call me ‘Sparrow’. I didn’t play so much anymore. Had things to do, rainbows to follow. Italian families are mostly known for pasta and tomatoes and stuff, but I liked rhubarb. I didn’t get to eat it anymore. Even though Ma was still around, she didn’t make it anymore. Dad was a small man, like me when he was a boy and never grew like his friends.
He wasn’t excited much about this fact. Dad didn’t like Rhubarb either. And Dad didn’t talk too much anymore, least not lately. It wasn’t too bad between us, we both knew where the other was ‘sort of’. Enough for there to be no meanness but not too much conversation either. Oh how I really, really miss the rhubarb Ma used to make, but I never told Dad this. Sofia, my Ma, still looks so beautiful, still has her hair and make-up done everyday. But never speaks anymore. The kids mostly leave me out now. Dad’s friends are starting to leave him out too. Both for the same reason. Dad
was getting known as what they called an alcohol-ic. Borrowing money a lot and paying back less. I blocked most of it out, I think Dad might have been doing his own kind of blocking out with that alcohol. I just wanted some rhubarb, especially on Fridays. If you came to my house, you would love my Ma. Beautiful Italian woman. I was so proud she was my Ma. She’d probably be sitting in her favourite chair, such a welcoming face and prettier than all the other ma’s in the whole of Chicago. And the best rhubarb cook! Sometimes I used to get to pick a dress out for her, but I wasn’t allowed to brush her hair anymore. Dad did that, with such tenderness, face full of memories. He was real good at it now too. I left a basket of rhubarb in the kitchen, just in case those Fridays came round again. Ma had sat in that chair for the last 730 days. 2nd anniversary. I’m glad she’s with the angels now. But I still wish we could have had rhubarb today. Shelley
I found a small dragon trembling sweetly on the street. I picked him up, stuck him in my jacket and took him home. What people had failed to tell me was that although dragons start off sweet and nice, they become a never ending vice. Although they may be small and weak, they always need to eat. And never, never underestimate
AbAndoned Child, o’Jay, hMP Whitemoor, oil or Acrylic
them. Not knowing any of this, I took my dragon home. He cried to be fed, then crawled underneath my bed, so the cycle of circles began right then and there. I fed him curled and encircled in my arms, I looked right into those emerald eyes and fell for his charms. His warm body was shimmering, his pulse was quivering. He tapped out a silent tattoo into the night. His golden talons reflecting the light, scales mirror-like would reflect, my small dragon oh so perfect, bathed in his iridescent glow. I loved him so. I knew at that point I’d keep him no matter what it cost. I was well and truly lost. I thanked God above for sending this dragon’s love, I’d love him truly I swore I would, with an undying love. For him to stay, I’d feed him each and every day. This was really bliss so I woke him with a kiss. I gave him more to eat and rocked him gently
back to sleep. He fell asleep next to me in bed, sated and snoozing, dreamless he was fed. Woken by his childlike cries, I was afraid he would die. Die from this neverending hunger. So I fed him again, listening to his siren song, I felt a kind of inner peace for a while. But as he grew his hunger intensified. His tastes diversified. I found myself craving his siren song. He demanded more and more from me. I couldn’t afford him any more, so I stole to feed him. Not satisfied, he again demanded more, so I fed him my family and friends, to keep him quiet. I just needed him alone. Big now, nearly grown, he’d taken over my home. I tried to run, tried to hide, but needed my dragon by my side. No matter how I tried, I was always drawn back by his siren cries. Time and time again. His appetite became bigger, he
demanded more and more. I sold my body but it was never enough. Life had become so tough. He wouldn’t let me rest, I had no sleep, I was so tired but he had to eat. Then one day he rejected what I stole. He demanded my immortal soul; “Sell it for me today,” at this point I ran away. This time for good. Sometimes when I’m weak, and strength I lack, at night I hear his siren song calling back. I wake out of my sleep, for my dragon’s love I weep. So beware, if you see a small dragon shivering and quite alone, don’t look, walk away and never take him home. Leave him be or you will end up just like me. Jacqui
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
Private Rented an extract Life in prison is hard, but surviving once you’re on the out can be even harder. Unemployed, with a record, the protagonist of this award-winning story is finding that out with the help of his pretty Swedish lettings agent... We hope, for all its dark edges, that you enjoy it.
e walked through the open door to the second room, which was a little larger but, if anything, even more crammed with stuff than the first. There was a double bed and several rails of old clothes, all squeezed together so that there can’t have been more than a couple of square feet of spare floor space. In the corner of the room a filthy shower cubicle and an avocado washbasin, similarly foul, represented the ‘bathroom’. “It’s a fairly unusual washroom layout,” said Vibeke, the letting agent. “We joke that it’s an en-suite, but for some reason many prospective tenants don’t seem to like it.” “I think I see through the limitations,” I said. I could think of cells that had been nicer. Quite a few, actually. However, it was ‘only’ six-fifty. I turned to the window and looked outside – and was suddenly, utterly gobsmacked. The view through the grimesmeared glass was lovely. As we were on the first floor, and stuck right out at the back of the building, the large sash window looked over a row of very attractive back gardens. There were dividing walls drenched with clematis, neat little lawns surrounded by colourful borders, even a blossom-covered fruit tree or two. I had a vision of sitting at my desk beside the window, working. Take away the mess, ignore the ‘bathroom’ and this place was perfect. I wanted it. Badly. “Well, Vibeke, I think I’ve seen enough.” I turned and smiled. Back in the street, the spring air smelled like the finest, lightest perfume. As we strolled towards her office, I felt pretty
Meditation Me, Paul, HMP Whatton, Portraits
good. The flat was a complete dive, they must have had enormous difficulty renting it out. Maybe that meant they wouldn’t mind me being unemployed quite so much. Also, I had some savings, so could pay six months’ rent in advance. Surely that would be enough? Trouble started once we got back to the office and that damned computer. “What’s your current address?” asked Vibeke. “No need to give me the whole thing, just the post code. The computer does the rest.” Easy. I recited the code, she typed it in and the computer filled in the remainder: Official Probation Service Approved Premises. Oh shit. “It’s just a place I’m staying at the moment,” I stammered. Of course she knew there was more to it, but she let it go and moved on. “If you have lived there less than two years, please list all previous addresses.” Now I really was screwed. I considered lying, but we had had it drummed into us: false disclosure is fraud. Immediate recall to prison. If asked, you MUST tell the truth. Sheepishly, I whispered the address of the place I had stayed those last two years. “Sorry, is that...?” “A prison? Yes, I was in prison. I don’t think that should affect things.” Like hell. When I returned half an hour later, having made the transfer for the holding deposit, Vibeke was nowhere to be seen. I turned to one of her male colleagues. “Take a seat, mate. She’s in the loo. Won’t
be a sec.” I was just starting to fidget when she appeared in a doorway at the rear of the office. She had changed into a black and white stretch mini-dress. It looked like it had been sprayed on. She walked towards me like she was strolling a catwalk. But upon reaching her colleague, she paused. Still looking straight at me, she said, “Mike? Could you just? My dress?” The menial Mike looked up, then sprang to his feet. Trembling a little, he stretched to zip her dress up to the neck. An older colleague in the corner stifled a laugh. “Mr Walker. Thank you for paying the deposit, but I understand the landlord has some problems with you being unemployed. We had to tell her all about you. She’s very wealthy. Lives abroad. I’m sure you would be the perfect tenant, but we have to get her agreement. I’m sure you understand?” Oh yeah, I understood alright. “What happens now?” I tried to act cool, but the blood was draining into my feet. “She has been talking to my manager, Andrea. They will get back to you by phone in a day or so.” “Oh. Is there anything I can do?” “No. I’m afraid it is out of our hands.” The following morning, I got Andrea’s call of rejection. A stinking, uninhabitable hovel it may have been, but rent it out to an ex-prisoner? How could they possibly... Private rented, Peter, Surrey and Sussex Probation trust, Life Story, the Willis Scholarship award 2012
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
At the hospital It was the same day that Uncle Monty died; lime curtains masked her nothingness, saw that grey marl cardigan, and matching oxygen mask decorating her sucked face. They let us in as they wheeled her out: Mam already forgetting where she was. I had a copy of Lunch Poems to read while she slept; actually toyed with the idea of quietly reading ‘Music’ to her – I didn’t. Monty was all over the news, Phyllis wouldn’t be, Mam wouldn’t be, I wouldn’t be. Counted nine boxes of tissues available for blood, snot and tears: yesterday’s dreams, tomorrow’s dust, today’s leaking bodily fluids. The Green Dragon once whispered to Phyllis ‘Don’t make me angry”, Phyllis didn’t understand, I did, and decided not to share Mam’s chocolates. Mark, Wales Probation Trust, Gold Award for Poem
Steamed Fish, Okra and Crackers I like watching you as you prepare my favourite meal. The deep, black pots grumbling like an old friend, calmed by your tender hand. Steamed fish, okra and crackers. The taste of sweet liquorice and the soft meat of the fish takes me to the sea shore. Humming softly to yourself as I stare at you with awe. Your confidence makes you move so freely, like a breeze passing through a garden of flowers. You are summer days, starry skies and bubbling pots, all squashed into the small box of a kitchen. As the men catch the fish at Negrill seaside, you bring the taste of a Jamaican Spring into our London city home. Andrew, HMP Low Moss, First-time Entrant Award for Poem
A Letter Home Apparently superficial
Got your letter, thanks. Missing you lots. How did Robbie do with his swimming? How did Kelly get on with zumba? It might be a desert but it’s cold here and we’ve had to make duckboards to cross the puddles in the tents.
Big trouble last week, they ran out of sausages. and reassuring and uninformative Don’t believe all you see on the tele. We’ve seen no fighting here in the middle of nowhere. We’re mostly in camp but we’ve seen a few Aghans and they seem very friendly. but a glimpse of a man escapes Well that’s another week. Only a month now and then we’re out and I can show you how I really feel. All the meaning sub-text, mostly hidden, and lightly sowed But he’s covered the topics of extreme importance Without letting on if you don’t know the code. David, HMP Liverpool, Gold Award for Poem
It’s just not cricket What a nightmare. How did it come to this? I’ve always been against it, always, haven’t I, Geoff? Play down the line or walk away; bouncer or full toss – it’s all the same. How we grew up as kids, isn’t it, Geoff? But now it’s just too much. It’s gone too far; it has to stop. What they’ve done to win... That’s right; that’s right, Geoff. We’ve tried everything. Always played fair, by the rules. Finally, the patience has run out. It’s run out, Geoff. They think they won, that we’ll do nowt, but this time it’s different; very different – eh, Geoff? Gloves off. Let them have it. Fix the game? We’ll see about that. We’re justified; now it’s sure. It’s war, Geoff. It’s war. Anon., HMP Shrewsbury, Gold Award for Poem
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
Tae the maist ugsome she-devil I had the mischanter tae wad Aye, tho’ thou wheep me wi’ thy venomous, slanderin’ tongue, It’s an ill bluid aat rins throwe thy veins. An’ aa the mair ill for thou, syne I dinna despise thee For thy sins, nor care ane bit for thee. I hae daen the penance for ma ain wrang daein’s, But cairry thine aboot thee forever, thoust maun dae. Gin aabody’ll ken or noo, fit an ill thee hea daen till me, An’ weel will thy be ridiculed, tho’ I’ll nae care. Noo see foo it feels tae be on’t itherside O’ shunnin’, gossipin’ mooths, stappit wi ill-spakken wirds. Thy honour an’ thy wird, taen fae fit fowk perceive thee be, Nae fae fa thee be, e’en by leif-lang friOten’s. Festerin’ lik’ an open sair, aat’ll be the price o’thee, Nivver healin’; a fine reminder o’ thy unnerhaun deeds. Leachin’ thy conscience oot owre the flair, Tae be trailt ahint thee, ilka place thoust gang. An’ care nea I; ane bit ava. Ian, HMP Peterhead, Gold Award for Poetry Collection
Happiness (Prison Style) It’s out there somewhere. Rustling amongst the fish and chip papers, Dodging the scary shadows and skipping over The pools of piss and vomit, silently. It nestles in the branches of forgotten trees, then sleeps in the gutter, Finding warmth in the lottery ticket hand of An old man creeping home, smiling secretly. It hides in a doorway as beer-breathed anger Walks past. Unseen, it waits for the bus that’s late or The world-weary girlfriend. It bounces off the wet and mournful mountain And lies in the cold and pointless stream. It dodges beneath the legs of doomed cattle With beaming, wasted smiles. It’s out there, everywhere. But it’s not in here with me. Mark, HMP Stafford, Gold Award for Poetry Collection
These entries are taken from an award-winning diary in the Koestler Journal category, even though its author has put a big “This is a fictional journal” disclaimer sign on the cover. How much of it is real? What does any of it mean? Can we capture our lives in a few lines of poetry, or only between the covers of heavy autobiographies? 12th May (morning of my “fresh start”)
It is with skepticism that I begin this journal. Advice from the counsellor and my GP is that it may help bring closure. Somewhere to pour those disturbing thoughts, doubts and feelings. Personally, I’m not sure it can help. Just to try and personalise it, I’ve added some favourite things: my favourite album (The Bends by Radiohead), favourite novel (Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky) and a few photos too. All this could help focus on the meanings and solutions, who knows? I have spent the week since my rather intense appointment with the health professionals reading Dostoyevsky’s classic novel (for the sixth time, at least) and listening to Radiohead’s monumental album – which appears to have grown in meaning as the days pass. There has been so much despair and loss of late, it is difficult to focus on the way forward, for me, for a worthwhile future. I have to be active (they say), I must not isolate myself (I’m told) and I am to “make sure I tell someone how I’m feeling”. Cliche’d infestations of modern pseudocarers, and I’m supposed to just open the front door and let them take over my life. But I want to feel positive, I need a focus,
Broke another mirror
something to work at. Hence the novel and its implications. Plus the album and the emotional release it seems to allow me.
12th May (evening: after reading the novel again)
The streets outside this musty rubbish strewn pit where I lie gluing together the bits and bobs of meanings into this journal are a long way from the St Petersburg of Dostoyevsky’s 19th Century novel. The A627 Oldham to Stockport is no Nevsky Prospect. Peak Forest Canal is not the River Neva. From this coffin room, I have been sinking deeper into claustrophobic intensity. These damp-soaked, rotting windows, piles of mouldy cloths and unread student texts stand as my testimony to potential lost and dreams spurned. The damp drips like tears. Frames creak and groan in agony. I wonder if it is I who have assimilated this house’s worst feelings, or the other way around?
Unusually disrupted sleep last night. Lots of new ways forward maybe? This writing stuff down seems to stimulate my thoughts and brings new meaning to old memories (and new value to my favourite things).
I do, however, hold more than one conflicting view as to my character. It is worth nothing that much of what I think, recall and believe may not hold the truth. My words, thoughts, feelings and memories deceive as if sent by a series of warped mirrors. Perhaps this is why I hold Raskolnikov (the protagonist of Dostoyevsky’s novel) so dear in my periodic attention of late? My different sides have to battle it out. Selfless humility has too often won out, publicly at least, while ruthless selfinterest is the more shameful role that I have taken upon myself. It was in this way that Lorna got the message at last. Three years of doting on is too much for any selfrespecting misanthrope like me. Even if I do need caring for. At 25, there’s still time to learn to be with other people and not feel completely alien. I know it could happen, and I miss Lorna. She still calls daily, but my answer phone is even more dismissive than I am at present. “I’m worried about you – you’ve changed so much. The doctor needs to see you again, please let me help. I know you don’t mean all those terrible things you say.” I do feel bad, I pity, and I dread such needy attempts to mould and control me. Just because I’ve begun to see the truth I’m now labelled and
diagnosed into a box. Even the mirror no longer shows me as the 6 foot slender (and somewhat handsome) professional that I know I still am. And when the mirror starts to lie, who can we trust? Just our inner voice, the guide within.
My future is something I have been trembling and stuttering over. It starts to look clearer as I begin to see the meanings in the songs of “The Bends” album. They’re all here if I look hard enough. Yesterday, my boss – the head of science – rang, and asked: “Has your doctor said how long it may take?”, forcing it, and “We will do our best to keep your classes busy while you’re away,” (crushing my dignity). They listen to my replies and apologies while they fire fake plastic bullets into my memories. Fake – but they hurt like hell.
My stomach is still sinking and churning after an hour with the counsellor. “Have you written down any memories or worries about your family?” “I’m writing in the journal. I’m focusing on my special things, and I’m trying to move forward. Isn’t that enough?” “You know my views on that. Painful, but not impossible. It’s the main way you’re going to get a balance of your troubling emotions. The medication only helps stabilise the overall mood.” “Yeah, I know all this, but it has to be in my own time.” “So long as you bear it in mind. What has happened will not unhappen.” “Agreed. I will keep trying; in the journal.” “And with Lorna, and your brother?” “Don’t push it. I still can’t speak to them without hating myself.” “Okay, we’ll leave it for now, and I’ll see you next week.” “Thanks, Sarah. See you next time. I am trying, you know...” YOU BROKE ANOTHER MIRROR, Tom, HMP Wakefield, Gold Award for Fiction
JAIL JOURNALS A Not Shut Up Initiative
In 2009, the Anne Frank Trust and PEN American Center ran a Prison Diary Project in the US, publishing a collection of stories from prisons all over America in chapbook format. In association with Arts Council England and Anne Frank Trust UK, Not Shut Up are developing a similar writing project, based on the concept of Jail Journals. In time, we too want to publish a book of prison diaries, showing people on “the out” what life in a modern jail is like. We are looking for your stories NOW. Real or fictional, funny or sad, personal or general – send in your Jail Journals to us, and the best entries will be published in Not Shut Up, on our new website, and eventually in a book. Our address can be found on page 53
“TORTURE DUNGEON” As of December 2012, at least 11,700 prisoners were being held in some form of isolation in California, 3,800 serving indefinite sentences in the state’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) units. In 2011, the United Nations called for an absolute and international ban on indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, defined as any practice in which an inmate is held in isolation from others, except guards, for at least 22 hours a day. Just a few days locked up alone in a cell has been shown to produce lifelong mental health problems. Here is a report from Carlos, whose writing and poetry we have previously featured, putting his own views forward.
From: Carlos M. Argueta, #F63367 C.S.P.-S.Q. 3AC-15-N San Quentin, CA 94974
I´m Carlos Argueta, a death row prisoner housed in the infamous Adjustment Center at San Quentin State Prison, which has been my “home” for several years now. It is also “home” to 101 other prisoners and a prison within a prison, a S.H.U. unit. We have collectively decided to unite and “speak out”. To expose the injustice that plagues this place and for what it really is – a torture dungeon. I am one of many who isn’t afraid to speak out on the injustice that takes place behind these walls. One who is steady trying to keep my dignity and self-respect intact. One who is fully on board in the flight and struggle to end Solitary Confinement as well as having our human rights recognized, enforced, and have them honored at last! With the hopes that it changes the world behind these walls for the best. In order for us to finally be treated as human beings instead of being thrown into these torturous dungeons and treated as wild monsters.
For here in the infamous San Quentin State Prison resides a population of prisoners that have been shunned by the state, allowing prison officials to get away with too many rule violations for far too long. That group of prisoners resides in the Adjustment Center. A prison within a prison and a solitary confinement torture unit used to seclude prisoners from the rest of the prison population. It´s a “punishment unit” otherwise known as a S.H.U.2 for those who have committed an alleged infraction of the rules. Unfortunately, for death row prisoners there´s no choice but to start serving our death sentence here in this unit upon our arrival from county jail. It is home to 102 prisoners and over 90% of us are death row inmates. Many of us have not left this unit since our arrival at San Quentin, never being given the opportunity to program as moderate inmates, which can be considered a custom afforded to all prisoners when sentenced to state prison. We are held here indefinitely since our arrival, with most of us never having violated a single rule. We have been subjected to a different form of treatment and in truth, we are being punished without merit. We have been housed here
in this unit under the false pretense that we are being monitored before we can be given a regular program. The reality though is we have been treated to a harsh and psychologically torturous environment. One where throughout the day and late at night, you can hear the screams of those who have been driven over the edge and into mental illness by the circumstances they are forced to live in. However, the issues mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg, for the problems here on Death Row go far beyond this. To cover them all, we need more time, space and patience from you. We want to disclose it all so you can understand why we also choose to peacefully protest this injustice being done. The change needed here and everywhere else where there is the continued abuse of authority and solitary confinement torture units. That all needs to come to an end for the greater good of humanity. In solidarity, Carlos
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
Blur One white wall Black crouched figure No entry and no exit A shadow Another dark blur Anon, HMP & YOI Low Newton, Silver Award for Poem
I Don’t Think I don’t think of how she laughs Turning somersaults in the air Her laceless big-boot swagger As it stomps me up the stairs I don’t think about her eyes The shrewd beauty I found there And the danger-loving sparkle Of a life lived without care I don’t think about these things They might be more than I can bear I don’t think about the rain Cascading off her smiling lips Or the way I can read her moods By the swaying of her hips I don’t think about her pants And those 10,000 metal zips And the way that she would hold my hand Just from the knuckle to the tips I don’t think about these things With which I fail to come to grips I won’t think about past times Impossible to regain Or how I’m not sure without her I’m the same man that remains I don’t think about her loss Was it really to my gain? I won’t think about her now Lest it cause me any pain As soon as I complete this rhyme I won’t think of her again John-Paul, HMP Liverpool, The Random House Silver Award for Poetry
Dawn Again There was the croak and crack of crow with its lamp-black bulk â€“ like some Dickensian character forever on the take, and mindless of every heart he would break. There was a mind, sleep-sluggish and peeping through curtains at an intrusive daylight, there was nothing bright and profound just a cotton wool consciousness, the sound of a crow demanding breakfast of dawn coming around at last. Paul, HMP Greenock, Silver Award for Poetry Collection
New Year 1969 Beneath his Donegal tweed cap, My father staged his famous Jimmy Cagney impersonation. The living room audience all cheered in jubilation. My mother sang a song for the lost. Lyrics her sister knew well. Soft on the ear they fell. A New Year rang in, The old was past, Our gran said a prayer For the children of troubled Belfast. I was eight and tired. Cornelius, HMP Low Moss, Jonathan Aitken Silver Award for Poem
Koestler Trust arts by offenders
Dawn Oh no, my splitting head, A stabbing, splintered dawn. And not alone here in my bed, I can see now, it’s dawn. Last night? Pissed. I can’t recall, In this cold, grey light of dawn. Nothing, bugger all at all, Now I’m here, with dawn. A woman, naked, lying here? Rub my eyes, heave, and yawn. But now, I have, I’ve slept with her, My wife’s best friend – Dawn.
Denzil, HMP Ranby, Bronze Award for Poem
Toxic Sausage The battered sausage in Shotts Burns on the way in Burns on the way out A big, greasy submarine of a sausage Wrapped in tattered batter Smells like a Halloween potion I would say that I wouldn’t wish it on my own worst enemy But I’m not that magnanimous. Kris, HMP Low Moss, Gold Award for Poem
Interview: Shamita Sharmacharja curator at the Wellcome Trust
ellcome Collection’s spring exhibition, Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan, brought together more than 300 works for the first major display of Japanese outsider art in the UK. The 46 artists represented in the show are residents and attendees of social welfare institutions across the main island of Honshu. Exhibits included ceramics, textiles, paintings, sculptures and drawings. ‘Souzou’ is a word that has no direct translation in English but it has a dual meaning in
nsup: How long have you been working as a curator?
shamita sharmacharja: I have been
working at the Wellcome Trust for a year now. Before that I worked at the Whitechapel Gallery, which is a contemporary art space in the East End of London, a historic place, about a hundred years old, with a particular history of being a gallery for the people, in a part of London which for a long time has been disfranchised. Before that, I worked in the education department at Tate Modern, with a variety of different school groups, referral units and prisons. I came to work at the Wellcome Collection, which is a relatively new museum, having realised I am really interested in art which deals with human experience rather than theory. The Wellcome Collection really does look at how art, life and science interact, with bio-medical background so many of our exhibitions tend to be about the body, while this exhibition is much more about the mind.
Japanese. It can be written two ways, meaning either ‘creation’ or ‘imagination’. Both allude to a force by which new ideas are born and take shape in the world. Outsider art has since become an internationally recognised term, commonly used to describe work made by artists who have received little or no tuition but produce work for the sake of creation alone, without an audience in mind, and who are perceived to inhabit the margins of mainstream society.
nsup: Can you tell us more about the role of a curator? ss: The role of the curator is a funny one, because historically the curator used to look after objects, which is where the noun comes from (Latin ‘to care for’), while the contemporary curator works intensely on a project for a year, then puts on the exhibition, and then changes hats and goes on to do a completely different show, so it is a fabulous job to have. I think the role of the curator is to put themselves in the position of the public who comes to see the show, then researching, seeing what’s relevant about it for the audience and communicating it visually, which is why I work with objects, rather than words. That is how I find I can communicate with people. nsup: How did the concept of Souzou, outsider art, come about and why of all the possible places in the world did you happen to find this art in Japan? ss: The Wellcome Collection was putting
on this show because we have done lots of exhibitions about the body. Our last exhibition was about death, and the one before that was about the brain, and another was about recreational drugs and sleeping and dreaming, and so this was more to do with imagination and creativity. A lot of people think outsider art is to do with psychiatry, but I don’t think this is an exhibition about mental health. It is more about the deep need to create, rather than showing a certain state of mind. One of the reasons we are showing work from Japan is because it has never been shown in UK, but also, like here, Japan has a welfare state, an apparatus where artwork is made as part of therapeutic practice. Today, Japan has this super-ageing society, with the longest life expectancy in the world (79 years old for a man and 86 for a woman, far greater than in Europe), so they are experiencing a lot of strain on services.
nsup: Do you think the artists shown here have a vision of their craft, with a clear
idea of what they want to create, or is it more a process of unconscious catharsis for them? ss: There are 46 artists represented in this exhibition, and no two are the same, so it’s quite hard to generalise. For most of them it is definitely something they do not do for an audience, they make it for themselves. Many go into this ‘flow’ state* which is incredibly soothing and therapeutic, because it calms them down. Because these artists are in institutions, for them it is a way of passing time, structuring their day, so they don’t think of it as art, it is just something they do. I think in Japan the idea of “work” is really, really important and the role of the ‘work ethic’ exists in art also.
nsup: Do you feel there is something they can teach us about having fun in art? ss: Yes, there are textiles, ceramics, toys, it is a bright, colourful show, and I think there’s definitely a lot to be learnt. They’re all in institutions where you make something out of nothing, like the 300 robot-like figures made out of the ties that you bind rubbish bags with, others with off-cuts of clothing, recycled cardboard. A lot of it is to do with the joy of the material. It is quite a happy show, actually, and kind of speaks to people and their imagination, makes them want to go and make something themselves, which is great. Another thing which I purposefully did was to allow people to interpret it for themselves. When I go in there, people are always talking to each other, asking what they think things mean. So the audience here is having to work that bit harder than some other exhibitions where there’s big blocks of text telling you what the object is about, what the artist meant to say in creating the work. * Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.
Untitled, Shinichi Sawada, courtesy of the Wellcome trust
Art organisations worth knowing about Here is a list of organisations working all across the UK with those who are or have been in custody – if there is anyone we have missed out, let us know!
Clean break is a theatre company with an independent education programme. Both strands of their work are rooted in the belief that theatre changes lives. Clean Break uses theatre for personal and political change, working with women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system. Clean Break, 2 Patshull Road, London NW5 2LB fine Cell WOrk is a registered charity that teaches needlework to prison inmates and sells their products. The prisoners do the work when they are locked in their cells, and the earnings give them hope, skills and independence. Fine Cell Work, 38 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0RE geese theatre COmPany is a team of actors and group workers who present interactive drama and conduct workshops, staff training and consultation within the Criminal Justice System. Geese Theatre Co., Woodbridge House, 9 Woodbridge Road, Birmingham B13 8EH inside jOb PrOduCtiOns is a unique new non-profit multi-media production company which works with women prisoners to produce highly professional video, print and multimedia products with a social purpose. Inside Job Productions, 16 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NT kOestler trust are the UK’s best-known prison arts charity. They have been awarding, exhibiting and selling artworks by offenders, detainees and secure patients for 50 years. Koestler Arts Centre, 168a Du Cane Road, London W12 0TX musiC in PrisOns delivers high quality creative music projects in prisons throughout the UK and has worked at the forefront of arts
and rehabilitation since 1995. Bringing musicmaking to men and women of all ages, the Trust provides positive experiences and helps in the process of rehabilitation, education and the forming of life skills. The Irene Taylor Trust ‘Music in Prisons’, Unit 401, Bon Marche Centre, 241 Ferndale Road, London SW9 8BJ Only COnneCt works to prevent crime by helping offenders restore their lives practically and emotionally. They assist members in the seven pathways to reducing re-offending used by the National Offender Management Service. Only Connect, York House, 207-221 Pentonville Road, London N1 9UZ Playing fOr time theatre COmPany stages plays with prisoners and undergraduate students working together. Students act as mentors helping prisoners with aspects of their performance, for example, line-learning and aspects of self-presentation and performance. Playing For Time Theatre Company, c/o Annie McKean, Faculty of Arts, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester, Hampshire SO22 4NR the PrisOn arts fOundatiOn aims to release the creative self of all prisoners, ex-prisoners, young offenders and ex-young offenders in Northern Ireland using all of the arts and crafts including writing, drama, fine art, craft, music and dance. Prison Arts Foundation, Unit 3 Clanmil Arts & Business Centre, Northern Whig Building, 2-10 Bridge Street, Belfast BT1 1LU the PrisOn radiO assOCiatiOn is an award winning education charity that provides support, guidance and expertise to existing prison radio stations and advises prisons interested in setting up radio stations and
radio training facilities. Prison Radio Association, HMP Brixton, London SW2 5XF rideOut (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation) was established in 1999 in order to develop innovative, arts-based approaches to working with prisoners and staff within UK prisons. They have retained a special emphasis on working in the Midlands where the company is based. Rideout, The Roslyn Works, Uttoxeter Road, Stoke-on-Trent ST3 1PQ stOrybOOk dads is a registered charity based in Dartmoor Prison. Their aim is to maintain family ties and facilitate learning for prisoners and their children through the provision of story CDs. Storybook Dads, HMP Dartmoor, Princetown, Yelverton, Devon PL20 6RR synergy theatre PrOjeCt works towards rehabilitation with prisoners and ex-prisoners through theatre and related activities whilst placing the wider issues surrounding imprisonment in the public arena. Established in 1999. Synergy Theatre Project, 8 St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RR tiPP work from the belief that theatre and related arts have the power to transform people’s lives. They develop and implement participatory arts projects and undertake training for artists and for professionals working in the Criminal Justice System. TiPP, The Martin Harris Building, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL Writers in PrisOn fOundatiOn are one of the premier arts in prison organisations in the UK working towards raising self esteem and discovering hidden talents amongst both offenders and staff. Writers in Prison Foundation, P.O.Box 71, Welshpool SY21 0WB
Thanks to our Trustees: Tim Firmston Simon Kirwin Sarah Leipciger Sarah Mansell Simon Miles Annette Prandzioch Kate Pullinger (Chair) Raphael Rowe Ella Simpson Jane Wynn (Treasurer) Not Shut Up is a registered charity (Charity No. 1090610) and a company limited by guarantee (registered in London No. 4260355).
NOT SHUT UP received initial encouragement from the Writers In Prison Network, and funds from Arts Council England, our major supporter for the first three years. We have also received support in the past from the Batty Trust, the David Hammond Charitable Foundation, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Garden Court, the City & Metropolitan Welfare Fund, the Mercer’s Company and the Tudor Trust. More recently we have gained support from the following: 29 May 1961 Trust Anton Jurgens Charitable Trust Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society Bonus Trust Coutts Charitable Trust Eleanor Rathbone Charitable Trust English PEN Foyle Foundation Garfield Weston Foundation Garrick Charitable Trust Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation Jessie Spencer Trust J Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust Goldsmiths’ Company
Anyone interested in submitting work, volunteering or working as part of the Not Shut Up Academy, which works with in- and post- custody artists on developing their creative entrepreneurial skills, is invited to write in to us at the address below or contact us via our website.
I am Motion / Nicolas, Castle Huntly One Woman / Brian, HMP Shrewsbury Not Fitting In / Mark (MWS), HMP Usk Held Back / Andrew, HMP Wandsworth A Letter To Myself / Chris, HMP Shrewsbury Crosses at Roadside / Alan, HMP Long Lartin Prizes kindly sponsored by Jeffrey Archer
Our website is kindly sponsored by the Michael Varah Memorial Fund.
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Managing Editor: Marek Kazmierski Poetry Editor: Anna Robinson Art Editor: Matthew Meadows Creative Director: Phil Tristram Digital Development: Jakub Budzynski Academy Development: Zarin Sharif
CO 13, Abdul, created in HMP Pentonville
Inside Out T
he Inside Out* art exhibition (18th July - 4th August 2013) took place at the Bermondsey Project in South East London. It was part of the national annual ‘Art In Crisis’ Arts Festival organized by Crisis, the UK’s largest homeless charity, which focuses on the art of the homeless, ex-homeless and socially marginalised. This year for the first time, the Bermondsey Project’s exhibition also showcased the work of prisoners and ex prisoners in the London area, highlighting the less well known aspect of the work Crisis does with ex–prisoners, more recently providing access to studio spaces and art courses there through its ‘Unlock your potential’ project. On display was an impressive selection of work recently produced in some of London’s prisons, including Pentonville, Thameside, Wandsworth, Brixton, and Wormwood Scrubs as well as 2 others in the South
East – Downview and Blantyre House. This work stood up well alongside that exhibited by artists resident in the Bow Arts Studios which are part of the Bermondsey Project. Two prison artists could be mentioned in particular: Abdul from HMP Pentonville, and Abdi, now in HMP Brixton. Abdul was transferred to Pentonville fairly recently from a prison in which his graphic art skills had been recognized and developed. On arrival at Pentonville he completed a short art course in Education and then continued his art work alone in his cell, with the help and support of art tutors and the encouragement of a sympathetic officer on his landing who recognized his exceptional talent. Two of Abdul’s remarkable drawings attracted much attention in the exhibitionyou can see one here. He has now been released, and is continuing to make art, keen to seek a wider audience for his work. Abdi’s cubist painting shown in ‘Inside
Out” was good representation of his house style. Much in demand in his previous prison (Wandsworth) for portrait work, opportunities for continuing his own art work may be limited — the education provider for this prison (as well as most other prisons in the South East) is planning to pull the plug on art classes at Brixton on the basis that they’re ‘not viable’. More news about this worrying trend to come, and in the next issue we will be looking at the work of the Burnbake Trust which supports artists in prisons and exhibits and sells their work. Abdullah Abdi is one of these. * Not to be confused with the identicallynamed exhibition about British architect Richard Rogers showing concurrently at the Royal Academy, London.
President ruPiah Banda, ian, hMP Lowdham Grange, henry & allison Grunwald highly Commended award for Portraits
I ThInk Therefore I TIck, charlie, hMP Send, Mixed Media