Writing from prison – an evening at Southbank

7 Nov

This evening, I went along to the Southbank Centre to read and listen to writing by offenders, secure patients and detainees.  I’ve always thought that the arts, and particularly writing, has a therapeutic, calming effect and when I read about this exhibition I was intrigued.  I didn’t know much about arts in prison apart from having some vague notion that while in prison, prisoners are sometimes encouraged to express themselves through art classes, library services etc.

I learnt a lot about the Koestler Trust, an organisation that promotes art by offenders, that hosted the event and it was fascinating to take a peek into the lives of those that often remain hidden.  Before the specific writing event I had booked to attend, I walked round The Strength and Vulnerability Bunker which showcased visual arts by offenders, patients and detainees.

A sculpture exhibiting the escapist qualities of art

A sculpture exhibiting the escapist qualities of art

There is something strange about knowing that the artist who has sculpted the model/ sketched the portrait/ painted the scene before you is behind bars.  For me, it made the atmosphere feel strangely charged with emotion and I found myself contemplating the sheer abnormality of imprisonment.

An Atheist Creed

An Atheist Creed

The art varied in all aspects and I’ve included some rough snapshots to give you an idea – some seemed  purposely crude, almost childlike in conveying a message whereas others were technically brilliant and it was clear to see that there is a huge amount of talent among such institutions.

You never really grow up

You never really grow up

The actual event was celebrating the works of writing that won the Koestler awards and a former prisoner, Clifford, whose poem was shortlisted in the prestigious Bridgport prize, read his two platinum-winning poems – my favourite entitled ‘Waiting to cross Croydon High Street in the rain.’  These poems are all published in the impressive magazine, ‘Not Shut Up’, that is distributed free of charge to prisons and other secure establishments around the UK.  Obviously some of the winning poems were read on behalf of the winners, many of whom are still behind bars, and there was a particularly moving part of the night when the mother of a winner (a prisoner with severe personality disorder) talked about how proud she was.  There was a talk with two successful former prisoner and I was particularly intrigued by Chris Wilson, who read a passage from his debut novel, Horse Latitudes, which had me thoroughly hooked.  A former drug addict, self harmer and teenage prostitute, he found his passion in prison – painting.  Since then, he was accepted into Chelsea College of Art and Design and alongside his painting, he writes and films documentaries.  I was pretty gobsmacked at his talents to be honest.

The event definitely confirmed my belief in the transformative powers of writing and I came out feeling inspired and rather humbled.  I questioned all my preconceptions about what it is to be an ‘offender’ as this evening smashed all the stereotypes I had in my mind of prisoners/ criminals/ detainees with one powerful sweep.

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2 Responses to “Writing from prison – an evening at Southbank”

  1. Denise November 7, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    This sounds such an inspiring project, written up in such an inspiring way too.

    • jadeinlondon November 15, 2013 at 11:16 am #

      Thanks Denise, was a really eye-opening event and definitely very inspiring!

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