Saturday the 10th Feb 2018, a day that I will always remember. I had been invited to speak in relation to prison education and the arts. I was speaking to an audience alongside Jacob Huntley, a lecturer in English literature and creative writing from the UEA. I met Jacob whilst I was a serving prisoner at HMP Norwich. One of my roles at HMP Norwich was as an education mentor and I was told that there would be a new creative writing course starting, which would be facilitated by Jacob. I have always found that penning emotions onto a piece of paper allowed me to free my mind.
I had also embarked on a BA honours degree with The Open University reading criminology and psychological studies, and I felt that involving myself in a creative writing class would help with my essay writing The course, however, took a direction all of its own, and this in part was my fault. Each week Jacob would bring a few students from the university in with him. It invariably led to lots of discussions about this new environment that the students, as well as Jake, found themselves in. I then found myself becoming the unofficial curator of HMP Norwich and prison as a whole.
I have always found that penning emotions onto a piece of paper allowed me to free my mind.
I have a history that incorporates various institutions, such as a secure unit, children’s home, detention centre, prisons, and a mental health hospital. Though I am not proud of some of my history, they are simply just facts, facts that illustrate my levels of understanding, facts that describe the depths of empathy I have at my disposal, and facts that show the experience I have, and the mistakes made. Facts that also gave me an opportunity to try and educate Jacob and his students as to what prison is like and not what is unfairly reported by the media. Following on from the creative writing course we created a forum that involved Jacob and myself, students from the UEA, a selection of other prisoners and two governors from the prison itself. The forum was an opportunity for the students to ask questions and give them an insight into prison life that few get to see.
I was released from prison on the 9th June 2017, then a few weeks later Jacob approached me to ask if I would be interested in being a guest speaker in a seminar that he was running for his students at the UEA – a proud moment for me to say the least, so of course I accepted his invitation. It wasn’t long after this that Jacob once again approached me to invite me to speak at this year’s War of Words progressive media conference, again a very simple decision to take. The theme of our talk was about prison education and the arts. I would not be underplaying this by saying that it would be one of the biggest achievements of my life: the ne’er do well, centre stage talking to academics and the general public about my prison experiences around the subject matter.
On the day of the conference I found myself waking in the very early hours (4am to be precise) as nervous about what would be taking place later that morning as I have ever been in my life and yet as soon as I had sat down, was introduced and given my opportunity to speak, the nerves went and experience and knowledge took over and I felt so comfortable.
Here I was, a boy that never made it through secondary school after being placed in care, the wayward teenager, the irresponsible man who refused to grow up with the self-proclaimed title of the ‘Original Peter Pan’, talking about my life to a room full of interested, expectant people. After Jacob had introduced himself it was then my turn to introduce myself, we then opened the floor for questions from the audience and people were generally interested to hear what I had to say, interested in me, my life and my prison experience, all areas that for years I had felt ashamed or hid from, even lied about. It was an incredible feeling to be there, with a university lecturer at the top table, with people genuinely interested in what I had to say.
the ne’er do well, centre stage talking to academics and the general public about my prison experiences around the subject matter.
I arrived a nervous wreck; I left, in my mind, a worthwhile member of society for probably the first time in my life. I cannot thank Jacob, Alex, the UEA and The Norwich Radical enough for allowing me this opportunity. For someone with a past and history like mine to be accepted in this way is a feeling that not only I have never felt before, but also one that will stay with me forever.
Former prisoner, now member of society, I thank you.
Featured image by Cadi Cliff
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