I sometimes work in prisons, partly through becoming a visual arts judge for the Koestler Trust's annual prison arts award scheme (2002-2009). ?I've worked for various arts trusts devising and delivering art projects in prisons as well as periods of employment as a prison art tutor in London prisons. The project My Life Now took place in HMP Wandsworth during 2009-2010, and participating prisoners' work has been exhibited three times since then. 

 

INTRODUCTION to the book My Life Now (available from me £4.00 plus £1.50 postage)

YOU'VE COMMITTED A CRIME, bad enough to be sentenced for several years. You're living in prison, doing your sentence plan. You get along somehow in a regimented environment with routines for everything, traditional ways of doing things going back years.  What do you think about this place you live in, the prison building and the way it shapes your life? 10 prisoners in a large London prison volunteered for a project at the end of 2008 which invited them to give a creative account of incarceration, describing by drawing and writing their personal impressions of life inside. Their prison is an historic Grade 2 listed building of considerable architectural interest, though its occupants may not have appreciated the fact. Built over 150 years ago on Jeremy Bentham's panopticon model - wings radiating off a central well, several landings deep - its historic character combines severe functionalism with many decorative Victorian features.

Drawing and writing requires reflection and thought, skills which can transform and redeem; these were strikingly private activities in so public a place as prison. Participating prisoners mainly recorded their cells, the building itself, and the varying activities which take place during Association, the periods when inmates are unlocked and can socialise freely. Finally each got to choose a drawing to make into a woodcut, working together to produce a set of striking graphic images.  Some had found writing easier, others chose not to write or could barely write. But all could return to drawing, which, after all, comes first.

"Everyone says they can't draw but if they think back and remember when they were very small and had crayons or chalk or even felt pens, we had no boundaries and everyone done it and expressed themselves. As we get older we become more focused on what we see and want we become more selfish. In the end we try to get back what we already had at the beginning."

Doug, participating prisoner in My Life Now