John Hewitt Festival
Going Equipped with a Pen – A recording of poems written by students from the Prison Arts Foundation
Online 1 August 2020
The inclusion of poems from the Creative Writing group based at HMP Magilligan during the John Hewitt Summer festival has many positives. Especially in a time when ‘lockdown’ makes every task much more challenging. Initially, there was the selection of the poems, deciding on readers, rehearsing the lines, and with help and support ensuring the recordings were achieved. All this is a team effort, and one which is unique and strongly reflects the support given to prison writers by Prison Arts Foundation and all the staff at Magilligan.
The prison writers at Magilligan come from different backgrounds and life experiences. Abilities’ range from those who are extremely well read to those who can’t read and are self-taught. Nevertheless, all prisoners bring their stories and a willingness to trust the creative process, to self-reflect and ‘to give it a go’. Often the insights emerge through difficult issues such as addiction, and this can be overwhelming. The group share their work on the landings and encourage new members. There is always a waiting list for the classes and a very high attendance. We write poems, flash fiction, short stories, memoirs, novels, plays, film scripts, and articles for Time In magazine, a PAF sponsored project.
Creative writing provides a key to unlocking ideas, unlocking insular thinking, and unlocking potential. We share the work and peer critique each student, while maintaining respectful spaces with their fellow writers. The arts have high significance in prison because there are possibilities of expression for the prisoner, for their version of literature, and definitively for rehabilitation because art creates a parallel world in which to view the actual world. Rather than the reductive concept of locking someone up, creativity unlocks interior aspects of personality. Supporting the arts in prison provides a vitally important role in the lives of prisoners: how they re-evaluate themselves; how they stay connected with their families, their wives, their mothers, and their children; and with the survival of these relationships under duress. Overcoming extreme personal situations, resolving inner conflicts, ‘writing the self’ and bringing the self to inner harmony are among the mysteries of creative writing, music, and art.
PAF Writer in Residence Pamela Brown