I went to prison this afternoon. It was quite an experience: not my first stretch, since I’d worked at Stocken Prison in Oakham years ago on a poetry project; this however was my first time inside HMP Leicester. Leicester, as local people will know, resembles a castle from the outside. From the inside it’s more like Stalag 51 with barbed wire and high fences inside the walls; gates which have to be double- and triple-locked and which can’t be unlocked at all when a red light is showing (ie when the outside gates are open) – and I was informed by the member of staff who showed me out, that sometimes staff finish their shift and can’t get out because there’s a lock-down. I wouldn’t fancy that at all – in fact the poet whose gig it was told me that he’d once been locked inside a prison overnight. Security trumps everything.
Anyway, as you will by now have gathered, this was a poetry performance, by a guy called John Siddique:
He was good: thoughtful and entertaining and he really engaged with the prisoners. There were about eight of them; all young-ish men apart from one older Asian man, and all pleasant and witty. They read some of their poetry afterwards and it was quite stunning. Once again people without a stake in society prove that they can bring a clarity of vision and an honesty to their work.
This was followed by some short radio-plays which were based on testimonies by some of the prisoners: again these were touching and amusing. Some prisoners spoke of their regret at the things they’d done wrong and how they wanted to have more control over their own actions in the future.
When I left there were families outside waiting for visiting time.
39,000 words today! How are you doing?