Prison Arts Foundation

‘In my youth I regarded the Universe as an open book, printed in the language of physical equations, whereas now it appears to me as a text written in invisible ink, of which, in our rare moments of grace, we are able to decipher a small fragment.’ ― Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing

I began working in HMP Magilligan in 2011: delivering OCN Accreditations through the Artskills programme based at the Playhouse, Derry. In July 2015, I was offered the post of Writer-in-Residence by Prison Arts Foundation. At that time, I became Editor of Time In (Prison Magazine). The Koestler Arts Trust, Listowel Writers in Prison, The Reading Agency and Prison Reform Trust who grant Awards and Creative opportunities for prisoners is a constituent of my Writers Workshops and Education Programme in HMP Magilligan.

Pamela Brown Prison Arts Foundation (PAF) Writer-in-Residence HMP Magilligan

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 fictions, 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, 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.

I would like to conclude by including a poem that demonstrates what I see every day during my work as Creative Writing Teacher in prison. The writing doesn’t have to be about something earth shattering, it doesn’t have to be about an over towering outcome but it is a way of getting though hour by hour, day by day, reaching out through a simple act of creativity, a few lines that connect one human being to another.

Poem (GS)

Behind the walls and wire fences the locks and razor wire a young man walks to writing class and his youthful heart on fire.

He’s learned to write good poetry and he has a girl at home and his love flows through the keyboard as he writes his girl a poem.

He wrote it in his cell last night while listening to their song true love is in the words he writes he says it won’t be long.

‘til the gates are opened wide and he wants her to be there a smile upon her luscious lips and sunlight in her hair.

In all the grey and loneliness where every man’s alone he young man walks to writing class and writes his love a poem.

We hope you enjoy the recordings.

BBC Radio 3 - Sunday Feature, Inside Stories

Author Carlo Gebler has spent almost three decades working for Prison Arts Foundation as a teacher of creative writing. Based recently in Maghaberry he has worked in all the prisons in the North of Ireland including the Maze/Long Kesh H-Blocks. As part of this reflective radio documentary, Carlo also visits Pamela Brown and the creative writers’ group at HMP Magilligan. Producer: Conor Garrett for BBC Northern Ireland.

Inside Stories

Interviews about my work with Prison Arts Foundation

Creative Possibilities – Pamela Brown PAF Writer in Residence HMP Magilligan
Creative Possibilities – Pamela Brown

The Monthly interviews Pamela Brown, Writer in Residence, Prison Arts Foundation – Part 1
Monthly Interview - Part 1

The Monthly interviews Pamela Brown, Writer in Residence, Prison Arts Foundation – Part 2
Monthly Interview - Part 2