Writing has historically been a powerful tool of self-expression for those in prison. The written word has also influenced our perceptions of criminality and the penal system, through journalism, television drama or crime fiction. Drawing on this intimate relationship between writing and the prison experience, researchers in the School of Humanities and Social Science at LJMU have used the written word to impact positively on the lives of prisoners, influence prison-education practice and contribute to public debate around justice and criminality.
With initial funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, researchers on the Free to Write project drew on hands-on work with prison and probation services in order to develop, deliver and assess writing projects, produce workbooks and publish inmates’ writing. This resulted in the publication of Free to Write: Prison Voices Past and Present (edited by Gareth Creer, Hannah Priest and Tamsin Spargo), an anthology combining research articles about prisoners with original, creative work by inmates which became a resource both for educators and prisoners. For example, a prisoner at HMP Bure in Norwich wrote to the editors, saying he was ‘deeply inspired by the research essays’ and the ‘true reflections’ of stages of prisoners’ lives. The volume has inspired him to collect writing by other prisoners and he has given the copy in his prison library a ‘five star’ recommendation.
Copies were distributed to over 100 UK prisons, probation hostels and agencies, to 25 British universities and to a range of practitioners in the field such as those involved with the Writers in Prisons Network. Rod Clarke, Chief Executive of Prisoners Education Trust, commented:
“Taken collectively, the power and strength of the individual voices combine to testify to the book’s central message about the importance of letting those voices emerge.”
Drawing on his engagement with the Free to Write project, between 2009 and 2013 Creer published (under the pseudonym Adam Creed) a series of five crime novels (with Faber), which explored the nature of offending. As well as appearing at crime fiction’s most important conference, the Harrogate Crime Festival (30,000 attendees), Creer has spoken at numerous other literary festivals.
Researchers have contributed to a range of conferences, particularly targeting those involving prison service practitioners (for example Helen Rogers and Aileen La Tourette spoke at ‘Reading and Writing in Prison’, Napier University 2010) and continue to engage with online debate about prisoners and prison history.
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