Prisoners show power of expression at HMP Warren Hill

26 Feb 2016

On 24th February, HMP Warren Hill opened its gates to an invited audience for ‘Expression’, an afternoon of poetry, drama and song created and presented by prisoners. The brainchild of a team of three prisoners, led by writer in residence Julian Earwaker, Expression was five months in the planning. The event gave a platform for a number of prisoners, mostly first-time performers, to express their issues and feelings through words and performance.

One piece, by a prisoner named Edgar, dealt with the choices and emotions of a prisoner approaching release and walking ‘the invisible line between punishment and rehabilitation, forever lost in translation’. Edgar had achieved an Open University degree in Psychology with the support of Prisoners’ Education Trust and then had “fallen in love with the arts” through working with Synergy Theatre. He had produced this dramatised version of his fiction as part of an advanced creative writing course. Edgar said  he looked forward to continuing his writing and working with theatre after his release and graduation in the summer.

Edgar’s piece picked up the theme of family also came out strongly in many other pieces. The song, I Don’t Know, written by Rolly and powerfully performed by a talented trio of prisoners, explored the feelings of a prisoner on an indeterminate (IPP) sentence unable to tell his son when he would come home: emotions and emotions on the phone / ‘cause the answers to these questions I don’t know.

Julian Earwaker, who  has been in residence at the prison since 2010, said the festival was a "huge success".

"Men who had never performed or displayed work previously displayed their courage - and no little talent - before an enthusiastic audience of invited guests, staff and prisoners. There were tears of laughter and lumps in the throat from some emotionally charged material."

The prisoners were supported in their performances by Chickenshed Theatre, who bring theatre and performance to deprived communities and excluded groups. Chickenshed are bringing the words and recordings of the Warren Hill prisoners to engage with groups of troubled children in East London.

Overall, ‘Expression’ was a moving testament to the creative power of words to help self and others. In the words of I Write, a poem by Stephen: I write to be remembered for my words / rather than my dark deeds… I write because I have to… I write because I can…