Writing Competition 2017 - Why Prison Education Matters

Cut your new keys
To freedom
Forget Huxley’s sad ending
To his Brave New World and
Find a brave new classroom.

'Connor' - HMP Winchester

Why does education matter for people in prison? We know the statistics – the significantly lower reoffending rates, the higher chance of finding employment – but what about the stories behind these?

To mark the second International Day of Prisons, we asked people in prison to submit poems, short stories and essays addressing the question: “Why does Education in Prison Matter?” We received dozens of submissions in each category, and a panel of PET staff and volunteers whittled them down to the strongest.

Even winner received a book of their choice, up to the value of £15.

Here are our winners across three categories.

Poems, Short StoriesEssays

Poems

Joint Winner -  Alan, HMP Stocken

Art is Plan and Form

Art is Plan and Form
Created inside doors,
Compartmentalised for sure,
Because pictures shock all sorts,
So I start with a line,
A steady Staedtler 6 is fine
Allow the scene to slip from mind,
Through fingers we shall find,
On the paper scribbles wait,
Outlines of Caper,
Left for later,
Involving 1 and three schoolmates.
So clever Pen and Mighty Sword,
How now I wield both,
I never knew the words we use,
Could make us seem so close,
And now that I can read,
And dissuade this young man,
I can use this Education, in relation,
From this place in incarceration
To let him know
The way to go
Till he becomes a man
Now I know his plan
                                               Sorry son

Joint Winner: ‘Connor’, HMP Winchester

Crime is of no concern when u get the chance to learn

The past is a foreign country
They do things differently there
You are never too old to learn
Or too clever
Aye when we were all young
All of us wished we could do
Something better
And those that tried and tried
Whilst it just seemed to leave you
Dry of water to let the river of
Thoughts flow.
And those, who just had it made
It seemed found it dead easy
To do a brilliant pass to
The man on the wing
Who’d bang in the winning
Past me in goals as head hung low
I’d walk home for dinner
But all of us have a faucet
In life it may just seem the
Taps turned too tight
But, to learn how to draw
And not to fight
Would’ve really won many
An auld gunslinger’s fight.
And why I find it so great
To learn now I’m older
Have patience to eat all my
Scrummy veg for dinner
Is that learning opens your
Life to something so much
Bigger then being dragged
Into the gutter courtesy of
HMP Winchester behind
The locked door
I get out and meet other
Guys wanting more than
The drab shite life of crime
And I’m going to learn from them
Try with this pen paper and brushes
Of mine
And paint a bright future
Up in the stars

And I’ll never forget the boys
Behind bars
Who broke away
From guns and grenades
And dance a cool tough ballet
Tip-toing, without a sound
Learning how to love, to be free
History
Philosophy
Socrates
J.C.

You can do anything dudes
Lovely ladies too
Close the door it’s
The end of the word
Cut your new keys
To freedom
Forget Huxley’s sad ending
To his Brave New World and
Find a brave new classroom.

Runner up: Leon, HMP Lindholme, Read in full 

Extract:

started at the bottom rung, a long way to the top
gained my level 1 + 2’s, celebrated with a bop
started then to focus and gave up many things
like bad habits + aggression and all that it brings
I stopped taking drugs because the PET gave me hope
the funding they provided said to me “I wasn’t a joke.”

Christopher, HMP Parc, Read in full 

Extract:

Many moons millennia past
lessons were spoken long to last
wisemen scholars women and men
reciting the words again and again
drawn to begin over centuries changed
image to image line gradually fade
pictures into outlines lines into words
seen and read then they’re heard
down through generations kin after kin

Short Stories

All I was thinking about was, when he gets close enough, I'm going to make sure the snooker cue connects to this poor soul's head. - Sean HMP Stocken

Winner: “The Professor”, Michael, HMP Kirkham. Read in full

A Game of Thrones fan gets drawn into English history, thanks to an unexpected friendship with a terribly well-spoken older prisoner. 

Extract:

The cell was filled with books, volumes of every kind piled high against the tatty graffitied walls of his single pad.
“House of Stewart you were after, if my memory serves me well,” he said as he rummaged through one of the literary mounds.
“Fascinating, you know, how much of actual history finds its way into these supposed works of fiction. Lifted straight from scholarly text, most of it.”
I spent the next 45 minutes listening to this bespectacled, scruffy old man lead me through a magical world of royal courts, aristocratic feuds, forbidden romance and battlefield horrors that rivalled anything any box-set had to offer.
I sat transfixed. I had no idea that ‘this’ was history.
When he finished he simply looked up and handed me the book.
“All yours old man.”
I could feel my face turn scarlet. I just looked at him. What was I going to do with it – batter someone round the head?”

Runner up: Sean, HMP Stocken, Read in full

An autobiographical story on the psychological repercussions of committing a violent crime aged 16, and the role of education in readdressing some of this harm. 

Extract: 

So I call him over, and I took my mate's snooker cue; as he approached, I had the cue concealed behind my back, so my victim didn't suspect anything. I had a chance of taking him out, as he was considerably bigger than me, I was thinking at that moment, about nothing. Not what people would think, my mother and family [...], my victim's family and how devastated they will be, my education and my future, was that the thing I was thinking in my head?... No. All I was thinking about was, when he gets close enough, I'm going to make sure the snooker cue connects to this poor soul's head. 

Runner up: Adrian, HMP Isle of Wight. Read in full

The lively internal dialogue of a prisoner thinking about education, and all the different things it could mean.

I mean take the bigger picture, the prison routines you’ve gotta learn them right?? I mean first, like the general prison timetable. Then there’s how to work wit the system, I mean phones, visits, forms and apps and the like… learn it, maybe I need a teacher, nah! A prison buddy, my cell mate maybe; “Hey got any suger, couple o riz? How do I get to Education? Only it matters to me, alright?” “Bacon!”

Well I suppose I could get there through the prison chaplaincy, I mean, I know, y'know Jesus and all that I suppose that's alright in prison innit? Not on the outside becase it's soft but in here - and that Ninja geezer does God and look at the stuff he can do. They say he's really educated, self-learnt Open University stuff, wonder if I can do a Ninja course? 

 

Runner up: Jaime, HMP Thorn Cross. Read in full 

Extract:

A learner is who has to be dragged into education meets a kind and perseverant teacher, only to find there’s many advantages to his newly gained skills.

That night I remember lying on my bed, the soothing aroma of my girlfriend’s favourite strawberries and cream perfume sprayed on the paper scenting the air, thoughts circling around in my mind, wondering about the contents of the letter.
No chance I was gonna ask any of the lads to read it for me. And as for phoning my girlfriend to discover the letter’s mystery hidden only from me? Well, let’s just say she didn’t know I couldn’t read either.
I felt heavy as though I had been carrying around a guilty secret all this time.
The next day, I made sure I was the first one into the classroom.
Karen looked up from her register as I handed her my girlfriend’s letter. I didn’t need to say anything, she immediately understood.
After Karen read the contents of the letter to me, she said: “And it finishes with ‘I love you.’”

Essays

Like a rudderless boat, I drifted through life causing as much pain and misery as I could to those around me, in come attempt to alleviate the pain I was feeling. In spite of low levels of confidence and self-esteem, I was a very selfish person." - Sarah-Jane, HMP Lewes 

Winner: Sarah-Jane, HMP Lewes. Read in full.

Talks about the impact “double-edged” impact of education, particularly as someone who is suffering from a personality disorder.

Extract:

"Coming from a family where education was neither valued nor respected, I entered the 'care' system and was placed into residential homes where education was not promoted. A clear message was conveyed to me, that no-one expected me to achieve anything worthwhile in life whatsoever. [...] I became angry with society and bitterness coursed through my veins until it seemed to corrode my whole spirit. I had many aspirations, yet no ideas of how to reach any of my goals in life. Like a rudderless boat, I drifted through life causing as much pain and misery as I could to those around me, in come attempt to alleviate the pain I was feeling. In spite of low levels of confidence and self-esteem, I was a very selfish person."

Runner up: Mark, HMP Wayland. Read in full 

Extract:

“While it is agreed that education and gaining of formal qualifications will enhance a released prisoner’s employability, it is not the be all and end all of education. It will not matter if a learner goes on to gain qualifications from learning institutions, or earns a degree from the Open University if that person does not have a change of lifestyle and attitude […] Education only works when a learner is prepared to change and become a new, pro-social member of society […] Holistic rehabilitation is about the learning that is carried out both formally and informally; it is about all of the life-skills that have been gained while in prison.”

Runner up: Michael, HMP Kirkham. Read in full.

Extract: 
“When I found myself sitting in that crown court holding cell, the judge’s words, ‘four and a half years’, running round my head again and again, I promised myself that imprisonment wouldn’t be a waste of time. Being idle is the worst thing you can hope for in jail. That’s when the boredom hits and demons creep in.”

“Reading is a good diversion, but it’s great to read with a purpose. Take in information, retain it, and then demonstrate your understanding of it. That’s what study [...] You won’t be good at everything, but you will have gained something. I may never wallpaper another ceiling in my life, and I’m pretty sure my amazingly supportive partner never wants to read another one of my poems.”