Poetry in commotion

23 Mar 2016

I write… to make smiles and break hearts, to dig holes in


arguments and build bridges, to swim with dolphins, walk


with wildlife, fly with eagles up high in the sky


Stephen, HMP Warren Hill  

Prison may seem an unlikely place to inspire poetry, and yet from the back pages of Inside Time to the Koestler Awards, prisoners often turn to verse. 

PET funds several courses in which people in prison can learn about writing styles and techniques and practise composition. Recently, PET received an application from a 23-year-old woman who said she hoped that, after committing a “moronic crime”, taking a creative writing course would help her to re-ignite her “creative spark” and combat her dyslexia. She wrote:

“Long ago, while attending primary school, I was given considerable praise for my creativity, but later I lost enthusiasm. During my incarceration I intend to rejuvenate my former passion for fiction writing, poetry and wordsmithing.

"I now have plenty of time to hone my skills, flesh out concepts and get scribbling away on ideas and fish deep within the forgotten recesses of my mind.”

Chris Syrus, who completed an Open University degree with funding from PET, says writing poetry in prison helped him cope with a 10-year sentence

“I was able to use poetry as a self therapy,” he said. “Having time in the cell without much to do and thinking about what my future would hold as well as what had happened up to that point, inspired me to express and write my experience in poetry form.”

Having now been released, Chris runs his own consultancy. He also holds regular crime-prevention workshops in which he uses poetry and spoken word performance to help young people explore their identities and communicate thoughts and feelings.  

You can read Chris’ poem “Mother’s Cry”, which he wrote during custody, below, along with a selection of poems submitted by prisoners at HMP Warren Hill, who are working with writer-in-residence Julian Earwalker.


“I write…” by Stephen, HMP Warren Hill 


I write… because of Shakespeare, because of the 1,700

new words he gave to us all, because everybody here, there

and everywhere has quoted him at some time or another

whether knowingly or not.


I write… to make smiles and break hearts, to dig holes in

arguments and build bridges, to swim with dolphins, walk

with wildlife, fly with eagles up high in the sky.


I write… to be remembered for my words rather than my

dark deeds.


I write… because I have to. I’m compelled to because I can’t

stop this constant outpouring of fears, hopes, dreams

and imaginings.


I write… because I can’t sing like Russell Watson, play the

guitar like Eric Clapton, the piano like Jools Holland, or

dance like Gene Kelly, as much as I would like to.


I write… because if I didn’t, all my words would build up

and explode into a kaleidoscopic fountain of thoughts,

from which there may not be any chance of rescue.


I write… because I can, because it’s there, because it

demands to be conquered.


I write… because the pen is mightier than the sword, and

because one cruel word can cut deeper than a thousand

knives and because one sweet word can heal a thousand



I write… because I hate to see a blank page.


I write… because if I keep going long enough, if I concentrate

hard enough and if I’m lucky enough, there exists the

possibility that I might one day string together a

group of previously unrelated words that could perhaps

bring some small measure of peace, hope, or even some

understanding to the love of someone’s life.


I write… because there are and remain too many

untold stories.


I write… because when my pen caresses the paper

and leaves its mark, it sends a shiver through my mind.


I write… because there are so many special people in

my life that I find unable to express my true love for and

so I create a poem in the hope that their hearts will

welcome mine.


Mother's Cry, by Chris Syrus


And I never heard,
My mother cry out in pain,
Until I heard the juror say 'Guilty.'

I imagine it to be different
From the joyful yell of child birth,
Bearing twins.

The cry haunts me,
Day and night it haunts me.

Every time I'm offered a deal
Or have an idea of making that quick money,
It haunts me.

If only I could take back time,
The gift not given.
If only I could reverse the state of play
And do something different.
Choose better, wiser.

But now is not the time,
To reflect in regret and hindsight.
Now is the time to make better.

Time to grow and remember,
What has happened in the past.
God Willing, Inshallah.

I will never hear that cry again.


“I Come From”, by Eddie, HMP Warren Hill 


I come from drunken parents,

neglect and starvation.

Born in ‘66, a good year for England,

Scotland nowhere to be seen.

I come from foster parents,

strict and religious.

Made to join the Boys’ Brigade

and local cricket club.

I come from homemade jams and pizza,

apple crumble and piping hot custard.

I come from loneliness,

playing a small blue radio

held close to my ear,

hiding Elvis, Little Richard and The Boss

from my foster parents.

I come from miniature trains,

a railway track in the back garden—

fun for the local kids.

I come from roaming the countryside,

thick, dense woods and fields,

running up and down railway embankments.


I come from spending most of my life

in my bedroom,

making up imaginary friends.

We’d have fun playing different games,

sometimes I won, sometimes I lost.

I come from early morning dew,

burning wood fires,

keeping stables and horses.

I come from a few feet away from

the railway tracks,

a large house on a smallholding

on the outskirts of town.

Hearing the sound of trains through the night,

clickety clack, clickety clack.


City of Lost Children, by Rolly, HMP Warren Hill 


The city where to reach 16 is wishful thinking

And just to see 21

feels like a complete mission

this ain’t rare this how

many of them is living

Where a single mum struggles

so her only son has to start pushing

Now close friends

become distant

they hug him

but their smile

say different


Dam how can ones ambition

turn the people round him

so cold so vicious


So he sees his

Only hope is to carry

something wid him

coz the alternative is a

t-shirt wid his face

saying he miss him


He can sense it’s

either death or the police

that’s gonna grip him

so he wants to quit

but he’s too

deep in


It was murder when the feds finally

reached him 

And it was 35 to life

when the judge finally

threw the boot in


My selfish endeavour, by Paul, HMP Warren Hill 


At an early age I abandoned my education

I learnt no trade or skills

I have never lived a legal life

Or paid any domestic bills.


I had no idea how society or a community worked

I gravitated towards criminals like myself

Never earning a legal penny

Thinking nothing of stealing others’ wealth.


Many years have been spent in jail

Wasting my existence.


At home I had a wife and three daughters

I gave money and material things

Not understanding the one thing they wanted

I couldn’t give. Now I am older, that stings.


The path I chose was the path of pain

My heart was broken, my soul was a permanent stain

Many people have been hurt, but none so deep

As those I love. What did I ever gain?


I began this journey in ‘75

Blinkered, deluded, a broken child

Now forty years later, there’s nobody left to blame

I moulded myself, it’s all self-styled.

Now I am older and wiser

I can see, in its most undiluted form

What I always thought, where my strengths

Are, and always have been, my selfish endeavour.


I hope that those who have lived a life like me

Will one day awake and see

The riches that you seek have always been

Within your grasp, in your friends and family.