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Writing Within Walls

With Arkbound’s aim in mind - to help disadvantaged people by widening access to literature and improving diversity within the media industry - we have decided to lead on a writing project for prisoners and ex-offenders, which we hope could ultimately become a collection of stories with the title ‘Writing Within Walls’.

We are grateful for the support of the Old Possum's Practical Trust and Matrix Causes Fund in the delivery of this project, which will see a range of workshops, mentoring and published work that engages prisoners, ex-offenders and young people on probation.

Background of project

Trustee Amanda Thomas was inspired by the CEO of Changing Tunes , who runs a charity that uses music as a constructive and restorative process, helping prisoners tap into their musical ability to aid relaxation and ultimately, rehabilitation. Amanda, a professional writer, saw that there was an opportunity to continue this work using writing. Anyone who has watched BBC 2’s documentary 'The Choir', in Aylesbury Prison, will have seen Gareth Malone visiting a young offenders’ institute to teach and create music with inmates. You will have noticed a change in demeanour and outlook of those prisoners who got involved in the creative project, and the sense of pride they felt upon completion.

Leaning on our trustees, volunteers and members, the Arkbound Foundation will utilise its own collective experience in mentoring, editing and working with prisoners to improve their literacy and writing skills with the aim of publishing books of the writing that we mentor, through our charity publishing arm, Arkbound.

* * *

One of our first prisoners to engage with the project is Davide. Davide is in his late 70s and has enjoyed writing all his life. As a boy, Davide was educated at a grammar school and pursued an interest in science, but eventually turned towards the arts for comfort and introspection. Fine tuning his skills in violin, painting, pressing flowers and writing, Davide’s artistic flair was cultivated in his later years. Last year Davide suffered a serious stroke. Before the stroke, he derived much pleasure from speaking his poetry aloud. The Arkbound Foundation wants to restore his voice in the form of publishing his writing, which may never have been seen without the Writing Within Walls project.

Davide has written many poems and a favourite poem of ours is 'Restoring Hope', written in 2018, included in full below. The poem takes us on a journey from despair to hope. At the poem’s opening, the narrative voice, likely that of Davide himself, fears the rush of life and isolation he experiences. The language in the first verse itself feels rushed; the reader trips over each word to get to the next. The narrator seems nostalgic for lost time and lost connections: What is our life if full of care, no time to stand or ever stare. It passes by, the lives we lead, frantic here and frantic there.’ That first line echoes the famous 1911 poem by welsh poet William Henry Davies, who is clearly an influence in Davide’s own poetry. Davide’s poetry shares the themes of W. H. Davies, whose work also had a natural, pastoral, earthy style. The consistent rhythm and rhyming scheme of this poem resembles that of a hymn, carrying the theme of religious epiphany that unfolds during the poem. The image of a baby, denoting the innocence of childhood, is a pivotal moment. A child’s ability to engender selflessness causes the narrator to ponder the generosity of parental love, and the sacrifice humans make for each-other. Ruminating on what could easily be the nativity scene, with a baby in ‘waddling clothes’ accompanied by ‘ox and ass and stable stall’, Davide’s ‘dusty’ memory suddenly becomes focused:

This time I saw no baby in its mother’s arms, just a hill on which a cross
Amidst two others stood against the darkening sky, flash of light
And rolling thunder reverberated, tore my life asunder, sacrifice for me
And all the others.’

This is a clear indication of Davide’s Christian belief in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for those that followed him. The narrative arc of the poem, from despair, to confusion and fear, to a return to his religious belief, shows the cathartic nature of expression. Through the process of writing this poem, Davide’s outlook has evolved. For some, it might be turning to their God, for others it might be a feeling of self-worth; whatever positive change prisoners might want to make, we believe writing can kick-start it. This is the power of literature that the Arkbound Foundation intends to bestow on those who are underrepresented and overlooked in our society.

Restoring Hope (2018) – Davide

Rushing, always rushing, it’s the bane of our existence,
Running here, dashing there, no one really listens.
“Speak t’you later, no time now, sorry have to dash.”
On it goes, this pace of life, devoid of all panache.
For who is ever dignified by breathless men of flustered face,
Who has even time to think, when in this mad cap race.
What is our life if full of care, no time to stand or ever stare.
It passes by, the lives we lead, frantic here and frantic there.

Until in later years the clock runs down, we pause, look back,
Expect to see a well-worn track, from whence we came,
But all we see are clouds of dust, the swirling dust, obscuring dust,
Full of the things we planned to do, some day, some way.
If only there had been time to stand and stare, come what may,
Towards fulfilment of our dreams and hopes, and seize the day.
Carpe diem says it all, and so we say it like a mantra, hoping still
That in some magic of the ancient tongue, exists a remnant
Of some secret knowledge, long forgotten incantation, want
To make some sense of what we’ve done, then we wait….

And nothing happens, nothing stirs, we stand still, find it is too late,
But then, as standing still, the dust begins to settle,
We start to see a little further, through the mist of time, clouds part,
And in the distance comes the site, a baby in its mother’s arms,
The child once was us, reminds us how it all began, such charms:
We smiled and it was just as if a light had come on, radiant,
Made others smile and live and laugh. Even ‘fore we learnt to talk
Or learned to walk, or hold a fork, we had this strange capacity
To make a person think, it isn’t me that matters, no not me.
Just serve the child, forget the self, keep focused on that tiny form in
Swaddling clothes, and born in circumstances maudlin,
With ox and ass and stable stall, sheep a bleating, cattle lowing.

But then the mists began to begin to stir, I can’t be sure just who I saw,
Was it to me in infancy, or part of wondrous Trinity, the ancient law
Said we are made to be like him, and to tell the truth, from through the span
Of years I couldn’t see a difference. What has happened since that time
To make me feel unworthy, distant? But then the mists did clear again.
This time I saw no baby in its mother’s arms, just a hill on which a cross
Amidst two others stood against the darkening sky, flash of light
And rolling thunder reverberated, tore my life asunder, sacrifice for me
And all the others. Felt my heel press much less firmly on the ground,
Seemed as if I had no weight, and saw the far horizon dropping, found.
Saw my parents there with others who have gone before,
Were right to hope and say that all would meet again, someday, restored.

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