I’ve been working in a prison library and teaching creative writing there for a few years now. I’m fortunate to do a job I love and find meaningful and I spend a lot of time talking to prisoners about their lives. It’s pretty impossible to take part in a creative writing group without revealing something of yourself (although at least one person has managed) and I see it as a privilege to be part of a process that helps people open up and explore their creativity. I think that’s one of the reasons I stayed away from writing any prison based fiction for so long. I want to be respectful and would hate to be exploitative. I try to encourage the men to write their own stories. (Saying that there are a few guys whose stories I would love to write. I do have a little fantasy of doing a Three Women kinda thing where I could follow up on their lives for 10 years or so – it’d be fascinating – before and after prison. I’m fairly sure the prison wouldn’t agree though.)
When you spend time in a place it inevitably seeps into your writing and I have begun a series of short prison stories. They are fiction and aren’t based on anyone real. I am, however, grateful to some of the guys for their assistance with details about kettle cooking and help with language. I learnt some stuff. Apparently, nobody would ever call another prisoner a dude unless they were a “middle class, middle aged wanker from Cornwall.” Also, if you need to know how to jam a kettle switch to make it a hotplate, I’m your gal.
Thanks to The Mechanics’ Institute Review for publishing my story, Doing Time.