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The power of creative writing in prison

How bleak is the crow's nest. An anthology of women's prison writing

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Narratives of lived experience

Today’s blog post is a little different. It’s a shameless plug of a new anthology of women’s prison writing. How bleak is the crow’s nest is an anthology of the writing of women in prison edited by Rosalchen Whitecross which came out of the creative writing workshops she ran with women in Downview and East Sutton Park prisons for a period of 10 weeks in the summer of 2018.

The creative writing workshops form the basis of a PhD which Rosa has recently completed focusing on women writing in prison and their narratives of lived experience. In her research Rosa focuses on the art of writing from two perspectives: first, the perspective of the link between the creative process of writing for the writer in the personal sphere, interwoven with the wider sphere of the society in which the writer lives and writes. Second, what this writing reveals and reflects of the life lived within this society. She looks at her women in prison sometimes use writing about their life experiences as a way of working through the trauma of imprisonment and bearing witness to their experiences.

“How bleak is the crows nest” writes into the silence of the lived experiences of women in prison. Rosa’s aim in publishing it is to present the writers in prison (her research participants) with a concrete outcome of their time spent writing and reading together, exploring their aesthetic responses to and communication of their lived experiences, both in and out of prison.

The 18 writers featured in the anthology chose their pseudonyms from books about birds, flowers and trees that Rosa had brought to the workshops as a way not only of protecting their own confidentiality but also to open up a personal creative space. Each writer chose a name that resonated with them and these inspired illustrations that also featuring the anthology; each drawing representing one of the writers.

The rest of this blog post consists of short excerpts from the anthology.

My map is complex and winding. It shows the point at which my identity was lost. I'm still travelling along the river, hoping to find Lily again.

Wood Lily is sad today, her colour is purple

She has missed both her children's birthdays and hasn't seen them for three months. She hasn't had the simple pleasure of burying her nose into their hair to smell their special smell.

Wood Lily is dark purple in colour today, almost the deepest shade of purple, nearly black almost. Wood Lily's purple heart is bruised.

The colour will brighten to a lilac when she hears their voices again.

Wood Lily

My colour green is around the regret and the shame of what I had done and the consequences of my actions. Things I can never have back. A deep core sadness.

Longing to be free. Free from prison but also a freedom from within. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel but I struggle to know how to get there.

Raven Hawthorn

I have experienced unkindness. An officer I was speaking to just before lock up shut the door in my face. This left me feeling both angry and depressed.

I sat in my room, tearful. I am human. I do have feelings.

I could not sleep at night. That small act of unkindness left me feeling worthless for days. Obviously the officer had no idea that he had caused such trauma.

Sea Coral

What I will say to my stranger:

What was the reason I was put into care for?

Did you ever think about us when we weren't in your care?

Did you ever have any more children after us?

Did you love us at all?

Did you love Dad?

Baby Blue 79

You can buy “How Bleak is the Crow’s Nest” – edited by Rosalchen Whitecross for £10.00 from this link.

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