I once spent a week in a prison. All in the interests of scholarship, of course. At university, I studied penology, and as part of my course, I attended an open prison for a week. It was a memorable time. Since then, I’ve managed to keep out of jail, but this last week I went back inside.
The journalist (and fashion blogger) Jane Gallagher is someone I’ve mentioned before. She is a busy and talented person, and among her many activities, she is writer in residence at a prison in the north of England. When she invited me to talk to a group of prisoners with an interest in creative writing, I was happy to go along.
The prison is ‘category B’ and this means that those inside have generally committed much more serious crimes than those I met at the open prison all those years ago. But this group, although it included a couple of convicted murderers, and others who have done terrible things, was lively and engaging (and, if the samples of work I saw are anything to go by, not short of talent, however raw it might be at present.)
I enjoyed the visit a good deal, and was impressed both by the work that Jane does with the men, and by the seriousness of their interest in a wide range of forms of writing. The experience of the locking and unlocking of countless doors, and the sound of footsteps echoing along endless corridors, will stay with me for a long time. And if, one day, the germ of an idea of a story set in closed prison comes to me, I’ll know where it came from.