Censoring the Arts

I’ve written a fair bit about how other people have been affected by the prison service attitude towards the arts. Now I’ve been hit by it myself.

In my twelve years inside I’ve never entered the Koestler Awards. I write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, autobiography, and articles, and I draw and paint too. But I’ve never had the right pieces around at the right times to submit. This year I thought I’d make an effort to address that. I pulled together a lot of my work, in all different areas, and was in the process of preparing it to send off when the Koestler co-ordinator here at Wakefield voiced ‘concerns’ about one of my entries.

The entry in question was actually a copy of one of my previous blog posts (A Man Without a Past…) and I intended to submit it into the Koestler Awards in either their ‘Life Story’ category, or their brand new ‘Essays, Blogs or Articles’ category. But the co-ordinator said that it came across as “too personal”. I asked how a Life Story entry was supposed to be anything other than personal, and he said that he wasn’t sure that Koestler would accept it. Again, I pointed out that it did not identify myself or anyone else by name, so it met all of the criteria published by Koestler. I also said that it was all in the public domain anyway, since I’d already put it up on this site. But that just gave him more cause for concern. Now he said that he’d have to check if I was allowed to enter something I’d written for my blog. But again I came back and pointed out that since Koestler had introduced a category entitled ‘Essays, Blogs, or Articles’ you can be pretty sure that blogs would be accepted. But he said he wouldn’t sign my application form (to confirm that the work is my own – as Koestler requires) without checking first. And not just checking with Koestler either. He said he’d only sign it if Koestler confirms that they’ll accept it, and the prison security department say they’re happy for me to submit it.

Well, since there’s nothing in either Koestler’s rules or the prison’s to say that this needs to happen, it clearly isn’t necessary. So I’ve decided to withdraw my participation, and not to submit anything to Koestler this year either. Instead, I will enter next year. And I won’t be doing it through the Koestler Co-ordinator. There is nothing to say that I have to, and I refuse to bow and scrape for permission to do what I am already allowed to. Next year I’ll do it through someone else.

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