Well, now that I am back on the wing and back in the gym, I am also free to continue with my Travels of a Virtual Nomad. However, there has been a slight change.
As many of you will be aware, my intention was to run, ride and row in the prison gym, following a virtual route around the country and beyond whilst keeping a diary on this site of where I would be if I were free to follow the route in real life. The sponsorship was intended to go to the absolutely fantastic charity, Not Shut Up who help prisoners all around the country with their involvement in the arts, and who deserve far more recognition for their efforts. However, due to technical difficulties at my end (and completely beyond the control of Not Shut Up ) it has not been possible to facilitate this. So instead I have had to change my recipient charity to the equally deserving Koestler Trust.
The Koestler Trust work tirelessly to hold an annual competition in which prisoners are awarded recognition of their work in the form of certificates and prizes. They also run a scheme in which those prisoners who show a particular commitment to the arts are given the opportunity to work with a Koestler mentor.
This work is priceless to prisoners who might otherwise have no outlet for their talents and I would ask all of you to follow and sponsor my journey for the benefit of The Koestler Trust‘s work and of the artistic interests of prisoners up and down the country.
But I would also like to ask you to visit the site of Not Shut Up, too. They are hugely deserving of any donation you might feel able to give, and go to great lengths to encourage prisoners (including myself) with our involvement in the arts. Please give them the recognition they deserve and donate whatever you can.
Last month I highlighted the recent changes in the prison service which were resulting in prison arts coming under threat. Electric guitars and acoustic guitars with metal strings have already been removed from the national list of permitted items, paints and other arts and hobbies supplies are near impossible to obtain in many prisons, a startling number of prisoners have had their creative writing taken or withheld by prison staff for undefined ‘security reasons’, and drama courses are now virtually unheard of in most prisons.
Since writing this post I have spoken to a number of other prisoners here at Wakefield who have been affected by this and, after some discussion, we all agreed that something had to be done. Unfortunately, when prisoners organise a petition or other collective action inside prisons we are often placed on report for ‘incitement’. However, the same does not apply on the outside. For that reason I have now set up an online petition aiming to convince the Ministry of Justice to reconsider their approach to prison arts. And that’s where I need your help. Prisoners cannot sign it. I can’t even sign it myself. But you can. So please, think of all of those who rely on prison arts just to cope with being in jail. Think of those who spend all of their time and money on creating something positive only to have it stamped on. Sign the petition. You can make a real difference to hundreds, even thousands of lives.
“Life without industry is guilt, and industry without art is brutality.”
From ‘The Relation of Art to Morals’
by John Ruskin
The Ministry of Justice under Chris Grayling recently published a new Prison Service Instruction detailing a number of changes to the prison system. Many of these changes are designed to encourage prisoners to engage in what they call ‘purposeful activity’ and ‘rehabilitation’. The aim of this is to enable changes in attitudes by requiring prisoners to work for privileges. On one level it is an admirable effort reminiscent of the above quote by John Ruskin. Life without industry is guilt, it’s true. Work purifies the soul. But this very same instruction has other effects too.
This instruction lists all of the items which prisoners are permitted to hold in their possession and, removed from this list, are electric guitars and any acoustic guitars which have metal strings (which are the vast majority). Furthermore, it has become impossible in many jails for prisoners to buy paints and, at HMP Wakefield, prisoners have even had their creative writing taken from them by the security department without any reason being given.