Not Shut Up and Erwin James

24 April 2009 in

notshutup I have done two year-long stints as writer-in-residence in Her Majesty’s Prisons here in the UK, in the early 90s in HMP Gartree, and at the end of the 90s in HMP Maidstone.  I found both residencies hugely rewarding and hugely exhausting. I don’t know if I’d work in a prison again - the frustrations are manifold and the entire penal system needs a complete rethink (she said blithely).  But I’m currently Chair of the board of trustees for ‘Not Shut Up’, a magazine that publishes creative writing produced by the residents of London’s prisons.  It’s a great mag, edited by screenwriter Hugh Stoddard; however, like many arts organisations on the margins, our existence is under threat due to cuts in funding.

I never met Erwin James during my residencies, but I admired his column in the Guardian, and felt he wrote about prison issues from the inside with great clarity.  I even wrote to him once, in response to a column, something I’ve never done before or since.  When the book of his columns, A Life Inside, was published, I was invited to the launch, where I had the exhilarating experience of running into one of the lifers I’d worked with in Gartree in his new post-prison life.

A friend in facebook brought this new article, ‘The Real Me’, by James to my attention today; it’s an extraordinary piece.


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