Inside Poetry: Voices from Prison

The 7th edition of Inside Poetry: voices from prison was launched recently at Daunts Bookshop. Inside Time, founded in 1990,  is the national newspaper for prisoners and is distributed throughout the UK prison estate. The current editor is the author Erwin James.

Every month, Inside Time publishes poems written by prisoners. Rachel Billington, the novelist, selects them (with a little help from Give a Book)  and has edited the present volume. Rightly commended for being one of the few people who writes about the good that is done in prisons, Rachel says in one of her excellent summaries “I can never get over just how many people in prison find a way of expressing themselves in verse.” In her introduction to the present volume she writes, “The aim is to celebrate the imagination, depth of feeling and sheer talent that come into the Inside Time offices every day.”

Photo by Paul Sullivan, Inside Time.

The launch included readings by actor Valentine Olukoga, the actor who trained initially with Synergy Theatre Project.

It was a special occasion for another reason too, in that this volume includes the inaugural Pinter Poem—In her foreword Antonia Fraser explains how important poetry was to Harold Pinter and why she has established this award for a prisoner’s poem in his name. To quote a prisoner, “It’s in poetry that the floodgates really open.” And you can see here in abundance how the unspoken can be expressed in poetry, and how thoughts are free.

This is the Pinter Poem:

Prisoner by Charles Sharp, HMP Wakefield

Do not condemn me for all that I do
Fundamentally I am the same as you

Try not to censor all my words
It’s only the chatter you’ve often heard

Do not intrude upon my thoughts
Or in the trap of prejudice you’ll be caught

In every life mistakes occur
In that, I’m just like him or her

I’m paying the price for what I’ve done
Once I’m out let it be gone

Don’t hound me forever for one mis-deed
Allow me to truly, hereafter, be free

Burn me not with the prison brand
Let me go and simply shake my hand

I am not just things I’ve done
Like you, I am a mother’s son

All that I want is a chance to be free
You’ve no idea how much that means to me.

First published in the September 2017 issue of Inside Time

Read more about the launch event written by Clare Barstow on Inside Time’s website.

And find out about Erwin James’  recommended book for Give a Book .

All 7 volumes of Inside Poetry are available through the Inside Time website and the usual other sources. A copy of the present volume is provided free of charge to all UK prison libraries.

And you can read more about the power of poetry in Rachel Kelly’s blog for us here.