The Inside Track



A Styal of their own

Women’s ability to support one another stands out in workshops held
by Joy Winkler, the writer in residence at HM Prison and Youth
Offenders Institute Styal in Cheshire. “If someone reads a
poem out others will say that’s great. I feel like that,” she
says. “Nobody has ever said that’s rubbish in a prison class,
but it has happened in an outside class.”

Winkler facilitates writing classes twice a week on the wing at
the prison. This is the area where prisoners who need a more secure
setting are held. Women are told about the classes by prison staff
and put their name down on a register to take part.

Winkler has run the course since last October, but has
previously run a range of writing activities at the prison for
about two years. Her project is a part of the Writers in Prison
Network that runs the Arts Council and Prisoners Learning and Skill
Unit’s Writers-in-residence in prison scheme across the English
prison estate. It also develops projects working with young people
at risk of offending.

Winkler says she tries to pick the most vulnerable women to take
part in the workshops. These include those who are not allowed off
the wing and are therefore unable to attend some of the other
activities available. This group often tends to be those who are on

Creative writing can be a daunting prospect if you haven’t done
it before, says Winkler. “They say, ‘I can’t write
poems, I can’t write stories,’ and I say that we will all do
it together.” Winkler then tries to get the women into
writing through indirect routes. This has included holding a
workshop specifically on anger and asking the women what colour
they associate with it. This generated some thought-provoking
responses. “Anger is a padded cell where I can’t find the
door,” wrote one. “Anger is the smell of the worst
poison in the world,” wrote another.

Winkler says that this association with colours allows the women
to paint with words in order to create their pieces, making writing
less daunting. Other lead-in techniques include speed writing where
she gives them four words to focus on.
Perhaps not surprisingly poetry has proved very popular with the
women. Many see it as the most appropriate way of writing about
their experiences and Winkler says that she thinks this is partly
because poems are seen as a less threatening and indirect way to do
this. The women often ask Winkler to give them poems that they can
send to their boyfriends or mums.

Winkler explains how the act of getting feelings down on paper
can help some of the women to get over what has happened to them
rather than constantly worrying about it. “When they are
locked up their problems are going round in their head.” She
adds that the workshops also provide a time when they can escape
from their worries.

The obvious boost that the women get when their work is praised
by their peers can be increased if they are lucky enough to get
their work published in the prison magazine. Winkler explains that
she has given the editor some poems to choose from on the day I
talk to her.

A couple of years ago a book of the women’s poetry entitled
Lifestyal was published and sold well. Another collection of their
poetry called Poetic Justice has also been published.

Winkler and the women have an exciting time ahead. While the
prison is currently considering publishing another book of the
women’s work, due to the success of Lifestyal, Winkler is putting
the finishing touches to her own novel. Let’s hope the success

Contact details:

The Writers in Prison Network: 01938 811 355



The idea of being able to gain a better understanding of your
thoughts and feelings by distancing your self from them is also
used in a Geese Theatre Company drama project at HM Prison
Brockhill in Redditch, Worcestershire.

The company is a team of specialised theatre practitioners who
work solely in the criminal justice system. They use theatre as a
way to help rehabilitate and motivate offenders and young people at
risk and work throughout the United Kingdom.

Sarah Woodland, a performer/group worker for the project at HMP
Brockhill, explains how it uses masks to help young women. The idea
behind the concept is that the mask acts as a metaphor for the
front that you put on to the outside world when behind this the
reality could be very different. Five masks are used that show
different negative behaviours which everybody uses to cope with
thoughts and feelings. These are a cool laid back mask, a joker, a
mouthy mask talking 14 to the dozen, an angel mask for a good girl,
and an aggression mask.

The facilitators create a character with the young women, who is
representative of them and put on a mimed performance to the group
incorporating the masks. The young women can stop to ask questions
or comment on the play at any time and have a discussion about what
feelings could lay behind the behaviour.

Woodland says that the fact that the performance is mimed
enables the group to project onto it what the scenarios would be
about for them. She adds that the creation of a character helps
them to explore difficult issues without feeling self-conscious.
“They are working with a character so you maintain a one step
removed situation. We don’t do things at a personal level,”
she explains.

The next stage in the project involves getting the girls
themselves to perform. This involves them splitting into groups in
which one of them acts out the character that the group has
created. She then pretends to be in a high-risk situation for them
that might cause them to re-offend. The girls watching then come up
with ways that the situation could be solved without this

Woodland says that the girls benefit from working in a group by
being able to discuss their ideas with each other and gain
confidence when they are listened to. She adds that she sees drama
as particularly useful when looking at thoughts, feelings and
behaviour because it provides an active way to do this.

Woodland concludes that the key part to the work is that the
young women are able to produce a solution to the scenarios they
create, act it out and feel what it’s like to succeed: something
everybody enjoys.

Contact Details:

The Geese Theatre Company: 0121 446 4370


If anybody wants to explore the value of such projects an
opportunity would be the Griffins Society fellowship which focuses
on the resettlement of female offenders and ex-offenders.

The Griffins Society is a voluntary organisation working for the
care and resettlement of female offenders, including those with a
history of mental health problems and violent behaviour. It
sponsors four fellowships, each worth £3,000, at the London
School of Economics and Political Science. The first fellowships
were awarded in 2001.

The fellowship scheme provides the opportunity for anybody with
an interest in female offenders to study a particular aspect of
their circumstances or treatment. Projects must have a community
rather than a custodial focus, reflecting the Griffins Society’s
interests, but this can include issues around bail or resettlement
following a custodial sentence. Anyone with an interest in female
offenders, such as magistrates, probation officers and drug/alcohol
counsellors, is welcome to apply.

Those working for either statutory organisations or the
voluntary sector are eligible. Only those engaged in full-time
academic work or studying for an undergraduate or post-graduate
degree are not able to apply for the awards.

The deadline for applications, which must not be sent
electronically, is Friday 30 April 2004. Interviews for shortlisted
candidates will take place on Monday 24 May and Tuesday 25 May
2004. Each fellowship begins in September 2004 and runs for one
year. Dr Judith Rumgay, director of the Griffins Society Visiting
Research Fellowship Programme, will provide academic support and
supervision to successful applicants.

Fellows will have access to the school’s library and computing
facilities as well as the opportunity to go to guest seminars
hosted by the Mannheim Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice
and by the Department of Social Policy.

Contact Kate Steward on 020 7955 6744 or for full
details of the scheme. Or write to her at The Griffins Society
Visiting Research Fellowship Programme, Department of Social
Policy, LSE, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.