When the author of this document was recalled to custody he realised that there was an untapped creativity among his peers. Men and women in prison with lots of time on their hands, and the age old prison issue of what to do when banged-up. He had always had an interest in writing stories and poetry and during his work as a peer-mentor at a local prison in Norfolk he started to pen his first novel. The Literacy tutor read the work and commented on how the story attracted her to read more. He was then introduced to the Koestler Trust, who hold an annual exhibition and awards scheme for art from prisoners and those is secure environments. The novel (in draft form) was duly mailed out to the Trust, and it eventually gained a Bronze award.
This further encouraged him to continue writing, and to help others in their writing. It was not too long before he was leading classes; holding the class as a kind of creative writing workshop for those taking the literacy course. He was able to engage most, if not all, of the learners in the class to write something; most of whom went on to share what they had written. Even the regular class tutor (who shall not be named) was able to sit with the men and write her first ever piece of poetry.
The sessions proved popular and work was then exhibited on the walls of their classroom. There was a real sense of community and belonging being built in these sessions. Some of the men that attended the sessions and were keen to write have since gone on to also enter the Koestler Awards scheme, and several of them have taken awards and cash prizes.
It was during this time that the birth of the Introduction to Creative Writing course came about. Over time the sessions became more formalised with Humphries having to learn more about this useful skill himself. He borrowed books from the prison library, and from the county stocks and then started to write up worksheets that could be used in his sessions, and that the men could take away with them.
He continued with his own writing and went on to gain further awards for both fiction and poetry writing. He has gone on to work with a writing mentor organised by the Koestler Trust. They meet up regularly to chat over a coffee and to discuss the work that Humphries is now doing.
After leaving the local prison Humphries was sent to a category C prison in Norfolk; a move which has proved to have been very worthwhile for him as a prisoner, a person and as a writer. He was able to participate in a PIPE unit, which is a Psychologically Informed Planned Environment. This is a unit that allows prisoners (an now others) to put into practice all the new skills that they have learned on rehabilitation programmes within their prison sentence. This enabled him to continue to write in his spare time, but it also introduced him to a group that he has gone on to work with since leaving custody. He now writes for Greener Growth in their monthly column in the Bury Free Press (a local newspaper in Suffolk).
While at this Norfolk prison Humphries also had to work, like all prisoners do. He was fortunate enough to gain employment with Wayout TV, a very proactive group that were creating innovative television material to be broadcast via in-cell televisions. Humphries started with the group on a compliancy role, and moved on to do some video editing work with them. Since his release from custody he has gone on to continue his involvement with this group.
He has now written and acted as course consultant on the Creative Writing Course that Wayout TV offer through their Way2Learn TV channel. This course, along with others, are now being broadcast in 29 jails around the country. The videos, which will be included with this document, have been enhanced using a published writer to present the series. Phil Earle, was working for the Scottish Book Trust, who gave us permission to use their material as it matched what Humphries was saying in his hard-copy workbooks.
All of this has come about because he saw the need to be a little inventive himself about getting prisoners involved with creativity, and in particular, Creative Writing. Humphries believes that this subject should be taught in prisons as an employability skill. It has all the aspects that employers look for when they are recruiting: can the candidate read, fill out form, count, and are their good time keepers.
Creative writers obviously have to read, if not other people’s work they will read what they have written and the research notes for their piece. Editors are always pushing the word counts, and timescales of jobs. Writers have a lot more going on for them than simply sitting at the keyboard and typing words onto a screen.
Mark Humphries is a former life-sentenced prisoner and now prison reformer tackling the subject of education within the prison estate. He wants all prisoners to have the chance to better themselves whilst in custody; he has also written and acted as course consultant on a Creative Writing video course that is now being shown in 29 prisons in the UK. He is also a member of Prisoners’ Education Trust (www.prisonerseducation.org.uk) Alumni Advisory Group. Mark has written for various magazines and journals on issues of criminal justice and reform.