While you’re exploring this section, please listen to these archive recordings from Britten Pears Arts projects in HMP Warren Hill, and quotes from residents about the impact of the arts on them.
In the year 2020
My vision has been destroyed
Due to the corona virus
Restrictive measures have globally been deployed
“Covid rage” is the new phrase
amongst others that have been coined
I know the term all too well
I’m frequently feeling it in my loins
Glumness has replaced funness
As dreams have been punctured
Pundits came to assumptions
That I’m lacking mental toughness
Munchies tasting more sumptuous
Are turning me voluptuous
But the biscuit-heavy consumption
Is becoming much of a muchness
High sugar and high emotions
Are clouding my vision again
I’m seeing things distortedly
Now that’s a concerning visual effect
Processing difficult emotions poorly
Is a fabled flaw in the history of men
A disease that shouldn’t be rationalised
Ever in the satirical sense
Looking to a disheartening future
Actually makes me not wanna look
Employers would love my personality
But my criminal record they’ll not overlook
She’d happily live out life with the ‘new’ me
But her family would tell her ‘not with a crook’
And would I be labelled ‘misogynist’ if I refused
Being with a woman who did not wanna cook?
Scary, mightily scary
Political correctness is oh so frightening
Can I even call a woman ‘a woman’
Or do I use the term ‘non-binary’?
David Attenborough has guilt-tripped me into
Paying attention to my attitudes to recycling
And Greta Thunberg’s gonna get us soon
Though she’s pleased with reduced airliners flying in
I’m trying to reduce my visual inputs
So I can expend less ‘human’ carbon emissions
Did far too many Downing St briefings
I learnt all the advisors and politicians
Watched all news bulletins to feel more steady
But that only led to me feeling more capricious
So the only place I’m looking now is within
And staying in the present that’s my 2020 vision
A time you need that friend
A friend that’s with you no matter what
A friend that stands by you when no one else will
A friend that goes out of his way when no one wants to
A friend that puts up with your faults because he tells you you’re worth it
A friend that can see you sad and depressed and wants to help
A friend that sees you happy and is happy for you
A friend that steers you on the right path when you stray
A friend that will pull you from a financial hole when need be
A friend that will give you his shoulder to cry on in times of need
A friend that feels your pain and shares your tears
A friend that doesn’t care of race or religion or whether you speak in a different accent or have a different skin tone
A friend that works like petrol to an engine
A friend for life – that friend is you
Stargazer: Paper on my desk, boxes on the floor.
Does it really matter, not to me, maybe you?
Skitman: I don’t really care either, my head is confused like the stuff on your desk.
I’m reaching the end of my tether.
I want to quit, I’ve had enough.
But something keeps me grounded.
Stargazer: My life is real, not paper, not things grounded.
I want to fly, want to dream, my escape.
Skitman: I’ve tried deeply to find my escape, but to no avail.
My dreams feel so much more like a lie, falsehood clinging onto the last bit of hope.
Stargazer: We can use the boxes, pack our troubles away.
We are free!
Joe: Hello John, not seen you for a while.
John: No, been making the most of my Lily now lockdown is easing.
Joe: Oh, nice……how old is she now?
John: The big o’ nine! Hard work she is, asks too many difficult questions.
Joe: I can imagine, my grandchildren are the same. She still getting picked on?
John: Yeah, kids are horrible at times. It’s not her fault she is so tiny.
Joe: You’re right……Did you take her to the pond the other day?
John: Yeah Joe, after all that ‘ugly’ name calling by the other kids I thought I would try and show her the ugly duckling story, but in real life. Well, we went down and I had some bread to feed them, but you wouldn’t realise how ruthless them quacking beasts are! Nearly had me fingers as well as my shoelaces off!
Joe: Did it work for Lily though? Showing her the beautiful swan?
John: She started on about Darwinism and survival of the fittest! The biggest ducks and swans bashed the smaller ones off the bread, and Lily is screaming and crying, she said she is so useless because she is so small and life is only good if you are big and perfect!
Joe: Darwin and the National Curriculum have a lot of questions to answer there mate.
John: Don’t I know it….she is so miserable these days.
Joe: Bless her! It’ll pass I’m sure! Do you remember old Tommy from Shingle Street?
John: Yeah, ‘course.
Joe: Well his lad was real depressed when Town got rid of him from their junior academy. They said he was too small for a central defender.
Joe: Yeah, he was having a bad time. Obviously older than Lily – 12 I think. But he got all moody with the world, playing video games 24/7.
John: What did he do?
Joe: Well it was a few years ago now, but Tommy took him to play conkers.
John: Conkers? Oh I remember conkers, wow takes me back. I had a peach, 61 victories – a 61er!
Joe: Ha, and how big was it?
John: Not massive Joe, you see the big ones can have no real substance, they fall apart more easily. What made it good though was the work I put into her!
Joe: Exactly, hand-to-eye coordination is one thing, but the hours of hunting the right conker, getting the hole perfect, selecting the right string…
John: And the knot, vital the knot, took me years to perfect the right knot!
Joe: Well, all that made you something special.
John: A champion!
Joe: Well that’s what old Tommy’s lad learnt and so can Lily!
John: You’re right, it’s not how big and special you think you are that matters but the work you put into yourself, that’s what’ll make you great.
Joe: Sure will John… and by the way I had a 62er!!!
Do we do or do we not?
Do we think of today or worry of tomorrow,
Do we wonder what’s ahead, do we look at adventure,
Do we do or do we not?
Do we do whatever we do to our best,
Do we not or does the choice of doing feel too much?
Do we do today as it’s upon us and not as tomorrow,
Do we do ‘need’ what could all be gone in the blink of an eye
Do we change what we do for ourselves and others,
Do we do or do we not?
Do we walk the paths of those who walked before us,
Do we help when others are in need or do we not?
Do we walk by because it’s danger or just easier,
Do we do or do we not?
Do we have a choice or do we think we do?
Me I’ll choose wisely,
I’ll choose life,
Whatever you choose it’s your choice,
Do we do or do you not?
Fight or Flight
FIGHT OR FLIGHT THE LINE’S IN SIGHT
SO BRILLIANT WHITE TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT
SO LET’S BE FRANK YOU BROKE THE BANK
LET’S ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BECAUSE LIFE’S SO DULL
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL– DIG A HOLE
OFF THE TRACK GIVE ME SOME CRACK
ON SECOND THOUGHTS GIVE ME SOME SMACK
OR THEN AGAIN GIVE ME A SLAP
CONGRATULATIONS – YOU’VE HAD A HEART ATTACK
SORRY AM I GOING OFF TRACK, WELL LET ME BRING YOU
BY THE WAY HERE’S THAT SLAP
Find The Flocking Hope
There are times in life when traumatic experiences are vacuum-packed into your mind’s eye. The whole incident replayed again and again as it happens whilst your heart-beat holidays and you are frozen to the spot by some sort of magical spell cast by the White Witch.
The enemy of hope is despair, and despair’s closest associate is helplessness, they reside in the lair of the misfortune cartel. We have all felt helpless from time to time, but my most recent episode was in my neighbour’s prison cell. I stepped across the threshold to watch him plummet from the roof area with all the ungainly slapstick a clown would own if he were to nose-dive from the circus high-tower into a paddling pool of custard.
Unphased but a little unsteady I helped him to some food whilst all the cell’s witnesses, out of concern, chorused,
‘What you doing Herbert?’
Herbert is a budgie. Not just any budgie, a prison budgie. He stands a feisty four inches tall and is the blue and white of the old prison button shirts. He only knows prison, and was born in an establishment within the high-security estate. His flock are people; mostly murderers, robbers and arsonists, and he loves them all.
As a tiny fledgling only a few weeks’ old he was rejected by his mother but rescued by his current cell-mate who had to spend hours and hours mouth-to-mouth feeding him and building his strength and confidence. He was never denied access to other budgies, but is so imprinted on humans he thinks he is one and is uninterested in other birds. He can whistle, talk, and is capable of ‘persuading’ you out of any edible goodies you may have purchased from the prison canteen, and is even so brave he will nibble at prison food, fully accepting of the inevitable resulting ‘dicky tummy’!
I have known Herbert for years. He even lived on the last wing I was on in my former prison. So tame, he would fly and glide where he wanted! Aerobatically he would side-step people, and occasionally crop dust the odd tattooed neck or bald scalp. He would land on the shoulder of the ping-pong player, then perch on the edge of the snooker table for a squawk at the shiny cue ball. When finally bored he would high-speed aim for his cell and bank like a dogfighting Spitfire through the door!
Once in a while the misfortune cartel conspire with circumstance to disadvantage their victim. One fateful evening an unpleasant blistering heat overtook the prison landings accelerating Herbert’s feather moult. The morning revealed a floor full of feathers more akin to an accident in a Brobdingnag duvet factory than the usual OCD cleanliness we were all used to.
Herbert could not fly!
His innate power, his mobility, his freedom, robbed by prematurely discarded flight feathers. Loud, upset gasps resonated along the prison corridors as Herbert’s flock learnt of his fate, and the vain, futile panicky wing flaps could be persistently heard for a few weeks after. The universe in support sent all positive charged atmospheric ions to its segregation block, thus in empathy enabling a period of mourning. The light days felt darker, unpleasant smells more pungent, and the usual sounds of prison more ugly.
As time passed, new flight feathers emerged, but the jester of circumstance sent them off kilter. The beauty of the appearing light-blue soft down no substitute for the un-functioning feathers. Herbert’s flightlessness looked long-term!
Adaptability is key for prison survival, and Herbert quickly learnt to play with the hand he was dealt. Perches were strategically erected to enable sensible hops and increase his independent cell treks. When necessary, he learnt to let out a deafening shriek, commanding like some kind of Mafioso godfather to his flock lieutenants in supporting his movements. From shoulder to index finger, from head to wrist he would bounce where necessary in order to arrive at any desired destination. He seemed over his flightlessness, he had discovered his new way.
During this tumultuous time, as during all times, men would appear and ‘level up’ on animal therapy. Life sentences create unknown futures for people, flaccid goals and tender anxieties. Non-judgemental platonic love is often void in penal institutions, but Herbert selflessly plugs that gap.
Forlorn human beings trapped by system and circumstance can lose hope. However, the loss of hope is a choice, we are in charge of this power. The vile misfortune cartel may employ illusionary devices to snatch it from the quiver of survival, but your own personal hope can only be accessed by negative forces if you allow yourself to lose resolve. Protection of this may sound simple, but years of imprisonment have shown tough individuals crippled when ill-prepared neurotic defences of their hopes and dreams are invaded by the wily MENSA-smart, Jedi-powerful, Cartel’s attack squads.
Even during the eternal support given to all men deep in their own personal psychological wars, Herbert remained resolute. Flight is intrinsic to the definition of a budgie, an evolutionary earned status in the animal kingdom. To lose the ability must feel like an assault on identity, on motivation, on purpose. Yet never have I seen Herbert’s beak drop lower than his perch. His head remains proud. Never will he surrender his hope, defending it with all the pride of Dumas’s Musketeers.
Life’s most mighty lessons always seem amplified when their challenges previously appeared unendurable. They provide inspiration which manufactures arrows for hope’s survival quiver. Herbert in his four inches is inspirational.
Sadly he still can’t fly…
On occasions he will attempt a perch launch, but alas, none of his attempts are yet to be successful. However, my oxymoronical flightless budgie neighbour never gives up. He is always armed with an arrow of hope! He still loves his flock, and if he was ever to meet you, would instantly adopt you without initiation – any special ‘love parcels’ that fall from his derriere would be accidental, not an ornithological version of fraternity hazing.
Despite the allusive power of flight staying away, the positive atmospheric ions are back and fully charged. The days are brighter, smells sweeter, and prison noises more musical. Herbert’s misfortune cartel have been contained. He did it, and when presented with any adversity so can we all!
So follow Herbert’s lead. Keep your beak above your perch, embrace life and when necessary shield your hope. Never surrender it!
Herbert does, and one day he will fly again!
Freedom for me is that glimmer of hope.
Freedom for me is the light that helps me cope.
Freedom is what I call diversity.
Freedom is full of versatility.
Freedom for me is allowing my mind to be free.
Freedom for me is in the nature that I see.
Freedom is the fire for me to burn bright.
Freedom is the fire for me to learn insight.
Freedom for me is the right to express.
Freedom for me is the right to success.
Freedom is in the words that I speak.
Freedom is in the knowledge that I seek.
Freedom for me is in my poetry and in my songs.
Freedom for me is where my heart truly belongs.
Freedom is in the air that I breathe.
Freedom is in what I choose to believe.
Imagine a world
Evolution for all
Prime windows of pristine
Pure air to breathe
Water washed by the seas
Land’s fertile soils
Foods grown to eat
Millennia’s journey to get here
No fast-track to perfection
With life and death interwoven
An evolution of rejection.
Insanity: Yours or Mine?
When does insanity drive you insane?
Is it the madness, confusion or pain?
Who is responsible, who shoulders the blame?
Are they the sane ones who treat with disdain?
How do you work out the right from the wrong?
Is it on TV, computer or song?
Where does confusion end up in reason?
Why do the thoughts of a few end in treason?
Can you explain the point of unreason?
And when does a buffalo turn into a Friesian?
How does a silk purse come from a pig’s ear?
Can you make bravery turn into fear?
How can a good soul turn into bad?
When do you turn yourself happy from sad?
Do times of self-pity change into glad?
What does it mean for the sane to go mad?
When does a good thing become a problem?
Where is the line where you start to say sod them?
How does a stranger turn you to anger?
When does a young mind think about slander?
Why do the shouts of unreason from few
Start acting negatively, playing on you?
Is it the madness, the anger, aggression?
Where does it come from and out of what passion?
How does a lion turn into a mouse?
When can a caravan become a house?
If when the sunshine turns into rain
Then does the strawberry run into stain?
So when does one and one turn into two?
Which way does the water spin down the loo?
What is the difference between me and you?
How does the super end up in glue?
Now when does the start become the end?
And HOW MUCH MORE OF THIS BEFORE YOU GO ROUND THE BEND…………
Keep Each Other Safe
Stay at home, that’s what we’re told
Make sure that you stay apart
Two metres we’re told, to keep each other safe
No shops or work for many of us
Only supermarkets and essential services
This is what we’re told, to keep each other safe.
We are missing friends and family members too
We’ve got to stay away, you know the rule
Two metres apart, to keep each other safe
The NHS are doing their best to treat us
With no thoughts of their own safety
Only for emergencies, to keep each other safe.
It’s not just this country, it’s the whole world too
Nobody’s fighting, except to find a cure
We all keep our distance, to keep each other safe
So many people dying, our thoughts with families
The danger is slowing, with distancing a cure
Two metres apart, to keep each other safe.
Butler Law with Warren Hill residents a second time
And again with some forward-thinking uni students on board
But why are they living so right and we living so wrong?
I find myself scouring my history for a root and a cause
Primarily I link it to my deepest regrets
Like when I decided I didn’t want to go to school no more
And when those in my circle made me think it was acceptable
To kick human bodies like I was booting a ball
I regret leaving those I’ve physically hurt
With imagery and injuries which are gruesome and gory
But most of all, making an innocent family
Have to tap into their funeral insurance
Rightly my verdict and sentence made many euphoric
Like an all-time unforgettable musical chorus
I thought decisions of the judge and the jury were harsh
But looking at the Archibald they ruled with dutiful accordance
No amount of change can now erase the life sentence
This I ponder whilst contemplating the rule of law
Thinking of justice and its historical origins
Like even from the times of the Tudors before
I’m not glad to be a con but glad the time is now
I dread to think what Henry VIII would do to us all
Publicly behead us for our barbaric efforts
So an affected society could view and applaud
Not until the 20th century was death penalty abolished
You can label that a justice revolution of sorts
The life for a life philosophy was erroneous
And was one no longer the community endorsed
Plus psychologists started to argue
Homicidal case studies we should use and explore
Because many behaviours are unconscious
Well this was the concept that was boosted by Freud
I can vouch that most of us only became violent
Because we were violently abused as boys
I don’t say this to make excuses
I’m just giving the judgmental some food for their thoughts
Before most of us were even shaving
We were on trial being accused in courts
Which means we weren’t guided smartly
Or we were just obnoxiously rude to ignore
Which explains why when we switch our minds on in jail
We start to win stupid awards
I felt like Sir Mo Farah winning two golds at Koestler
And made Southbank successively, I’m a shoe-in this August
Others in Warren Hill are writing acclaimed plays
And studying at Open University moving things forward
The monsters in here are crushing the stereotype
With an unprecedented type of Isaac Newton force
Reminiscing on our past experiences of media
Deservedly or not we got screwed in reports
Tabloids’d say, “How low can these savages go
And let’s campaign for execution reform”
But last year The Times newspaper attended ‘The Citizen’
And wrote favourably of the acting and fight moves we performed
Our self-development’s been under construction for years
On foundations so impregnable we won’t stoop anymore
Joshua Rozenberg from BBC Radio 4 came in
To talk Learning Together and interview us on the course
It was then broadcasted live to the nation
12th of March, twenty nineteen, Tuesday at four
The listeners were pleasantly surprised
Saying, “Wow, those prisoners gave a beautiful discourse”
The governors concurred we came across really well
But we didn’t rise to the occasion, we just showed usual form
With an overwhelming workload we’re always exhausted
So please be so kind to excuse me if I yawn
I’ve been up rehearsing lines for most of the night
I promise, I haven’t been glued to any porn
Don’t you know I live on a therapeutic community?
Where such behaviour’s against the constitutional clause
And staff say for the degradation of women in those ways
We’ll have to explore the risk and receive punitive chores
Risk exploration entails group cross-examinations
Chores will mean several months spent hoovering the hall
My time should be otherwise used studying a degree
Upon release I’m keen to gain recruitment in sport
My plan B’s to work in hospitality and catering
Serving succulent shanks slowly stewed in a sauce
But the dream’s to attend engagements with the High Sheriff
Oh, I already do that, so maybe with some Dukes and Lords?
Maybe work with Amy, Jack and Ruth in Cambridge
Where the skies are nicer than the air pollution abroad
A man of variety I love English four seasons
Even though my bloodline’s Caribbean I’m not suited to warmth
Still, citizenship in Cambridge for me is unlikely
‘Cuz the reality is its only Luton I could afford
Where many kids now wanna be the real version of street fighter
The disturbing difference is, they’re doing Hyukens with swords
(That’s not lawful)
This place is like a leaching house
It eats away the soul
It feeds on heat and nourishment
And leaves you lost and cold
Never was I happier
Than when I wasn’t here
This place takes all the happiness
And leaves you only fear
This mighty nation shook
The population moaned and groaned
Me? I made a book.
I’m on self-isolation,
24-7 behind my door
‘Cos the virus is pandemic
So you can never be too sure.
Preaching social distancing
The meaning’s good and well
But me? I’m actually practising it
By not coming out of my cell.
Hand-washing clothes and strip-washing;
It’s not hard to do when you think
‘Cos long gone are the days of slopping out
I now have in-cell toilet and sink.
This thing could last for many a moon;
It won’t be short but long.
The only question that needs answering
is: Through hardship, will you stay strong?
New to life
Suffocation, no breathing.
I am only just born, I’m still teething.
Fresh off the shelf, still learning.
To be loved, I’m still yearning.
People thought the blues was dead
till they caught the quarantine blues
No one knows what to do
since they caught the quarantine blues
Netflix eyes and cancelled flights
Facetime lovers on lonely nights
We hope our families will be all right
through Covid quarantine blues
Care homes are sick with grief
Home-schooled kids make mischief
The biggest gangster in the streets
Who cares for stocks and shares?
Isn’t it time to stop and share?
Yet we don’t have a penny to spare
through Covid quarantine blues
Cupboards are shrinking just like budgets
Forgive (or forget) old grudges
My little bro’s selling chocolate fudge
cakes to make it through quarantine blues