In 2007, I walked through the door to HMP Bullingdon. Despite coming through the ‘right door’ – the visitor’s entrance – I was nervous. Fresh out of university, I was going for my first job interview. Over the next year, I walked through that same door every weekday. It became normal to me. I spent my days asking prisoners deeply personal questions, ‘assessing’ them. And over time I thought I knew what prison was like.
Eventually I returned to university (to gain more ‘knowledge’ of what prison was like). Then in 2015 I got invited to a song-writing workshop at HMP Castle Huntly. Once again I was nervous walking in to a prison. Although I write every day – emails, reports, articles – the idea of song-writing filled me with horror. Very little creativity is required to empty an inbox.
Some of the men from Castle Huntly played guitar or had attended Vox sessions before or had already written beautiful songs. They were in familiar territory while I was stepping into the unknown. But two days spent brain-storming metaphors and rhymes and we started to get somewhere. Then, on the last morning I wrote a song I had never intended to write, about one night the week before my Dad died. In the midst of a prison with near strangers, I unexpectedly felt connected enough to share something deeply personal. The song has been played since at Vox gigs. I am proud, but I am also uncomfortable each time that song is played. Something private, something that makes me vulnerable, has become public property. Perhaps I am a tiny bit closer to knowing what prison is like after all.
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