I received this book as a birthday present earlier this year. It’s an anthology of poems written by residents of HMP Edinburgh (Saughton) during lockdown amongst the COVID 19 Pandemic.
The book came out of a project by First Time Inside, who give support to those who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, life within the justice system in Scotland, particularly those going to prison for the first time. Ostensibly set up as a poetry competition, it was an initiative for those participating an opportunity to engage with a community wider than is normally the case.
It was a way for them to share their thoughts and experiences, develop skills and gain confidence which can help them to move forwards with their lives. As quoted in the introduction to the book, it was an initiative designed to challenge aspiration poverty whilst also tackling commonly held negative preconceptions of the prison populations in Scotland.
You can find further information on the Hidden Voices project on the First Time Inside website here. It includes poems from the anthology, letters and interviews with some of the contributors. It’s a huge eye-opener and really shows the importance of projects such as this.
If you only read one article on this website, have a look at what Paula, the Bubbly Poet has written, (her poem, about an encounter with a mouse, is one of my favourites from the anthology).
So what are the poems like? They are a mix of a wide range of emotions – raw, powerful, angry, sad, funny, and in many cases, with a strong element of hope for the future. Stylistically they vary greatly. Each voice is unique and, of course, fully authentic. There’s also a good mix of subject matter – as an example an absolutely brilliant poem about making yoghurt!
I’m going to share one of the other poems here – I hope it’s OK to do so.
1. The lockdown means visits every day,
from every thought you’ve worked so hard to keep away.
2. It’s praying every single night to a God no where in sight
that those you love will be alright.
3. It’s looking up at the nighttime stars through reinforced
iron bars while the world outside drifts ever far.
4. It’s loneliness and fear, vague answers that are unclear to questions
no one wants to hear.
5. It’s getting tea at 4 as if we’re 4 knowing we got 6 hours more to endure,
pacing the floor, bunker to door wondering whether
it goes on 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months or more.
6. It’s getting locked up for public protection then getting l
ocked up extra to protect us from the public!
7. It’s watching our brave doctors and nurses get praised
by politicians that spent years emptying their purses.
8. It’s waiting all day for just 5 minutes on the phone to
remind those we love they’re not alone.
9. It’s taking time to write a letter to say,
‘stay strong things will get better’.
10. It’s finding the inner drive to survive and thrive,
to not become defeated as day on day the routine’s repeated.
11. It’s finding strength you didn’t know was there,
accepting responsibility we all now share, finding new ways to show
we care and pushing the limits of what we can bear.
12. It is standing strong, it’s digging deep, it’s finding a little peace to sleep,
it’s focussing on ‘just today’ and all the other overused cliches.
13. It’s preparing to pick up the pieces and begin again and knowing,
no matter how long this last, it WILL END.
The above poem was one of the winners of the competition, but all the poems are compelling, and shine a light on life within the prison system here in the UK. I could easily share any of the other poems, but I’d rather you bought the book and help fund future work of this kind.
If you want to do so, please follow the link below.
Taking another quote the introduction of this book, It’s simply not good enough in 21st century Scotland that someone should hold the belief that prison is the best version of life they can hole for. Neither should we – living in a progressive society – conform to lazy, Victorian values which prescribe to punishment without compassion.
Lack of compassion is a huge issue in this supposedly caring country. We see the same attitude towards many other marginalised members of society, often encouraged by inflammatory comments by high profile politicians.
A number of years ago I was involved in setting up a series of poetry workshops in Haslar Immigration Removal Centre. The subjects these asylum seekers, (or ‘economic migrants’ as Priti Patel and others would label them), would want to write about? Home, family, friends, food, society. All which they have lost in flight from war, famine or persecution.
Then look at how certain MPs, Conservative mainly, describe the urban poor, or single parents, or travellers. Victorian values? This would be a step up form some of them.
Anyway, I digress. The Saughton Sonnets anthology really is an excellent collection, and one I highly recommend, and all sales go towards supporting a very good cause.
For more information on First Time inside go to;