Earlier this year, Clean Break and It’s Not Your Birthday But… joined together to launch Write 2 Connect, a letter writing project connecting women through the prison walls with women in the community.
At the end of the project, Artist and Filmmaker Chuck Lowry worked with our Members to create a film to celebrate Write 2 Connect and the words of comfort, hope and inspiration shared from women to women. The film was originally created for Agenda and MIND's #womensidebyside conference.
There are currently 3,424 women in prison (as of 24 April 2020), many of whom are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day and whose visits, which can be a vital lifeline, have been suspended to stem the spread of the virus. This project has been devised in response to Covid19, and our desire to reach out to some of the most vulnerable in our society at this time.
For two weeks in May 2020, women from every corner of the UK and from all walks of life sent letters with words of inspiration, hope and solidarity to women in prison. The letters were about finding comfort in words and nature, things that inspired them and words of connection and solidarity. They all shared something personal and offered hope--a gift which everyone can afford, and which can remind us in difficult moments like the one we currently face, that we are connected, we are part of a wider community and we are valued.
Over 200 letters were delivered to HMP Downview. The women in HMP Downview then wrote their own letters in response which were passed on to women accessing services at women's centres.If you would like read some more of the letters from the project please click on this link
In 2016, over one hundred years after it first opened its gates, HMP Holloway said goodbye to its last female prisoner and closed the final chapter of a famously controversial history. It has since been sold for over £80m and will be levelled to make way for 1,000 new affordable homes. Until redevelopment begins, HMP Holloway remains a scar of the North London skyline, a reminder for many of a justice system which maligned and failed women. Within its now deserted corridors remain fragments of stories which will soon be lost to history, but which remain very much alive for the women who were once held there.
Earlier this year, five Clean Break Members who each served time in HMP Holloway, envisioned such possibilities in a collaborative short-film project with documentary film maker Clare Richards. Part of the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) and created by Ft’work in collaboration with Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, Without Walls explores the experiences of our Members in Holloway, the impact it has had on their lives and the tensions caused when social and physical boundaries collide. Giving a voice to those who are often marginalized and silenced by society, the project sought to involve women in the conversation surrounding penal reform and asks them to share their own ideas about how our criminal justice system could better support women who offend.
In a series of hard-hitting, poignant, and at times funny conversations, Members discuss the harsh realities of prison life; from the claustrophobia of confinement in shared cells, antagonistic staff, nauseating sounds, daily stampedes just to get clean and the debilitating effects that prison has on a person’s state of mind. Each woman shared the sentiment that confinement within prison has far more detrimental affects than positive, and that alternative rehabilitative systems must be put in place.
So, what is the alternative? Our Members, and other advocates for reform, such as Women in Prison, and the Prison Reform Trust, pose women’s centres as the logical answer. Women’s centres are a sensitive and holistic approach to rehabilitation, providing support for mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and employment to break the cycle of deprivation and offending. A 2015 report by the Ministry of Justice found that rates of re-offending were reduced among women who had been given the support of a women’s centre, versus those who had not, while an impact study conducted by the Centre for Welfare Reform, discovered that all participants felt an improvement in their lives as a whole.
The case for women’s centres is clear. Holistic, trauma-informed approaches to female offending have far more positive results than our current carceral system. Yet with only 50 centres of this kind in the U.K, more investment is needed to ensure vulnerable women get the support they deserve. Women in Prison’s #OPENUP campaign is calling for the reduction of the women’s prison population and the creation of healthier, safer communities for all.
You can find out more about the Clean Break Member's programme here.
“Every hug, every time he needs me and I’m not there, every time he’s scared..."
These are the words of a mother in prison in a new film Keeping Mum, commissioned by Barnardo’s and researched, developed and created by York St John University Prison Partnership Project in association with Clean Break. Keeping Mum was based on extensive research, including time spent working with and listening to the experiences of mothers at HMP Askham Grange.
Keeping Mum highlights how the imprisonment of women with children can often feel as much of a punishment for the children as it is for the mother, especially considering that, depending on the familial circumstances, a mother can sometimes serve a whole sentence without seeing her children. The reflections in the film also highlight how the strain of living without their Mum for extended periods of time can affect a child’s mental health as well as their relationships with other family members.
Keeping Mum was conceived and creatively produced by Rachel Conlon, (Senior Lecturer in Applied Theatre at York St John University and Director of the Prison Partnership Project), performed by Clean Break actors, co-directed by Imogen Ashby, formally our Head of Engagement and was written by playwright Laura Lomas who we worked with on the 2016 B!RTH Festival submission These Four Walls and our production Joanne.
If you would like any further information on the project please contact Rachel Conlon from York St John University - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today our education programme launches Clean Break's Theory of Change. Developed over a number of years, the document examines the path of our work from needs to activities to outcomes to impact.
The document came about through a desire for us to better understand and articulate our work and demonstrate a clear link between the activities we do and the outcomes and impact we aim to achieve.
Anna Hermann, Head of Education at Clean Break comments "the process of analysing our activities and identifying the intermediate outcomes has been hugely valuable".
She went on to say; "It is important to view this document as one which articulates our understanding of what we do and how we measure our success at this moment in time. Our work will not stand still."
To view the complete document click here.
The 2016 Longford Prize has been awarded to the Donmar Warehouse, Clean Break and York St John’s University’s Prison Partnership Project for work carried out over the last 4 years in women’s prisons and as part of the Donmar’s all-female Shakespeare Trilogy
Clean Break has worked alongside The Donmar Warehouse at each stage of its all-women, prison-set Shakespeare trilogy. All three productions have starred Clean Break patron, Dame Harriet Walter alongside performances from graduates of Clean Break’s education programme.
In this final year of the trilogy, Clean Break collaborates with the Donmar on a project that sees a group of young women working with both companies to explore the links between the lives of Shakespeare’s characters and the lives we live today, creating a brand new piece of theatre by blending Shakespeare’s text with their own words. The programme will climax by giving students an opportunity to perform their own original work on the Donmar stage on 2 December.
The Longford Prize recognises the contribution of an individual, group or organisation working in the area of penal or social reform in showing outstanding qualities in the following areas: humanity, courage, persistence and originality.
The Longford Prize is awarded annually by a prize committee on behalf of the trustees and patrons of the Longford Trust. From 2016, the prize winner will receive £5,000, thanks to sponsorship from The McGrath Charitable Trust, founded by Kevin and Kate McGrath. The awards' ceremony takes place as part of the annual Longford Lecture on Wednesday 16 November. The Longford Prize is organised in association with The Prison Reform Trust, for more information please visit www.longfordtrust.org.
Celebrating Success was a research project commissioned by Clean Break in partnership with Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Funded in 2015 by CreativeVouchers, a scheme run by CreativeWorks London, the researchers, Dr Selina Busby and Dr Nicola Abraham, focused on the impact of Clean Break’s education programme on women entering the creative and cultural industries. The research was published in 2015 following a special photography exhibition, The Changing Face of the Arts, which was on view at the Free Word Centre July-October 2015. The exhibition featured a series of portraits of graduates involved in the research by artist Tracey Anderson.