Voices from Prison, an ebook and short film celebrating the writing of women in prison.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, women in prison became more invisible than ever, locked in cells for up to 23 hours a day, with visitation and education programmes suspended.
At the same time Clean Break was working on a National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project to document our 40 year history. Through our archive, we uncovered the original Voices from Prison; a project directed by Ann Mitchell and produced with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican in 1987. Knowing that 2020-2021 was an important moment in history when women in prison should not be overlooked, we took this project as inspiration to amplify their voices.
We invited women from all 12 prisons in England and Wales to submit creative writing pieces about prison life, prison during covid-19, women’s voices and hope. We assembled a panel reflecting Clean Break’s community and tasked them with selecting a range of pieces for an ebook which would reflect the breadth of experiences that were shared with us.
The pieces you will read in this booklet are emotional, honest and raw; some share a strong sense of anger and frustration at the system, others reflect on the impact of imprisonment on mental health – and there is certainly some humour and optimism in there as well. The pain of the last year in prison is very clear, and care needs to be taken when engaging with some of the pieces.
We were not able to include all the submissions we received but we want to thank everyone for participating in the project and acknowledge each woman’s bravery in sharing her words with us. We really hope you value reading the selection included here.
Voices from Prison - the film
In addition to the ebook, Clean Break's Joint Artistic Director, Anna Herrmann, worked with filmmaker Hannah Lovell and Sound Designer and Composer, Alice Boyd to capture a selection of the pieces on film.
The pieces were performed by five Clean Break Members: Gemskii, Funke Adeleke, Lisa-Marie Ashworth, Shona Babayemi, and Jennifer Joseph. The team filmed the pieces over two days, supplementing the new footage with archival material of Holloway Prison provided by ftwork.
The short film was first screened at a special online event with panellists Anna Herrmann, Laura Asare and Paula Harriott exploring the current situation for women in prison and the clear need for creativity.
We hope you enjoy the film.
Clean Break would like to thank Clare Barstow, Ellie Kendrick, Eno Mfon, and Esme Allman for selecting the pieces for this booklet; staff and residents at HMPs Askham Grange, East Sutton Park, Eastwood Park, Downview, Low Newton, New Hall, Send and Styal for submitting pieces; Katie Fraser at Women in Prison, Esther Baker at Synergy and Sarah Hartley at NOVUS for their advice, Mahala McGuffie at HMPPS, WayOut TV, Prison Radio and Lady Unchained for helping us get the word out; Ambreen Razia and Lorraine Maher for inspiring creativity; Funke Adeleke, Shona Babayemi, Lisa-Marie Ashworth, Jennifer Joseph, and Gemskii for performing these pieces; Hannah Lovell for filming them; Alice Boyd for her sound design; Eloise Poulton for her support; all the Clean Break staff; and all the women who participated in this project.