Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Arts Council Cuts and Writers in Prisons

So, Arts Council England have decided to withdraw funding from the Writers in Prison Network.

I'm a Writer in Residence at a prison. Let me tell you about today. 

Late this afternoon, someone who has never engaged with education - he's in his late 50s and dyslexic - said he wanted to join the writing group. Earlier on, a group of people who were quite apprehensive about Shakespeare - all bar one had studied him before - read through the beginning of The Tempest. A very dynamic and impassioned discussion followed about the moral compass of Prospero. I couldn't get a word in edgeways at one point. They asked for the writing workshop to be cancelled next week so they could continue with the play.

Arts Council England should see the work we do. They should meet the people we work with. They should hear their stories. If you've been told all your life you're thick or daft and if ADHD is really just another word for naughty, then you've got nowhere to go but down and down and down. The Writers in Prison Network offers ladders up. I've seen some climbing this week. I've also seen people helping other people to climb. Big Society exists. In prisons. A pity our government doesn't follow the example of some of the people we work with.

The current round of spending cuts will only continue that downward spiral. As one of the officers said to me today - 'This government is only looking after the rich and privileged. Only rich kids will be able to go to university. Only rich kids can get on.' He and I were talking about the moral compass, too. How can cutting the EMA for low income families ever help any young person get on?

One of the prisoners said to me this week he saw children get knocked back time and time again when he was young. Some poor kid would get called thick or simply dropped and left to flounder and then a bit of the personality would get chipped away and then the shine would start to go and then the next thing you knew was they'd be setting their sights on a dull, low-paid job or turning to crime. And what about other kinds of damage? Self-harm, substance abuse, suicide and depression. I wouldn't mind betting that the rates of self- harm are already rising under this government.

Personally, I think we should be putting funds into preventative programmes. Who's picking up the pieces before children drop out of school, before they even get to school, perhaps? Who's offering quality opportunities for young people who find school learning environments too intimidating or too noisy? 

Cut backs serve nobody. The long term damage will take years to put right. We need a big government with a big heart. The Con-Dems are hardly that.

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3 comments:

  1. I agree Pat, with all you say. So sad this funding is going. Before the funding finishes I'd love to come and see you work in action with prisoners. Would that be allowed?

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  2. All is not lost. WIPN are exploring new sources of funding and there have been a few expressions of interest. WIPN has been up and running for 19 years. It has an excellent reputation and very high standards. I suppose the question is - how much money is out there and who can afford to shell out. But we remain optimistic. It's the only way to be. No point giving up at the first hurdle. As for coming to see my work, you would have to have MoJ clearance. Every visitor is security vetted. I don't even know your identity, so I wouldn't at this stage say yes! Thankyou for your support. There will be an online petition you may want to add your name to. It would be greatly appreciated. And, of course, letters to the press are always welcome. You could also ask your MP to table a question to Kenneth Clarke asking him what provision there will be for prisons should WIPN cease to exist.

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  3. I feel your sort of work is terribly important and I will add my name to the petition.

    I am also interested in working in hospices using creative writing.

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