Dawn of a New Adventure (Part 5)
Well, I’m going on nine months in London, and my pie in the sky keeps getting bigger and bigger. Pleasingly so. I’ve been doing what Dr. O advised back at Tucson prison: make haste slowly.I’ve been getting out and about in London doing presentations and attending fund raisers for two charities that help prisoners, Koestler and Prisoners Abroad. They both helped me over the years, and have played significant roles in supporting me as a writer.
On November 19th, I attended a pledge dinner for Prisoners Aboard at a restaurant called The Orangery in Holland Park. There was an ex-prisoner at each table of guests and donors. I shared my story to give the attendees a better understanding of the ways in which Prisoners Abroad helped me and my family.
When I was a prisoner, Prisoners Abroad provided me with literature, including their own newsletter, and English newspapers the other prisoners fought over to be next in line to read. Literature is golden in prison, even old newspapers. They provided me with freepost envelopes, which I used to get some of my blogs out. They entered my short story in the competition that ended up getting me on Koestler’s mentor program, which has transformed my prospects as an author. They also offered massive psychological support to my parents, especially my mother who had a nervous breakdown after my arrest. Hearing how Prisoners Aboard provide food and medication in prisons such as Panama where you don’t eat or see a doctor unless you have money, or how they’re helping English citizens on death row in Thailand where they’re chained to a wall, reinforces how lucky I was, and what a great job Prisoners Aboard do.
The key speaker was Harriet Walter, a Tony Award-nominated British actress. Her uncle is Sir Christopher Lee, the actor perhaps most famous for playing Dracula. His vampire movies had such an influence on my childhood, I can only wonder if the comparisons of me and Nosferatu by a certain American newspaper stem back to them.
On November 18th, I spoke twice at a conference put on by the Arts Alliance (a network of arts organisations working in social justice settings). Each member organisation had its own room to present its work. I was in Koestler’s room, sharing my story with an emphasis on how Koestler’s mentoring scheme has played a major role in helping launch me as a writer.
In our room, Ben from Koestler started with a general presentation of what the mentoring project involves and why and how Koestler is running it. I explained my story, and talked about my mentoring relationship with Sally Hinchcliffe, and then answered questions. As most of the attendees work in prisons it was a captive crowd of interested and sympathetic parties. The room filled up so much for the afternoon talk, we had a second audience outside of the door.
In October, I attended the opening of the Koestler Art Exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall. This is where last year I got to read my short story that won first prize and first meet the Koestler people. I was a judge this year, and ended up reading out some of the winning poetry.
There were six female prisoner curators there on day release. One of them started crying when she was being interviewed. She said being a curator at such a big event had put meaning into her life. Even a prison governor got on the stage and commended Koestler. Can you imagine Sheriff Joe Arpaio doing that in America? Arts for prisoners. To hell with that!
Koestler is one of the rare organisations supporting prisoners in the arts. The mentoring scheme I’m so fortunate to be on provides the most intensive help for prisoners in the arts that I’m aware of. It’s a pity America has little to offer like that.
Also last month, I attended a Prisoners Abroad function at Lambeth Palace, where I got to mingle with an audience that included the Archbishop of Canterbury. According to a Quaker couple there, the ABC (as I like to call him, and why not if Two Tonys can call Arthur Schopenhaur the Schop?) is the guy who sits down after the Queen at dinner functions. He spoke eloquently about the work Prisoners Abroad does, and struck me as man of great intelligence.
Regarding my presentations to schools, I only managed to squeeze one in at the end of the last school year, but six bookings have come in so far for this school year. The next one is at Guildford High School for Girls, just a ten-minute walk from where I live. When the book comes out, I expect these bookings will surge.
Media attention seems to be heating up again. The Guardian was the first newspaper to write about Jon’s Jail Journal, and they’re about to run a story about my prison experience. As is, la Repubblica, the second largest newspaper in Italy. I’ve also got an interview going in Not Shut Up Magazine, read by prisoners in the London region.
My jail memoir, Green Bologna and Pink Boxers, was sent to publishers a few weeks ago. It takes them a few months to read it and to express interest, so I’m hoping to report a breakthrough on that front soon.
Gym classes are my latest addiction and pretty much the extent of my social life. I’m doing up to thirteen a week, ranging from yoga to karate. My favourite is BodyCombat. It’s the closest thing to raving for adults who don’t want to do drugs. I’m basically jumping around to dance music for one hour, kicking, punching, getting hyper-hyper with up to sixty other workout freaks, mostly women, in a massive room facing a mirrored wall. It makes me sweat so much I drink up to two litres of water. If you give it your all, you can burn 1000 calories in one hour. I brought my friend and the man I live with, Mike Hotwheelz, and now he’s addicted too. I’m also working my way up the belts of karate. I go in for the blue one next month.
And finally, my sister has her own website now. Click here for it.
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Shaun P. Attwood