Talk at HMP Holloway
I just did my first talk at a prison. I was invited to HMP Holloway, a women’s prison, by the library manager after she heard me talk at an Arts Alliance conference in London. Ben from the Koestler Trust talked for an hour before me, about how Koestler helps prisoners pursue various arts. I told the women my story, and credited the Koestler Trust for launching me as an author by way of their mentor scheme and the professional help provided by my mentor, Sally Hinchcliffe.
The room I spoke in was so packed that some women had to be turned away. Hearing about the conditions in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail system really shocked them. Excerpts from my book and blog about the cockroaches, gang violence, going on the toilet in front of strangers, and food provoked many disturbed looks, groans, and further questions. An officer later said that the women went back to their cells relieved that their conditions weren’t as bad as what they’d just heard about.
At the end, I said one of the most useful things I learned while in prison was to be able to replace negative addictions with positive ones. I’m still a risk-taking personality type who likes to get his adrenalin pumping, but these days, instead of wild partying for thrills, I do stuff like go to the gym for BodyCombat and karate, which put me on a natural high. It’s just a matter of directing your energy away from drugs and into things that won’t get you in trouble.
There was an aspiring writer in the audience who is about to be released from prison. I chatted with her at the end. She’s in the process of applying to be on Koestler’s mentor scheme, and it’s my hope that she’ll soon be sharing some of her stories with us here at Jon’s Jail Journal.
The library manager sent me an email after the talk:
Shaun - what can I say? There has been a real buzz about the talk this morning and everyone found you totally engaging. Thank you so much for making the effort to come and share your story with us. It was actually worse than I imagined! I think it was incredibly powerful what you said at the end about how you really feel that there's still that part of you that wants to take risks and this could so easily take you in the wrong direction. But that’s its possible to channel your energies into more positive ways. Huge thanks again - it was a great morning.
Click here for my previous mentor session.
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Shaun P. Attwood