'His imagination and feeling for the past is enormous, and his ability to get inside the skins of others impressive.' — Janet Walker in Envoi Magazine
'His work is personal, low tension and optimistic.' — Artscene
The endless monotony of ‘doing time’ is something truly known only to those who have experienced it. That said, prison authorities are keen to try and break that monotony, and indeed have targets on the number of hours that prisoners should spend on ‘purposeful activity’. Sadly, purposeful activity very often simply replaces one form of monotony with another. Whilst the days of sewing mailbags may be gone, prisoners continue to pack margarine, count nuts and bolts, and dismantle video cassettes for recycling. It’s far from challenging, and leads some prisoners to prefer staring at the walls of their cell than engaging in work.
Keeping prisoners occupied is only half of the challenge facing a prison system grappling with the cancer of overcrowding. The bigger test is engaging them in activity that stimulates the mind and encourages thought, reflections and creativity. The role of the arts in prison, and writing in prison in particular, is central to this.
Some say that prisons are microcosms of society. I disagree. Far from being a microcosm, a twenty-first century prison has become a repository for people that society doesn’t know what else to do with; warehouses for society’s problems. But they also contain a huge range of talent and ability. Witness the amazing artwork that is entered into the Koestler Awards scheme each year, or the designs for book covers used by the Forum on Prisoner Education, and this talent is easy to see. An Angle from Above is a further example of that raw talent that too often goes unrecognized.
An Angle from Above should be widely read and enjoyed: that is, after all, why it has been produced. But it should also serve as an example to other prisons, prisoners and prison managers of the value of prison writing and of ensuring that the talent in our prisons reaches further than the occasional display or performance inside the walls, and gets over the prison wall in a manner that would make Fletcher and his mates at HMP Slade proud.
Steve Taylor — Director, Forum on Prisoner Education