Jul 8 17

HMP Send


Toward the end of May 2017 I visited one last women’s prison to work with the women in a masterclass. To get there we travelled from our homes to a mainline London station which took me about an hour, then caught our train and set off on a journey of around an hour and half  to Woking, before travelling a further 6 miles by taxi to get to the gates themselves. Whilst this is not particularly interesting information in itself,  I want you to put yourselves now in the shoes of a family member, a child perhaps, who has to make that long journey whenever they visit their loved one. It isn’t just the time of course, but the cost.

I raise this because it is a peculiarity of the justice system at present that all women’s prisons are now outside of London (following the closure of Holloway – currently being occupied by the mighty Sisters Uncut), so all inmates from there will need to be moved out of the capital – there are several men’s prisons remaining in London (Brixton, Wandsworth, Pentonville, Belmarsh, Thamesmead, ISIS).

This distance and cost has an enormous detrimental effect on the lives of the inmates of all women’s prisons. Mothers lose regular contact with their children, and families that should be supported by the criminal justice system are in effect penalised.

The number of women in UK prisons has more than doubled since 2017, from 1,979 to 4,236. Custodial sentences are more regularly handed out to women for crimes that used to be dealt with by fines or community service – up by 17%.  The demographic and backgrounds of the women are alarming:

  • 46% report domestic violence (a conservative figure, in both sense of the word)
  • 53% report having lived through sexual, emotional or physical abuse as a child
  • 31% have spent time on local authority care as a child

See more facts here

HMP Send itself was a welcoming place. The officers brought me directly into the workshop, past posters advertising the session, and into a small and crowded room. Admittedly, a few of the women in the room weren’t entirely sure why they were there, but agreed to stay at least as long as my performance. They stayed until the end.

There is an alchemy that occurs in when groups of women meet, and it is that visceral energy that determines whether a masterclass will be successful or not. It’s more important than learning about metaphor and simile, personification or  imagery. It is something rooted, something unnameable.

We found that alchemy in these masterclasses, and what followed my performance was an outstanding display of warmth, chaotic creativity, and powerful connection.

Whenever I work in the criminal justice system with women, the same conversations arise; they are the same conversations women on the outside across the globe have every day. They spoke about child sexual abuse, about domestic violence, drug dependency, and the visceral loss of contact with their children. They spoke of strength.

Once they had begun to speak it was impossible to stop them. They not only drafted new poems, but dragged out old notebooks or logged into the education network to show me previously written material. Some of that work around Female Genital Mutilation you will find further on in this blog.

Strong Women

This is for strong women

for girls whose liberty is cut

whose two mouths are sewn together



this is for strong women whose ‘no’ is never known

for the dirty old men who have taken advantage of these young women

whose life is not yet known

this is for strong women who suffer the unknown

the prediction of who they are and who they become

this is for strong women who love life on the edge of time

the mothers whose children are taken from the comfort of their homes

the children whose life has been pre-judged

whose life is turned upside down

this is for strong women who have been taken into the unknown;

the struggle they suffer is so profound

this is for strong women who cannot fight

Let’s stand up and unite

this will make you strong whatever you go through

Just remember that:

‘What was weak will make you stronger’.

Miss Money Penny


She climbed out of her body

into a new body

to fit into a new life

as she leaves drugs and crime behind

now she is looking for a new soul to break free from the bad life

she looks into the mirror and sees that it’s rippling

steps through to fight her demons

not she is worth a million.

Nicola Tams

Natasha Jenkins

Fatima Kamara



Shame is a badge I wear

for onlookers to stand and stare

but none dare speak out

frightened they might catch my shout

the pin pricks in my heart

bleeding my skin apart

tearing at my soul

why am I no longer whole?

the motto is etched in my brain

seared at the edge of pain

I ride the waves of nausea

as my throat is gripped with fear.


The scars I wear with pride

I will no longer hide

now it’s time for the new me

being someone I want to be

the scales fall fro  my eyes

as I can see the lies

cleansed by sacred springs

I will witness the hope it brings

it’s time to catch a breath

and move on from what’s left

Clare Barstow


I See Inside

I see…deserted buildings and still water

dawn catching the far corner

lighting up a doorway


I hear…silence, a pause

a space between life

reflecting life itself


I touch…stagmant water

its icy chill and torpid dankness

grips my throat


I smell…an odour of past industry

desertion, a failed past

an echo of slavery


I taste…dry, acridness

a longing for a cool glass

clear water with ice


I imagine…a shadow of Victorian times

eight year old children

working 16 hour days

Clare Barstow


Mamas from the Inside

My dearest,

I am not there, but deep inside you are always here

I have always felt your warmth within, there’s so much more but where do I begin?

I’ve always loved you and I always will, but there is a missing piece of you all just waiting to be fitted in

Love like no other, ever since the first I laid eyes on you

The greatest emotion a mother could ever experience or express

Not because mommy is away for all her mistakes; I’m notable to love you in any other way or any less

a ever so bond strong, being inside this room seems to be dragging along

Thinking, when will it come for us all to sing along?

I hope and pray for that bright sunny day where we can all just run around and play

Just stay strong and try to be the best you can, because each night when I close my eyes

that great pain from not being by your side is a very heavy load I cannot seem to hide

Mamma will always be in your hearts as you are in mine, my heaven sent angels, always

and forever:

my three shooting stars that will and always shine.

Tawana Blake


My Mirror Speaks

You look up, you see yourself walking through your oain

on the surface everything seems fine

you breath strength from the air pushing your past behind


You need to heal

old pain, old scars you have forgotten about, deep down you can still feel

It doesn’t help to keep lying to yourself

covering up open wounds and stacking unresolved issues on people‘s shelves

on the contrary, you feel other’s pain

so you end up carrying others on the recovery lane

you naturally put other’s first and that is just you

but in order to gain balance and survive

you have to allow yourself to thrive


You’re reflecting and that’s how it all comes out

Because it’s unfair to you to hold it all in and keep putting your hand over your mouth

the positive outlook you have on life isn’t how it all began

Don’t just give up or hold yourself back with one hand

just remain strong, it’s only a plan

manufactured for a particular land.

Tawana Blake A6368DQ