I am one of the artists lucky enough to be working with Susan on her Statements in Semaphore project. I am a spoken word poet and a long-time women’s liberation activist. I’ve been committed to working with women in prison for the past eight years and although I always work with a feminist consciousness, I have never before been encouraged to work so openly with a feminist agenda.
What’s also new for me is the artistic collaboration with a woman visual artist I admire. It’s wonderful to have someone to be excited with, to be moved with, to strategise with. As a freelancer, and because of the need for complete confidentiality, my prison work is often a well-kept secret, shared only between me and the women who come to my workshops. I appreciate the fact that women in HMP xxxxxxxx will go public with their words and images and have them placed at the centre of the FiLiA conference and in a local gallery.
One reason I love working with women in prison is that the starkness of the situation means that niceties and pretence are stripped away and connections quickly made. And often because of life experiences women in prison seem to be in no doubt about the existence and workings of sexism and male domination and are quick to articulate their understanding.
The women that chose to take part in Susan’s project were open, smart, passionate – and great with words. From the flow-writing exercise on, ideas and emotions tumbled out and it was clear this was a group that could both express themselves individually and support each other to create group pieces.
I was excited to run a session in the afternoon with a second group of women but, as often happens in prison, arrangements change quickly and the opportunity didn’t materialise. In that situation, it’s always hard to imagine the disappointment and frustration of the women who are locked up for the afternoon when they had anticipated three hours of ‘liberation’ through creativity. I look forward to going back in and alongside the women creating a space within which to speak truths.