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LSW: The Prison Project -
A Dream Expands

LSW: Prison Project - An Inter-Active Interchange Illustrating Immediate Rewards for Both Inmates and Performing Artists:-

'The LSW: Prison Project has proven to be a act of great joy. Launched on 25th November 1998 at HMP Woodhill, the gratification reaped by both inmate and performing artist alike within the active interchange format cannot be calculated in cyberspace. Monthly sessions continue at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes while regular programmes are planned beginning in February 2000 at The Mount in Hemel Hempstead, HMP Bullingdon in Bicester, Oxon and HMP Feltham for Young Offenders.  Other ad hoc programmes (e.g., HMP Lewes) will be added where resources allow.  The need is enormous.  Without exception, each LSW Prison Project session has thus far proven as enriching for the artist as for the offender. Southern Arts have kindly underwritten some of the costs of the original on-going HMP Woodhill Programme in a Partnership Scheme, but if I (Bruce Wall) had to collect bottle caps ( - and, who knows, it may come to that - ) this project will go forward. Any investment however small is infinitesimal recompense given the vast array of thrilling moments that serve as the LSW:Prison Project's coinage.

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HMP Lewes: A Moment's Inspiration
I shall not easily forget one session at HMP Lewes.  The prison itself is a vast solitary labryinth of  Victorian architecture, the founding stone being marked '1852'.  An actor might be forgiven for thinking that he had strolled onto a film set for 'Feasting with Panthers'.  Certainly I imagined that Oscar Wilde must have ventured on like journeys in a similar space.   At the end of the large corrider of cell blocks, which themselves towered up to heaven and were glimpsed through numerous levels of protective netting, the LSW team of ten professional actors were led into a large, white room: The Education Block.  The sound of twenty nine young offenders, jeering each other on, greeted us before we had seen a single face.  This was not ideal planning.  One would have liked to start by meeting the boys, young offenders all between the ages of sixteen and twenty one, as they came through the door, one by one.   Twenty nine were simply too many.  A call had gone out on an excerise round by one of the officers:  'Do you want to do this Shakespeare thing?'  We were an excuse for an afternoon's break from a cell.  A break from boredom unrelenting.   I am reminded of a WitSling written by a young offender at our beloved HMP Woodhill, a vastly different set-up from that at HMP Lewes:-

That day will come.   On that stand you will stand.
Hear the law's swift word.  See the judge's hand.
Ta'en from the dock, find judgement in your cell.
One bar from the next will hold in that hell
Boredom.  Boredom.  Fatigue.  Noise and Boredom.
Appetite from Judgement did Stand Aloof.

'Watch out for Ian,' one officer pronouned as we walked through the door, 'He's disruptive'.  I am very glad that I had a chance to go to HMP Lewes.  Indeed, I was very glad of the chance to meet Ian. 

Ian was a slight boy looking all of eleven, although he must have been legally at least sixteen.  He could neither read nor write. When it came time for the WitSlings segment, having been forewarned, I spent my time with him.  I left the other LSW members to deal with the masses and their own literary efforts as best they might, not wanting to incur any unnecessary 'disruption'.  Two boys decided to have a competition to see who could hit the other the hardest.  There was not an officer in sight and the doors were locked.   Fortunately an incident was avoided by the creative skill of the combined LSW membership. 

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I read out the lines of the day's text to Ian until he found one he felt he could personally respond to.  He was slow to relate, perhaps through fear more than anything else.  We were strangers in a strange place, after all.  However, once Ian sensed that I was on his side he ceased to be tentative.  We discussed several options based on the idea he had proffered.  I wrote the lines down as he beated the meter against his heart and, together, we began to form the text for his WitSling.  I promised Ian I would help him read it out when it came to his turn.  He seemed excited by that prospect.  Arriving at the last of the four original lines, Ian suddenly got up and walked away. I waited, but he did not return.  'He's lost interest', I thought.  I turned and moved on, trying to assist another of the twenty nine inmates.  Many now were sharing their own offerings alongside those of the LSW team.  Suddenly - and it was of a sudden - there was harmony.  As I listened to another young man read what he had proudly composed, a hand tugged at my jacket. I turned around. It was Ian. He stood silently for what seemed an age, perhaps forty five seconds, then - bravely beating the stresses out upon his heart - he suddenly, - haltingly, -  delivered his final line in perfect iambic. He glowed.   He knew he'd masted the trick.
Later, during Clumps (interactive Shakespeare),Mark Stevenson, a gifted LSW team member, braved  the centre of the circle exclaiming ‘It is the east and Juliet is the sun’ to another fervent LSW Juliet, Rachel Morris.  Ian was, by this point, standing next to Rachel.  (Women always have pride of place in  all male bastions.)  At the end of Mark's first line as Romeo, Ian reached out and innocently placed his arms around Rachel.   Extemporaneously, he responded:  ‘No. You can’t have her she is mine’. The crowd laughed. Line for line with ease through the entire speech Ian matched Mark exactly with an original response in exact iambic.  At the end, he turned and simply whispered to Rachel: ‘Was that o.k?’  When Rachel nodded yes, he beamed. wpeF.jpg (16860 bytes)

At the end of that session at HMP Lewes, I watched proudly as Ian went up, quite independently, and shook the hand of every LSW member, personally thanking them for coming.  Saving me for last, he  asked if he could have 'some more Shakespeare'.  I knew he would not be able to read it himself, but I was delighted.  I handed him a collection of speeches.  In my heart I wanted to believe that Ian had tasted a moment's incentive to share in the rich language which was his heritage.  For this moment at least, he had found his confidence; that all important courage of his own conviction. 

Ian had not been 'disruptive':  Ian had been engaged. 

HMP Woodhill: Another Moment's Inspiration
A few weeks later, during another Clumps segment at our beloved HMP Woodhill, a far cry from the physical decay which defines HMP Lewes, LSW member Katie Cox took another inmate, Chas, a delightfully animated Jamaican, into the centre of a similar circle intent upon sharing her own joys in Shakespearean intercourse.  The journalist, Mick Kitson, touches upon both the need and value of such collaborations in the first of several Milton Keynes on Sunday articles on the Prison Project.  Katie launched into a wonderfully vivacious rendition of Tranio when Chas abruptly stopped her, replying with a slice of Antony from Julius Caesar.  Everyone stood amazed.  Calling out for ‘Cheers’, Chas demanded: ‘Cries of Victory’. The attending crowd, interspersed with offenders and LSW Team Members, willingly obliged.  

As he gained in momentum, Chas led all in the punctuation of punching fists into the air. Chas owned the language. He owned it proudly.   He became the embodiment of a great warrior.  Shakespeare was rightly his. The battles defined could honestly be said to have been honestly won.  Fear played no part in the joy of Chas' delivery. At the conclusion, the cheers by all around him were enriched with awe. Chas had made us a team. Katie touchingly responded with a moving fragment of Imogen. Her heart and our minds had been stunned into delight.

Perhaps I alone should not have been so very surprised.  At the conclusion of the previous Woodhill session, Chas, having been largely silent throughout that time, approached me and, once again, asked if he might have some Shakespeare to take back to his wing. I presented him with a copy of a packet which I had made up as an exercise but which we, sadly, not found the time to pursue.   That speech had been in it.  Notwithstanding, Chas' work spoke for itself - proudly. 

Similar effects are echoed in Mick Kitson's second article for Milton Keynes on Sunday in which he gives his own perspective after having had the opportunity to attend one of the now multitudinous LSW: Prison Project sessions at HMP Woodhill.  It also is our hope in the future on this website to be able to include clips from the BBC feature which was filmed on the LSW: Prison Project at our beloved HMP Woodhill.   Seeing and hearing are very much akin to believing.  Still, believe you must.   Faith is key to this vital experiential interchange.  The rapt focus of the HMP Woodhill inmates ensure that it is an interchange on both ends.  

Many exciting monthly sessions have now been held at Woodhill.  In a new incentive to mark the beginning of our second year of Prison Projects, I am going to seek to encourage a series of diary entries so that a wider variety of perspectives of other participants, (other, that is, than my own), can be clearly heard and relished.  The first of these can be found at the end of this link.  Enjoy.

HMP Feltham: A Moment's Inspiration

When the extraordinary Gemma Jones graced LSW with a visit in the Fall of 1999 she offered a thrilling session on 'Emotional Reality' in Shakespeare.  Utilising one of the exercises adopted by Peter Brook in his now legendary production of Midsummer Night's Dream, several lines from a short segment of the play were selected, telescoping the whole into a simple core from which the performers, through their own interactive 'emotional realities' had to fill in the blanks.  It worked a treat, as much in the Art Room as in the airy HMP Feltham Chapel where this particular session was held.  The boys (16-21) were entranced instantaneously. 

In another segment offered that same afternoon, I presented a piece of verse, selected randomly from the canon, and asked a gifted LSW: Prison Project Member, Helen Tennison, to respond with an original line of equal length for each of the Shakespearean ones.  I had got the idea for this particular undertaking from the incredibly enriching extemporaneous outpourings during Clumps at HMP Woodhill.  Vividly I remember one afternoon when a gifted actress from the LSW: Prison Project, Melissa Pyper, took one offender, Paul, into the centre of a circle and addressed him as Lady Macbeth.  Without knowing the play, Paul responded without hesitation in such language as he believed the character she was addressing might utilise.  That intercourse, much as Helen's responses, elicited oral immediacy.  Vocal votes of keen respect exploded from the chaps as Helen concluded.  The boys' own ears had been engaged in this game.   

When I asked for volunteers for a similar pursuit from amongst the Feltham brethren, one offender's hand, that of Robert, immediately shot up.  Robert was courage personified in a world where all too many are encouraged to be correctly cowed. Robert sparkled chivalrously in his witty responses of immaculate length.  At the end of his generous outpourings his crowd of  peers crowed their approval.   An encore (with a fresh root piece) was demanded to like return.  At the end of the session, Robert told me that the experience had made up his own mind to pursue a place at Drama School pending his release.  He failed to mention, as I later learnt, that he had already written a radio play which had been performed on BBC's Radio 4.  Talents such as these must be encouraged wherever they may be found.  Confidence is, after all, ALL.  The positive convictions each of us holds so dear to our hearts had, at some point or other, to be learnt.  Seeds of confidence here, much as outside in the Sunday LSW 'Gyms for the Bard', enrich through an active sense of dramatic play; An intimate display based on the life-enriching rigours inherent in interactive performance.  We all have to learn to strive.  We all have to learn to hold our heads up high.  Hopefully the LSW: Prison Project can simply be another tool in the path towards helping to define and develop that armoury for these young offenders.     


HMP Woodhill: One Man's Inspiration Continues to Inspire
That the LSW: Prison Project has prospered is largely responible to one man, an in-mate who took part in the inaugural LSW: Prison Project sessions at HMP Woodhill before his release.  His name is Peter Bradbury.   His letter following our very first session on 25th November 1998 speaks for itself and has been called by LSW Guest Janet Suzman, esteemed actress and director, 'solid gold'.  I first remember Peter when he handed me a poem he had written for his GCSE's in English which he had completed whilst at HMP Woodhill.  He did so, as he does everything, simply; with a knowing quietude.  At the conclusion of the second session, Peter again offered another poem, 'Phantom Macbeth' which told the story of Shakespeare's play as if from the mouth of a spectre returning to face his own mortality.   I am pleased to report that Peter is now happily ensconced in a training programme which will benefit his writing skills. Frequently I continue to receive sonnets and other verse forms that Peter is exploring with, as well as a beautifully penned response from the perspective of Lady Macbeth to bookend his previous work.  Were there no other, -- and without question there are -- Peter Bradbury would stand proudly as living testament of the value of the LSW: Prison Project.

From A Rogue's Gallery to A Brave New World


The conviction generated by the professional theatrical community on the LSW Sundays is here, through the LSW: Prison Project, enhanced by the coming together of two seemingly disparate bodies. The enormous generosity rent by the humility of the vast Shakespearean tool glues hope into the one, and faith into the other.   Together it forms a directly mutual union. For further information, should such be desired, or for details on adopting a prison or sponsoring an LSW: Prison Project session, please send an e-mail or contact us through the information found on Contacts.  A gift, I promise, no matter in what form, nor how small, will be returned to all in manifold manners.  Of that I promise.

I can think of no better way to conclude this web page than by offering the first sonnet penned by Peter Bradbury post his release.  Peter noted that it was "in immediate response to the encouragement offered by the LSW: Prison Project":

How oft I count the clock that tells the time
Pondering how I wasted blackened hours
Pulling syntax and grammar into rhyme
‘stead of pursing more fruitful bowers.
In darkest hours of long, frigid, slow night
When sleep evades my mind for far too long,
Tossed; turned, I set to put my scansion right
Until interrupted by the clock’s rude song.
Perhaps time never meant to be split open
Into divisions of hour and metre?
They imprison man. They cause him to scratch
on minds by implicit laws unwritten.

Should I rest? No. I’d not so read and write.
Verse needs that light be cast in blackest night.


LSW: The Prison Project -
Helping Dreams Expand


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