As we approach the start of two new projects namely Preston Prose which is a collaboration between ourselves and the Lancashire Violence Reduction Network as well as Baw Bards – the true inspiration for todays blog – which is a collaboration between First Time Inside/Hidden Voices and four Scottish prisons, it seemed a good moment to pause and reflect a little on the rollercoaster journey so far.

It seems an eternity ago, whilst in reality it’s only been a few Covid ridden months, that a concept which had been conceived a little over two years ago whilst sat in a small locked room with darkness stealing the very breath from a suffocated soul, kicked off in earnest.

After a brief introduction to the world in the Boys from the Bar-L ( a collaboration with Glasgow charity Sisco) the Hidden Voices concept and First Time Inside risked a call out on social media to ask if anyone would be interested in helping to judge a poetry competition in HMP Edinburgh.

The time, between drafting that first tweet and summoning the courage to press the return button, was – to steal  a cliche from todays theme – similarly paused in the same way the referees watch seems to go into reverse when your team are hanging on to a lead in the final moments of a football game.

When the final whistle eventually blew, the positive response when it came was mildly overwhelming and entirely humbling. Around forty people/organisations had committed to participating in a new initiative within three days without really knowing the details beyond what had been explained in that character limited tweet. And in that instant Hidden Voices and Saughton Sonnets were really born. Many more have since joined our Hidden Voices community and/or expressed an interest in doing so in future projects.

In that regard we are currently discussing potential new projects in Lancashire, London and Melbourne, yep Melbourne Australia who would have thought. The irony that it takes doing work outside of Scotland to fund the work we so desperately want to see done in Scotland is perhaps a conversation for another day.

The community that has emerged from that first tweet to the point of writing today fills this author with immense pride and offers great hope that there is a wider will to see change happen. I am confident that each and every one of those actively participating know exactly how important they are to the project and are also individually wholly aware of my appreciation and admiration for their input.  A growing community drawn from all walks of justice from QC to LE, from the literary world, academia and third sector all under a single Hidden Voices banner born out of a simple operating equation 5 X C = R.

For those, as yet unfamiliar with this simple human equation our 5C’s or Hidden Voices pillars are Community, Connection, Compassion, Collaboration and Communication all of which when woven together result in our very own R number Relationships.

As we approach both Preston Prose and Baw Bards it is exciting to note that we now have poets from our Saughton Sonnets initiative who, having been released from prison, are joining our Hidden Voices community for our new projects. A community of equals first imagined by lived experience, now created, coordinated and led by the same lived experience.

What followed during that first major project, if you like, Saughton Sonnets – so generously supported by the Faculty of Advocates – has simply served to further inspire and fuel an intense passion to contribute, in any small way, to narrative change here in Scotland and perhaps beyond. Saughton Sonnets through a demonstration of talent, humanity and collective will shattered for some those lazy, carelessly considered preconceptions. Moving forward we aim to shatter those preconceptions in many.

In that regard it was wonderful to have BBC Scotland Radio do a five minute piece on the Sonnets and it is even more encouraging that they have already been in touch to let us know that they’d like to do something around Baw Bards too.

Rather than revisit the Saughton Sonnets experience any more from this authors perspective I’ll relinquish the floor to a few others who are better placed to pass comment from an objective stand point.

Firstly, the cabinet secretary for justice Humza Yousaf who said;

“Whilst reading some of the work from the series, I was incredibly moved and impressed by the quality of the work of the residents in HMP Edinburgh. There is no doubt that this project and use of poetry and prose has played such a positive role in helping a number of individuals express the impact of this challenging time on them.

I am aware that the Scottish Prison Service have also valued this project and proactively highlighted the impact on social media. I look forward to to continuing to follow the journey of the Hidden Voices campaign and once it is safe to do so, I would be keen to see some of the work first hand within establishments.

I would like to thank you for your dedication to this project and for giving the people in custody a platform. I wish you all the best.”

Secondly, governor David Abernethy of HMP Edinburgh commented ;

“I just wanted to put on record my admiration for what you have done with the “Hidden Voices” platform and in particular the partnership with HMP Edinburgh, now known all over social media as “Saughton Sonnets”. I had no idea when we first spoke in April/May that it would take off in the way it did.

As you and I know, a few of the poets have seen being part of this project as a transformational experience. They are seeing themselves in a whole new light and want to use this as a springboard to more and better experiences in poetry and in life. What an amazing achievement and something they should be so proud of, and so should you as it is only the engagement of FTI and you personally that has made that possible.

I am excited to know you are thinking of doing more and we would love to be part of that. I know other Governors would feel the same and want to get people from their prisons involved.”

From Scottish crime writing legend Ian Rankin who supported the project throughout, “The end of an extraordinary endeavour – but perhaps also a new beginning.”

From one of our poets, “I am going through my own self discovery and recovery and Saughton Sonnets has quite possibly changed my life. I feel inspired to make a difference.”

And finally from one of our lawyers taking part as a Hidden Voices community member;

Being part of the community has been a wonderful bolster to my convictions on criminal defence too.  I can see now that I am not alone in my beliefs and not only that, but I have made professional connections that I feel I can now turn to.  I have found my involvement to be hugely rewarding.  Thank you for having me.”

Having wandered back very briefly across the Hidden Voices journey, something I will do further in greater detail in the coming weeks it is time to turn our platform over to those who answered the “Are you a Baw Bard” call on social media last week. 

In a few weeks time residents from HMP Barlinnie, HMP Dumfries, HMP Edinburgh and HMP Greenock will share their voices with us in the form of verse or short prose utilising football as an anchor to tell stories from their lives but today it is the turn of some from within and/or close to our Hidden Voices community from this side of the wall. I commend their bravery in sharing and thank them for all they do.

Today is National Poetry Day and these poets or as we now fondly will forever know them our Baw Bards have quite magnificently tied football and life together in a variety of interesting and I warn you emotional ways.

Come on the Baw Bards….

Our first Baw Bard bravely sharing a very personal tale of brotherly love and heartache in verse today is Phil Fairlie. Phil is the Deputy General Secretary of POA Scotland.

In Phil’s own words he explains his reason for being a Baw Bard;

“My brother passed away last year and this is about his last time out of the hospice. He was incredibly ill by then and just the fact he found the inner strength to get there spoke volumes of the man he was. We both knew it would be his last time, and we both loved being able to share it with each other. I love the idea of the project, and look forward to seeing where it goes.” Phil and his brother Andy are pictured below.


Phil & Andy – Go to Paradise

Paradise again, a European night. But we both know this one is different.

One of our favourite places on earth together, with memories that stay through life

The noise is the same, the smell too. The tension, excitement. It’s all here tonight.

And so are we.

But we both know this one is different. We both know it’s the last time.

It’s not getting to spoil it though; we will cherish this moment like no other

An executive box no less! Just you and me. A first and a last, all on the same night.

Suited and booted and wrapped for the cold, we fight through the crowds to find our entrance

Your chair has people moving aside, letting us through. Their faces tell us, they’re wondering

We’re not waiting to explain, two kids again. Excited, and nervous. Determined to remember every minute of tonight.

We must write and thank them. No matter the score.

Waiting for the lift, with Lisbon lions beside us. Chatting to us like we are always there

We are of course. In our hearts. Tonight, is going to be special. We both know it. We feel it.

This time though, its not the football. It’s the moment. The pilgrimage for the last time. Together.

As we reach our executive box for two, with a pie and a beer in our hands, I watch you.

A little stressed, tired. But smiling, content and excited as the seats fill up.

Out they come, our team. The music thumps round the stadium. Our anthem.

We are in the presence of giants tonight Andy, past and present. Our heroes.

But at this moment, you are my biggest hero. I know what it took. For you to get here.

I know what it means, to you and to me. I will forever cherish that it was me you wanted this moment with. Of course me, I tell myself.

You’ll Never Walk Alone. Thunders around the stadium. We smile, and hug. We both know how true that is.

We both know this is the last time.

Phil Fairlie.


Our second Baw Bard today is Governor David Abernethy of HMP Edinburgh who has been a great supporter of Hidden Voices for some time now and who has been instrumental in encouraging other governors from across the prison estate to participate in the forthcoming project Baw Bards.  David writes about picking his football team and the family mechanics around something so simple.


My Team in Green

You can change a husband, you can change a wife

But the team you support, you support for life

What attracted you to them, can be difficult to tell

But whatever it was, you will take it to hell.

In my case it was a colour, well actually a stripe

White with green in between or green with white.

My pals were all Gers Boys, so it would have been easy to follow, follow

But instead I decided to plough my own furrow.

What does it say about a father and son?

To support 2 different teams instead of just the one.

I recall no persuasion or arguing between

Maybe Dad was happy as a Hibee, that I’d picked a team in green.

David Abernethy. 


Next up today is Scottish poet and Hidden Voices community member Stephen Watt. Stephen, who is also poet in residence at Dumbarton FC was drawn to write about dementia when I mentioned the Baw Bards project to him.


They Don’t Teach You How To Lose

They don’t teach you how to lose.

Good sportsmanship is rare,

defeats leave a sour taste,

and being licked

by your closest neighbour

is probably best erased.

Balls hoofed over fences.

Your best players

signed by crosstown rivals

who are then subsequently promoted, relegated,

never seen again

except during crucial cup finals.

They don’t teach you how to lose.

Much-loved club songs

evanesce from PA systems.

Staff retire.

Ball-boys mature.

Drawers eat

your lucky hats, scarves, mittens.

But worst;

when memory fades

like programme-printed players’ names

and special games are forgotten.

They don’t teach you how to lose.

They just insist

that it wasn’t important.

Stephen Watt. 


Moving on we come to Callum Hiller, a Glasgow lawyer, and podcast producer. Callum states “the opportunity arose for the articulation of thoughts that have been doing the rounds in my head for some time. I am grateful for that cathartic opportunity.” Callum doesn’t miss the goal in his offering below.


The Baw For Ma Maw


That’s too strong a word!

Not for these two

the green and the blue.

It plagues the West

like it scunners the rest.

With bitter passion

and intolerance.

I’d give anything to beat them.

Here we go

ten in a row.

It’s aw that matters.

Til it isny.

Ma maw’s got cancer.


I wouldny give that.

It’s only a game now

and a daft one at that.

Cancer can’t see green

or blue.

They can stop the ten

and keep the baw

if in exchange

I can keep ma maw.

Callum Hiller.


Our next Baw Bard is David Breakspear who describes himself as “a former prisoner who is using his own experiences to campaign for reform to our prisons and the education system. Poetry means many things to me, it was one major resource for a release in prison along with being a way to express a number of feelings.”


Big entrance

Two minutes from kick off, the tunnel still dark.

Ready for my entrance, and time to make my mark.

The noise is getting louder, from my heart and outside.

Excited for my debut it’s gonna be one helluva ride.

Time is getting closer. The tunnel is getting brighter.

I wonder what position I’ll be, in goal, at the back, midfield or a striker?

The doors crash open, the crowd are aplenty.

Then wrapped in a blanket

and passed to my mother,

nice and gently.

David Breakspear.


And from one of our generous Hidden Voices supporters, here LizAnn talks about going to Rugby Park with her dad.


Lifted Over the Turnstiles

My hand in his

Tight comfortable secure

Hand in hand step by step and then

The steel horizon

Drinking in the noise the smell the faces

Anxious happy hopeful

And suddenly I’m soaring

A bird taking flight for the first time

High over and in

Standing on my seat

I am blue and white and tall

Until the whistle screams the end

Win lose or draw

This is my team our team

So many 90 minutes shared

Another game

His hand in mine

Tight comfortable secure



The last two of our Baw Bards for today have chosen to remain anonymous and has written about attending a game when you’re not really there!


A Game of Five Senses

I  close my eyes and I see rain falling like diamonds dancing in the floodlit sky

I feel the frozen cold turn-style resist my push then reluctantly yield to allow me entry

The softly comforting aroma of the pie stall -V- The char burnt bisto mercilessly invading my nostrils

And then BOOM the teams strut peacock chested into the arena to an almost barbaric crescendo of noise

Music is blaring I can’t hear myself think, I sing along, I hear voices around me already straining with passion

Kick-off is approaching I hear the monotoned commentator say, our striker will get us underway

I’m suddenly terrified to open my eyes because then I’ll know I’m not really there

My senses have tricked me it’s just another dreamily conjured lie

A tear of recognition breaks the seal and tickles its way down my cheek landing on my lips salty and sweet

GOAL!!! A flickering moment of joy quickly gives way to the kind of sadness of that waking morn when bereavement is remembered

The escape was brief but oh my God so precious, I open my eyes and the bar filled windows say not tonight my friend

Like an inanimate bouncer on a narrow, cobbled pavement blocking my path to a bar I’d love to visit

I close my eyes and anything is possible, I think prefer it there.

My team always win when I’m there.

Hidden Voices.


And a dream of life that eluded them there…

We could have made it!

Let’s get drunk and tell each other lies

Instead of the truth who ate all the pies

We could have been superstars

The best of the best

Sat here wrapped in Adidas

And no that string vest

Can you imagine it noo the hullaballoo

If we walked down our street in Scotland blue

Instead we’ll make dae with the reality of life

Two point two kids and a trouble and strife

Oh but the memories you widnae forego

Because when push comes to shove I could have made it but you were too slow.

Hidden Voices

Today is not a competition and there will be no selecting a winner despite footballs innate inability to accept a draw as an honourable result. Join us on Twitter @FirstTimeInside with any thoughts on todays output.

Thanks to everyone who has given up some time to read todays blog, enormous thanks to the poets who have shared their creativity and passion with us and thanks to all of the Hidden Voices community for all that you do, you inspire me every day to keep on keeping on.

Should you, having read any or all of the above wish to find out more about being part of our community or supporting our efforts drop us a line for the attention of Gerry Hamill to [email protected]

Stay safe everyone, follow the guidelines assuming they are clear wherever you live and hold your loved ones close. @FirstTimeInside out.

               @copyrite FirstTimeInside 2020

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