Today is a surprisingly emotional day releasing the last batch of poetry from a group of talented men, expressing in verse, their experience of lockdown in prison during this Covid19 crisis.

I say surprising but in reality it was almost to be expected because this project gripped my heart somewhat savagely from the minute it was conceived.

The wider, almost universally positive engagement, through social media and beyond has been a wonderful blessing and has served to affirm a belief that unless we approach those hidden voices with a mindset of there but for the grace of our God go I we will always be more prone to a clumsy stumble than a graceful gallop across social plains.

This exciting collaboration, our second to date, but the first with HMP Edinburgh and a team of 42 panel members I hope, has in the spirit of Prehabilitation helped prepare at least one person for a future challenge.

There is a belief, which I am delighted to embrace, amongst some more learned than I that relationships or perhaps more accurately the quality of relationships and the trust engendered therein are the key to almost every solution. Saughton Sonnets is an example of the collective relationship being greater than the individual.

Watching the connections and relationships develop between professionals, citizens and poets across the past month has been a privilege to witness and knowing the impact of the Saughton Sonnets initiative will go beyond the period of its short existence is incredibly rewarding. You will see that future impact evidenced more clearly later this week when we revisit some of the winning poetry and announce our champion of champions on Friday morning whilst sharing the thoughts of many of the panel who leave the project with lasting change in their minds and hearts.

I’ve shared a few short snippets taken from those comments now simply to give you a flavour of the panels feelings around Saughton Sonnets and Hidden Voices as the project draws close to its conclusion.

From one of the lawyers on our panel – “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, Gerry, for having me.”

From a serving police officer – “I have really loved being involved in this competition. I would love to meet the poets too at some point. The testimonials of the life experiences of those in jail during lockdown have made a lasting impression on me. Thanks so much for this experience.”

A wellbeing practitioner –  “I have to say that it is impossible to put into words how grateful I feel to have been included in this venture. My life has been unexpectedly enriched and challenged by having access to these poems.  I have always loved language and poetry but these creations have touched me deeply and my heart has been both crushed and uplifted, it bled and it sang.”

A citizen with relevant experience – “The interesting bit followed the official publication on the Friday – it was really good to read the thoughts of my fellow community contributors. Clearly they have much more experience in the poetic world and imposter syndrome set in very quickly – what the actual am I doing here, I’m right out my depth etc. etc.  However, I got over that very quickly when I was in total agreement with one of the comments – that was exactly how I felt about that poem. I could recall the exact same feelings; perhaps I was more in my depth than I thought! It was only when I went to compare what had been written with my own version that I realised they were the same. I liked the community connection on twitter – Friday mornings became a veritable hive of activity where retweets and likes were the order of the day. You really felt part of something and it was nice to try to extend its reach to the wider community.”

And so once again it is a great honour to share the Hidden Voices platform with a talented group of poets currently resident in HMP Edinburgh and whose courage in sharing their thoughts and feelings via a creative medium such as poetry speaks volumes to both the character and potential of the individuals.

In collaboration with HMP Edinburgh and the Scottish Prison Service it is with great pleasure that First Time Inside (FTI) presents, the final chapter of a four week initiative, our project Saughton Sonnets.

This week we end in style with a double helping of poetry and two competitions in the one output. Please be prepared for another banquet of raw authenticity.

Support from both The Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh and Beltrami & Co in Glasgow has been instrumental in allowing this project to develop. Section One today is supported by John Scott QC and Section two by Niall McCluskey of Optimum Advocates.

As with every week we leave the final word prior to sharing the poetry to the Governor of HMP Edinburgh.

“It has been a rollercoaster 4 weeks and I have to say that when we first discussed following Barlinnie into the world of lockdown poetry I could not have envisaged in my wildest dreams the impact the poems would have on social media. Great credit goes to the Family Contact Officers here at HMP Edinburgh, who had the idea in the first place, particularly Karen whose initiative has been embraced by staff and residents alike. A massive thank you to the poets too – I know the panel and others on social media have been blown away by the standard of the work. I hope that friends and families have seen what people have been saying and fed that back to the poets. I have tried to explain to them, but I don’t think they believe me. Finally thank you and good luck to First Time Inside and their Hidden Voices platform in whatever they do next and whatever marginalised community’s work they try to showcase next.” David Abernethy – Governor, HMP Edinburgh



Section One of week four supported by John Scott QC.

Sonnet One

Edinburgh Zoo’s

There are two zoos in Edinburgh didn’t you know

One quite famous, the other not so!

Both contain animals of different kinds

Publicity for some, and from public glare otherS kept blind

They both have fences and bars to keep us all in

With ones quite pleasant and others quite grim

One has daylight, with sunshine and rain, public exposure wandering all

Day in a nice green enclosure

The other a grey cell, with clanging doors shut, locked up with a

Stranger with no disclosure

One locked up, a family unit that the public adores

The other locked away for crimes of perception that society abhors

We are both prisoners of the new world order

One has a keeper, the other a warder

One welcomes the keepers at the start of the day

Cleaned out, fed and watered and stimulated all day

The other has warders who bang open doors and give out orders with grunts and roars

Locked up all day, their needs often ignored

The difference in treatment is clearly there to see with both

One has good care, and the other the public are taught to loath

One with a clear direction and the other sadly lacking

Corstorphine Hill, or Saughton Prison, understanding of both is sadly missing

Both contain animals, though not all beasts, endangered species

And men who hopefully can be released

One released by programmes to repopulate their native land

The other, back into society where for them normality is banned

A bright hope for one and recovery it seems

The other no hope, no future, no dreams

One to live in their own habitat, so wild and free

The other from intervention and registers never will be

Studies of one, no understanding of the other

Re-integrate both, or why bother

Endangered species or someone to blame

Our hopes and dreams are all the same

A bright future for both should be society’s shout

Protected, respected when we both get out

Free from the cages, free from the cells

Released back to where we are supposed to dwell

We both deserve freedom our torments to cease

Both back to our homes, we both deserve peace

Endangered species, I hear you all shout we are both the same, we



“An astute and fascinating comparative analysis of prisons with zoos. Edinburgh is under the spotlight here, and the lines about the cells being cleaned out/”needs often ignored” are sensational.”

“I really liked how the writer used a compare and contrast between the zoos. It was very authentic and real. There was a clear correlation between how the captured are handled and how the public perception is different across them both. The elimination of hope and the further problems following release were very evident as well.”

“What an intelligently constructed piece of writing. The zoo analogy is applied so intuitively throughout and perfectly captures the conflicting perceptions around the incarceration of people and animals. Another piece of required reading for those with the power to make change.”

“Loved the comparison and comparison between the responses and what we teach others about animals but not extending to our fellow human beings. The hope that people will view prisoners as people and extend that level of empathy and care. That the repercussions go on long beyond the time in prison and affect so much, is that right and how can people be allowed to change?”

“This is my favourite to date! The zoo comparison is perceptively brilliant, sad, witty and thought-provoking.”



Sonnet Two

Corona – Halo

The world of men humbled by a simple virus

Take faith in the ‘Word of God’ and strength in the Lord to inspire us

With panic and confusion across all the nations

From politicians and leaders procastination

Pastors and teachers no sense of direction

Look to the promise of the resurrection

With church doors, shut their ministery closed

Where is the spiritual comfort when we need it most

Where is the belief of the prophets of old, who the coming of Jesus was foretold?

Their undying love and devotion for the Lord in their hearts did hold

Through all their plagues, pestilence, trials and tribulations

Their undying faith was an insperation to all the nations

Their hope in adversity should also inspire us

To pray to God, to deliver us all from the virus

Do not forget God’s mercy and goodness made in his promise

With Jesus’s death upon the cross, our sins he bore and took from us

And with this ultimate sacrifice, his love was made to shine upon us

By his faith and devotion, death and resurrection in our hearts we must save

To walk in the paths of his righteousness against all trials be brave

Our faith in the Lord must be steadfast and strong

Until he calls to eternal life, where at his side we belong

So believe in his word, and put into practice so he can admire us

Like the Passover of old, we will bypass this virus!

Corona is a halo, the spiritual light around our good Lord’s head

Not a virus or plague to fill us with dread

So pray and give thanks to the Lord of all nations

And praise all the key workers and NHS for their dedication

So people, keep faith in the Lord and strive to be pure

And give thanks to God, for the help in giving us a cure.


“A very spiritual and religious poem that invokes faith to help defeat the virus. I feel I am eminently unqualified to judge poetry and even more so that which falls into the non-atheist genre!  What I did take from this is the comfort that some can derive from their faith and the belief that a vaccine will be found. It put me in mind of Pascal’s paradox – let us all say a prayer anyway, just in case”

“feels like a powerful tribute to personal faith. Lovely use of rhyme and the overall flow weaves through-out. Strong and intriguing references to religious text and iconography – this piece feels unique.”

“speaks to the weakness of every part of society in the face of the virus and then embarks on a mission of hope to have everyone believe things will get better”


Sonnet Three


Sitting here all alone

When will this virus ever be gone

Thinking of you as I always do

We love and affection shining threw

Now they’ve banned nice family visits

And with anyone who’s dear

But if I follow all the rules

I might still be here next year

So when the day’s, weeks and months have passed

And things start to improve

A hug, a smile a long chat

Is what I want from you.




“This one hit a raw nerve – the feeling of loneliness, of loss and of longing but finishing with a colourful wish – the lockdown effects from the inside here are very eloquently and succinctly expressed. A short poem with a very long reach.”

“Enjoyed the simplicity of it. Short and snappy and has all of the important points again with family coming through.”

At times in prison a visit is like a medical intervention. The calming effect of the lightest touch, the warming glow achieved from a smile and this poet creates a beautiful marriage of deep sadness and simple wish for a small blessing, whilst taking the time to think of others.”


Sonnet Four


From a world that we knew

To a world that’s all new

Welcome to our world.

The life that we knew

To another we now know

This life we live now, being all locked-down.

We have more time to lie and think

To ruminate all of the news

Time locked-down from our featureless views.

There are prices to pay

So our society would claim

But their mental-health dies, being locked-down too.

The enemies we fight

Claim more than our sins

Stealing from hearts, locked-down deep within.

But Family Love, is there right through

When the door gets locked, they’re all locked too

So what we must do, is stay mentally well

Because one-day soon, doors will unlock for good.


“Clearly expresses the locked down procedures and how it affects everyone. Particular concern about collective mental wellbeing – I like the idea that people behind the prison wall are just as worried, if not more, about what is happening on the outside with loved ones. Then the hopeful finish – is it the sentence or the virus? Are we all coming out of our mental cells? This is one that I reread a few times and I still think I have missed something.”

“I liked the sense of change and movement from one place to another, the impact of those changes and yet the hope and constancy that comes from family.”

“The references to mental health make you wonder about the life in virtual solitary confinement that many are living. The longing for doors to be unlocked for good and the wish for family love is like a self created strategy for coping.”


Sonnet Five


Life in lock down.  It may get you down

but it’s not just the prison, it’s all around

We’re all doing our part to protect each

other, like nagging friends or protective

Mothers.  We honour our staff and the

NHS by banging our doors like King-

Kong’s chest.  It may only be for a moment

or two but it shows our love for the

things they do.  The whole UK will be

okay if we just bide our time and do

as they say.  We may be in prison, but

so is the world.  At least this is life in

lockdown and not death’s countdown.


“Clever use of words here – “life in lockdown and not death’s countdown”. The writer chooses to deny the small fact that we are all locked in deaths countdown – it is something that starts the moment we are born! However, the writer manages to convey the hope that is out there, the fact that we are all suffering the lockdown, and that people do appreciate the work of the frontline heroes. I also liked the juxtaposition of nagging friends and protective mothers – it has left me pondering if they are mutually exclusive.”

“Incredible richness of spirit to align lockdown in prison with lockdown outside of the walls and a brave acceptance of life is just what it is.”

“The thought of men standing alone behind their locked doors at 8pm on a Thursday night and in perfect synchronisation, with thunderous gusto, roaring and banging in support of the NHS draws a tear. The ability to accept their position and hope for the wellbeing of the world and not purely themselves could teach many invading public spaces with scant disregard for their fellow mans safety an important lesson in humanity.”


Sonnet Six

Singing in the rain

I have taken the time to think

At some point I must give it back

Outlook is positively less bleak

Not cause there’s worse off than I

While I acknowledge there is

Hard ships I always call rainfall

At one point it wouldn’t stop pouring

One world stood under the same cloud

Taking shelter to keep people dry

Proud of the rainbows appearing

Some people owned an umbrella

Some lacked the strength to put one up

Some shared theirs with those who don’t have one

Some gave up their umbrella to protect others

To be caught in the rain instead

As a kid we believed there was rain beetles

As an adult i’m told their not real

I think their fitting if this storm could sing

A song that makes folk come together

Love is all we need


“Dunno how many others immediately thought about the meaning behind the film as they read this one – how everything is not really as it seems! Superb imagery used in this one – really liked the idea of sharing umbrellas with those who do not have one…the image of the rain generating the rainbows that appeared was immensely strong and positive. How many others sang “love is all we need” at the end! The clue was the rain beetles…this was very very clever.”

“This was beautiful, simple and kind. Reflective and the analogy of the umbrella was touching. The hope and care that came through in this was sweet and clear.”

“loved the umbrella theme, all under one, beautiful imagery”

“I really enjoyed this poem.  From the second stanza onwards it is true to its title utilising the metaphor of the rain, with a nod to the rainbows being sketched by children everywhere.  My particular favourite was the stanza utilising the umbrella imagery, recognising that everyone has their own circumstance; some use it to help, some sacrifice theirs for others. I felt there was a beauty in the expression of that.  There is hope in this author’s piece which he illustrates in his last line that ‘Love is all we need.’”



Sonnet Seven

Locked up Lockdown

Dark is the tunnel we’re treading softly

In search of the end letting light in

A glow so near and then so far

The finish line is a yoyo toying with me

Helpless as a tortoise on it’s back

One minute it’s right in front of face

The next is it back where it started

I’m a shell of the person I once was

Not sure if I’m awake or it’s a nightmare

I can sense a stirring that’s feverish

Head feels scrambled from the confusion

Everybody rushing forward with haste

There is light that refuses to be moved now

Heading for an archway that is half lit

Like a half moon etched on a blackboard

Why is the moon not full at the end

For a moment I feel consoled by the commotion

Glow as close as a knife to my throat

Short lived when the path comes to a fork

Witness them stampede elated to the left

While I’m pulled with force to the right

The tunnel that continues in total darkness

No glow at the end for me to chase

No carrot on a stick that serves to torment me

No loving embrace waiting to cloak me

No end in sight


“A dark sonnet focusing on self-awareness and personal rehabilitation but without an apparent purpose. Some of the images used were brilliant – tortoise on its back and then a shell of the person I once was…both confusing and confirming. It gets across how much of a pure head fuck prison can be with emotions all over the place and thoughts disrupted. I think this will generate more thoughts when I read it again – the thought that they are alone with everyone else going the other way, the writer feeling threatened and constrained…I liked this one!”

“This poem was dark and raw. I was drawn into the tunnel and felt as tho i was looking for a way out myself. I loved the use of language – the yo yo toying with him, the stirring that is feverish. I felt the visceral reaction to being in the dark. I felt hope slipping away as others went in a different direction and the confusion of there being no light. my heart broke with No embrace waiting to cloak me.”

“The writer engages the reader in a bond that makes a lasting connection, belonging in the world together.”

“This for me was a deeply dark piece, reflected in almost every line. The metaphoric imagery within it is stark and striking, and not in a comfortable way. The dark tunnel, the light at the end of the tunnel, the tortoise on its back, the nightmare, the pull into darkness where the path forks all speak of an underlying despair and a sense that he is out of control.  He seeks comfort in a “…loving embrace waiting to cloak me…” from all this despair.  The author ends the piece bleakly with the line that there is “…no end in sight.”


Sonnet Eight

Socially Distant

I miss people!

I miss talking and chatting, nattering yapping.

Shooting the breeze, catch ups and banter.

wind ups and giggles and uncontrolable laughter.

I miss friends and my family and our daft inside jokes,

not memes, likes, twitter or Facebook pokes!

Covid came along and everything changed,

now there’s distances, locks downs and loved ones estranged,

visits have gone now we feel lost and enraged

lonely as hell locked in this cage!

Phone Calls??

They don’t compare to the love that we share

when gathered together or holding our lovers.

How long will this last is the question we ask

no-one can tell, so lets pray for the days we’re

together again when we’ll look back and say

it’s all in the past, but I missed you my friends,

kids, parents or lovers, it’s taken a while but I’m happy

you’re safe.


“A timely reminder that we are all social animals irrespective of the surroundings – and the sense of loss is palpable in the writing. The fears and insecurity shine through but with hope still at the end. An excellent poem that addresses a whole lot of issues and finishes positively.”

“Skipping opening lines and couplet rhymes keep a steady rhythm to this piece, while the sentiments express human touch and family love over modern-day technology. A very touching piece.”

“Emotionally captures the impact of missing people, all people feel the sense of loss.”

“It captures everyone’s experience of lockdown and everything we have missed with the jarring reminder that some have lost more – no contact with loved ones.”


Sonnet Nine


Days turn to weeks our time’s become strange,

we relied on Routines and now everythings changed.

No squeezing our kids, being daft with our dads or hugs

from our mums with the visits all stropped we’re left

feeling numb

Disconnected, marooned, all the faces we miss, phone

calls don’t cut it we’re struck in abyss.

Guys in contingancy cells are living in hell,

how long will this last? No-one can tell.

As Covid runs wild from town to town and country side

small glimmers of hope see our hearts fill with pride

as our NHS heroes and dear Captain Tom inspire

so many and kept pushing on.

I know times are tough and this lock downs a pain

stuck in our cells it’s like we’re going insane,

day after day that all feel the same but stay strong

and remember we’ll meet again.


“This talked about some of the iconic news items that have surfaced recently – Captain Tom and his amazing fundraising and our NHS heroes. Another reminder that those on the inside pay a lot of attention to what is happening on the outside. It gives a good appraisal of the new regimes and the problems generated therein. The finishing line was taken from Dame Vera’s song, also used by HM big Betty in her address to the nation. Sad that Vera passed so recently but a glowing testimony to the songs she sang.”

“I thought this was simply a brilliant poem, and the final line in reference to times of war, particularly fitting.”

“All the wee things we take for granted are brought into an even sharper focus in this poem.  The importance of routine and family contact comes through loud and clear.  Loved the references to NHS and Captain Tom, finishing with Vera Lynn, there was a feeling of nostalgia in this.  Loved it.”


Sonnet Ten

Begrudgingly Magnanimous

(Bitter Sweet)

It can have me feeling helpless

Not being able to help is

A rollercoaster of emotions

Overwhelmed by the highs and lows

Tales off loss are heart-wrenching

The ones we bare thinking about

A Mother giving birth to a bundle of life

She wouldn’t live to cradle

A shop keeper delivering essentials infected

It wasn’t essential he fell doing so

His family now grieving a divine being

Like so many others with front line loved ones

Back to back doing shifts to protect us

The grocers and sharers, the Doctors and carers

The nurses and foodbanks, all are our saviours

While the leaders can’t answer one question

Can’t you protect everyone that protects us

Our eyes shouldn’t see that you don’t

None of the glory for the powers that be

It’s on ice and reserved for the VIP’s

Set aside for the people who ventured together

Your the sun shining through tempestuous weather

Tales of your efforts warm the heart

Good deeds stitched together draped round us

I’m asked how lockdown feels being locked up

The term chocolate teapot pours on the page

All I can offer is words that are jot

In exchange for your blood, sweat and tears

A round of applause for your all

Every day for the rest of our years


“I failed to see where the begrudging started – to me this was a message of the huge debt owed by all for the work they were doing on and at the front line. Some have paid the ultimate sacrifice. The line about the Mother was ambiguous but very hard hitting – was it the mother or the new child who passed? So many unanswered questions… The alleged leaders were not begrudged praise – they were shown up for what they are – clueless, ineffective and not worthy of those who are doing the vital stuff. The chocolate teapot pouring on the page made me laugh aloud, a clever use of an old phrase.”

“True gratitude for the efforts and bravery to services on the front line, and their families experiencing their loss. The lack of recognition in how they’re valued by those in power.”

“This spoke to me of a sense of helplessness being unable to contribute/ help during this pandemic. A deeply humbling insight.”

‘A mother giving birth to a bundle of life she wouldn’t live to cradle .’ This poem describes so distressingly well the torturous experiences many have endured during this time . There are some great metaphors . My favourite is ‘ Good deeds stitched together draped around us .’



Sonnet Eleven

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart resides

But I’m not there right now

Home is where I know every path and trail

But I’m walking just one path

It has no end in sight

Home’s where my best friends got excited

But I wonder if they still bark

Since I’ve not came back

Home is where my birthday present is chained up

But I’m insecure about the cycle I’m on

Home is where the family I love are on lockdown

But I’m locked down locked up locked out

Home is the place in that I can feel safe

But people don’t feel safe

When I am at home

Home is the place that drives me to change

But what if the change is my absence

What if I never go home

Home is the place I think of the most

Where bits of my heart are sent from

Telephone calls and sentiments post

Locked down I feel heartless

No hugs and no smiles

No bits brought inside

As I sit and write this

Home is where the heart resides


“A particularly powerful poem that leaves the reader under no illusions about the effect of the virus! It is full of insecurity, self-doubt and reflection – a combination of raw emotion and words used to great effect. An insight into the importance of family and relationships if the desistance process is to be successful. This is a poem with hidden depths in plain sight.”

“This really does highlight ‘home is where the heart is’. Such deep and considered perspectives of the warmth & love experienced, whilst acknowledging this isn’t a safe place for the family they love as a result of behaviours. To truly feel that current separation from family.”

“This should be read by everyone in the “lock them up and throw away the key brigade”. What a perfect summation of the lack of care and understanding applied to those we shut away and the assumptions that are made about the simple lives the vast majority aspire to be allowed to lead. Shame on all of us.”

“This for me is the most outstanding of them all. I loved the way the author flipped between what is missed to just what is. There is a tinge of sadness lacing the lines of this poem, in their worries about the impact of their presence in the home and the effects of their absence from it.”


Sonnet Twelve


  1. The lockdown means visits every day, from every thought you’ve worked so hard to keep away.
  2. It’s praying every single night to a God no where in sight that those you love will be alright.
  3. It’s looking up at the nightime stars through reinforced iron bars while the world outside drifts ever far.
  4. It’s lonliness and fear, vague answers that are unclear to questions no one wants to hear.
  5. It’s getting tea at 4 as if we’re 4 knowing we got 6 hours more to endure, pacing the floor, bunker to door wondering whether it goes on 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months or more.
  6. It’s getting locked up for public protection then getting locked up extra to protect us from the public!
  7. It’s watching our brave doctors and nurses get praised by politicians that spent years emptying their purses.
  8. It’s waiting all day for just 5 minutes on the phone to remind those we love they’re not alone.
  9. It’s taking time to write a letter to say, ‘stay strong things will get better’.
  10. It’s finding the inner drive to survive and thrive, to not become defeated as day on day the routine’s repeated.
  11. It’s finding strength you didn’t know was there, accepting responsibility we all now share, finding new ways to show we care and pushing the limits of what we can bear.
  12. It is standing strong, it’s digging deep, it’s finding a little peace to sleep, it’s focussing on ‘just today’ and all the other overused clichés.
  13. It’s preparing to pick up the pieces and begin again and knowing, no matter how long this last, it WILL END.


“Poetry by numbers – and this covered the points very comprehensively. It had politics; it had doubts; it had hope; it had analysis; it had a whole lot in it. I particularly liked line 7 where the hypocrisy of the leaders was very clear! Stunningly good line there. I liked the pace as it picked up taking you through the redemption and reflection of the writer. This is a very cleverly constructed and thought provoking piece.”

“It’s getting locked up for public protection then getting locked up extra to protect us from the public” – extraordinary lines. A real quixotic romanticism in this poem with a hope, rather than a belief, that things will turn out fine in the end.”

“To be experiencing such restrictions and containment whilst having thoughts of family and workers. To offering strength when feeling so vulnerable, and taking each day as a way of managing. Really felt those emotions.”

“This poem took me to the heart of this unprecedented time where our lives have shrunk to the ‘here and now’ and we are all challenged to ‘push the limits of what we can bear’…no one more than those kept in what is solitary confinement for months now.”

“I found this to be exceptionally clever, a great comparison and really something that people not involved in the CJS can learn from. It was a sad reflection that he feels that people released from prison don’t have a chance and it was a poem that was clearly written from the heart. Really enjoyed reading it and have read it a few times now.”


Once again having read though section one of todays poems from the men resident in HMP Edinburgh and considered all of the judges comments it is almost a travesty that we had to score each of the poems at all because they were all fantastic and a credit to the writers themselves.

The raw, powerful emotions conveyed by the men so creatively throughout the pieces I’m sure, as with the judges themselves, take the readers on a voyage of challenging feelings and discovery.

That said we did, as part of the role of being a panel, score the poems and our top three for this section one of week four are.

Our winners are:

1st Place – Sonnet Twelve – LockDown

2nd place – Sonnet Eleven – Home is where the Heart is.

3rd place –  Sonnet One – Edinburgh Zoo’s

Congratulations to our winners and a massive thank you to all of our authors who have selflessly provided a window into another reality for us all to absorb this week.



Section two of week four is supported by Niall McCluskey of Optimum Advocates 


Sonnet Thirteen

Hope You Can’t Relate

Just when you thought life couldn’t worse

Locked in a box put away

It only went and got worse than it was

Didn’t it

I know people are feeling alone

I can relate if it’s magnafied

I can see how scared the world has got

I can relate if it’s enhanced

Not many out there can relate to me

Only family

But that’s on a whole other meaning

You probably don’t get it

I know eveyone is feeling lost

I can relate if the feeling is times a hundred

I can see how bad your anxiety has got

I can relate on a higher proportion

I can see how it sounds for you all on lockdown

But I can’t relate and you can’t either

Even if it’s amplified

For what it’s worth

I hope you can never relate with me

On what life is like when your locked up

Twenty three hours a day

Door locked and forgotten about

From 4.30pm to 8.00am

I sincerely hope you can never relate

Oh yeah

Do me a favour

Don’t tell me you now know how it feels

When your door isn’t locked and your at home



“Poetry is subjective and the good thing about this sonnet is that I get a new view each time I read it. I can relate to the macro message but think I am missing some micro imagery. It seems surly and rude but it is actually an appeal telling the people that even though it is worse inside, please deal with your own stuff first. It highlights the false equivalence between lock down and lock up. There is a strong feeling of separation at the start and it just continues to get darker…this is a thought provoking bit of poetry.”

“A real understanding and care for how those of us in the outside are feeling through lockdown and a really honest wish that none of us ever truly come to know how it feels to go through this experience from the writer’s perspective. The wee “thanks” at the close is a plea for none of us to patronise those locked up in lockdown with false empathy.”

“Hope you can’t relate.  A stark reminder that I have no real understanding of prison life. In truth my life is a completely different experience and no amount of compassion  means that I have any right to assume even a small amount of understanding.  This had a profound effect on my son who just said wow, i have no idea how fortunate i am.  Felt acutely aware of being humbled.”

“Painfully open About the difficult situation and that no one understands. Honest  view of prison life and the feelings associated with a hint of anger.”


Sonnet Fourteen


Day in Day out locked up and locked down the

sun shines through what’s left of my soul, prisoners

living Day to Day boredom creeping in  Nobody left

to talk to other than my own Reflection

No more visitors to come see me, escapsim deflates me

with every passing minute of every passing Day isolation sets

in and the cabin fever is getting to me once and for all

As the sun sets another day gone isolation sets back in

and I’m alone again with the only human contact I get is

from my television with the sun gone and the moon high

in the sky I get ready to sleep waiting to relive the same

day all over again



“Groundhog Day of the soul! A strongly worded poem that tells it like it is – the loss of liberty is the punishment and that is hard to take. It is of course much worse in lockdown. Prison can be harmful and soul destroying and that comes across very clearly in this.”

“clever use of enjambment – helps pull the reader through the piece allowing certain lines to run on together. Feels engaging and honest in its overall tone.”

“This poem reflects the cruelty of this virus and the pain of lack of human connection. What really spoke to me was that this could be written about anyone shielding – the common connection of loneliness.”



Sonnet Fifteen


The quarantine cannot fail

To let everyone feel what its like in jail

At least in your home you can go room to room

To get you a break from the doom and gloom

Sharing a home with others too

At least can help to get you through

Before we had a routine to get us through our stay

But now we’ve nothing to help us through each day

We’re locked up and isolated from out-side

But still from the virus we cannot hide

All over the world it doesn’t seem real

So many now anxious they all want to squeal

They all just have to take it on the chin

And accept the fact they have to stay in

I know right now it’s such a sin

That because of the virus you have to stay in

Talk about memories and your heart will surely skip

When each time you remember a special trip

Make the most of this time as precious it will be

Sometime in the future just wait and see

I cannot wait for this time to end

For time with my family I’ll get to spend.



“A poem that screams about loss and separation, and the pains that this causes. It makes good use of some early political comments about taking it on the chin – controversial than and still controversial now. Good memories are currency inside – a call to make good use of them.”

“An anxious and telling tale that the writing is feeling low, desperate for normality to return. Comparison with the outside world highlights the differences and desperation. Heart-felt, as much as it was harrowing.”

“The thought that a tiny room offers no escape from a virus if it invades your space is spine tingling. The suggestion that on the outside we can open a door and run to another room or seek help highlights a despair and fear of the unknown. The utilisation of memories as an escape is simply wonderful.”



Sonnet Sixteen

Locked In

Remember the visits,

Remember the gym,

Seems so long ago,

Now that we’re locked in.

Remember the rec time,

Remember the church,

We’re missing our friends,

We seem out of touch.

Remember the nurses,

Remember the staff,

Cause they are still working,

It’s really no laugh.

Remember on Thursday,

Remember at 8,

The banging of cell doors,

The sound is so great.

Remember the reason,

Remember the why,

We’re doing it so that,

Many more do not die.

So, remember have patience,

Remember be strong,

It will all end sometime,

Let’s hope it’s not long.



“I liked the rhythm to this poem. Remember remember the way it starts, and then some messages that cut to the heart. It talks of the bad stuff and being remote, but it never fails to still talk about hope.”

“This one made me smile. Strangely nostalgic and melancholy.  Remembering the seemingly small routines of prison and pining for the normality to be back.  There was also a sense of our shared thanks on a Thursday night, I could almost hear those cell doors banging and a sense of we’re all in this together.  Good wee read.”

“This work delivers a message for everyone built on our shared place in this time. Delivers a strong message of being in this together and why this is important for being safe.”

“the positive sense of message to hold the good times and remember those struggling and who have no choice to work and a sense of thanks to them.”

“A hopeful little Poem that focuses on the positives and I found it a really uplifting piece of work”


Sonnet Seventeen


A gloopy mix,

Of ‘Graham’s Low Fat’

And milk

Sit in an old Pot Noodle pot,

Perched on a pipe.


For the transformation to occur.


I will eat yoghurt

A Milkybar.

Kettle-melted, thick and sweet

Nuts, raisins, cereal


A crunchy conglomeration

Of childhood memories;

The promise of delayed gratification

Next week

I will have chocolate crispies every day.

A used ice-cream tub,

Filled to the top with tea leaves,

And a tiny, seemingly insignificant seed,

Salvaged from my plate.

They sit on a barred windowsill

In Spring sunshine,

Sprouting new life.

This summer

I will eat fresh tomatoes

My most prized possession:

An Encyclopedia of Plants,

Three inches thick,

Heavy and beautiful.

Almost spiritual,

As if the whole of creation were condensed

Into its precious pages

Next year

I will be a gardener.


“This is one of these clever poems whose meaning is very much in the subjective eye of the reader. I like it because it is forward looking, the writer is using good images of what the current situation is but there are plans for personal improvement. There is a tacit acceptance of growth and that is positive, with a clear goal in sight…and all with a bit of spirituality thrown in for good measure.”

“I loved this. A real poet’s eye. Steps outside the box to write about the gold at the end of the rainbow. Glorious language used throughout, including “Kettle-melted”, “a used ice cream tub, filled to the top with tea leaves”, and “an encyclopaedia of plants” makes this my first place.”

“This was a beautifully evocative description of transformation of things and people. Beautiful use of language, creating a truly memorable piece of writing. Really special and unforgettable.”

“This was actually my out and out favourite of all the poems.  I both smiled and cried as I read, the story that was being told was of making do, finding a way, ingenious, inventiveness when supplies are sparse. I could smell the yogurt and the crispies, feel the heat on the window ledge. The hope and passion of growing the seeds. My heart sang with the hope of sun and growth and a garden.  I found myself willing the future for this author, that his desire to be a gardener will manifest.”

“ingenuity here is priceless, looking beyond the situation to what is possible to achieve”


Sonnet Eighteen


What you lookin’ at, you fucking dick?

Shut the fuck up.  You taking the mick?

See in ma town, they’d punch in yer cunt

Oh, yeah, big-man, gonna take a punt?

Fuck you, prick, ya fuckin’ fuck.

Come aheed then, if you think yer in luck.

Wank-faced dick. Cunt-face. Wanker.

See yer wifie, I’m gonna tank  ‘er.









But stop…wait, this ain’t no joke

Why not just talk like normal folk

What, you mean we could just be kind?

What you on? You out yer mind?

Yeah, after all, I’ve been told

We look like bairns o’ six year old.





How about we end it, bro?



“Roaring with laughter at this one. It is exactly how I would imagine Irvine Welsh would square up to James Kelman, or any other Sweary McSwearface, if they were both in Saughton. No matter the confrontation, you cannot be first to back down!   This brought back to mind the tired old argument about swearing being a lack of vocabulary. I could summon up my extensive sagacity and loquaciousness to posit a direct negative to your normative assertion, or I could just say “Shut up and fuck off!!!” – I certainly know which response wins it for me in terms of brevity and emotion.”

“This reads like a freestyle rap battle – in Scottish patter. It manages to diss the opponent but maintains an edge of humour and reason, almost turning in on itself until that final hilarious line. Pretty smart.”

“A poem of two halves!  The first half full of banter, raw and shared but the second half more thoughtful, considering change.  Fab!”

“This poem was raw and bald in its language. The title led me to laugh and find humour in it and surprisingly it lacked the anger of other poems which was so strange because the language was aggressive.”

“I know this piece is deliberately outrageous with every swearword insult it could possibly come up with.  I know some will accuse it of being sensational because of all the expletives but this piece had subtle intelligence in its construction.  The first stanza is out to grab you by the face whilst the second kind of startles you with its conservative language. Just brilliant.  Had me sniggering like a kid when you hear your folks saying bad words.”



Sonnet Nineteen

Time to Forgive

With each day that time goes by

The more time I have to reflect

And then I always wonder why

Then I sometimes reflect

Oh! Why has this happened to me

Do they really know what they have done

But only if they could see

Would they have done what they have done

We know the pen is mightier than the sword

But are the lies over time greater

It was their lies and they took their word

So you tell me what is greater

With my life time ticking by

I lie down full of worries

So why should I just sit by

When I should be full of memories

As with memories they come from love

A love that can not be changed

As I look to the one above

I know that my love will not be changed

Although I know what they have done

I know I have nothing left to give

As our will will be done

I know that I can forgive


“I wish I had more time to reflect upon this one. I am touched by the depth of emotion shown, but there are also hints of regret, self-doubt and anger at times. This is a roller coaster of emotions.”

“Leaves the reader with strong feelings of redemption, forgiveness and the wish to make reparation for harm caused.”

“This was the first time I read a poem that had me wondering about the guilt of the author.  I feel this piece almost alludes to a possibility that the author may not have been guilty of the crime he is incarcerated for.  If you look at the poem form that perspective you see an author who is grappling with the frustration of having been cheated but ultimately illustrates the strength and willingness to learn to forgive.”

“Sonnet 19 made me feel sad at this injustice. This poet describes so well his loss, his missing of making memories with his family but all testimony to him and his decision that it is time to forgive.”


Sonnet Twenty



You think the people outside have it easy


You think you have it easy.


They get to go out and do there shopping and see friends and family and take the dogs out


You get your 30 mins walkabout in the yard.

You get your phone calls.

You get your showers.

You get to see and speak to other people.


Wate until they come and take your cell mate to an outside hospital with suspect Covid-19


Then they come in the morning and say, ‘Sorry’ But you are on Big time lockdown


Now my lockdown is seeing a screw 4 times a day to give me my food and for him to do his count.


No phone.

No shower.

No walkabout.

No nothing.


Seeing a screw in a Apron, goggles and a mask and gloves 3 times a day, if it was any other day you would piss your self laughing at the site of him


Now I’m sitting here on my own shitting myself, am I going to be here next week???

Time will tell.


Please just get on with it and do what needs to be done, and let them do what needs to be done.


Thank you

SPS                                                         NHS

(Drawing of rainbow)


“The main thought about this is the crispness of the language used – not flowery or equivocal, just plain, straight forward and simple. A hard contrast between inside and out and the lockdown implications on both sides. The middle portion about the worry and anxiety, heightened by their co-pilots demise, was hard-hitting and truthfully brutal.  Finishing with the message that it is just people doing their jobs and with the rainbow showed an underlying respect that was missing from the first part. I liked this one.”

“The vulnerability, the restrictions, the loss of small things, the loss of connection, an appreciation of the challenges for prison staff, & actions required to help out.”

“I just loved the descriptive simplicity of the language and the clarity of the writer’s wish to just be able to do whatever has to be done to get through this. Then a simple, grateful thanks to the NHS and SPS. Really memorable.”



Sonnet Twenty One

Lockdown where dose it end?

Dark clouds hang above

all cities of the world.

Damn politicians without

real ambitions to help

us (prisoners) get through

but do they really mean

what they say

or rather


their beliefs out to you?

How did all this come about?

is this pandemic here to stay

for now, we can only hope, dream

it go’s away.



yet, in the face of this situation

we are forced to bear,

new horrors

of course,

it’s not what it was

meant to be

or what you expect

to see on TV

so where dose it end?

we’re all bound by invisible chains

a bind that come out of nowhere,

just come, but why

are we surprised?

what did we expect?

how do we plan

to get out of this.


I wish all to remember to give

yourself (if needed) permission

to have thoughts when you’re

disturbed or distressed over

the events currently being

experienced by the hole


But remember

our prison, our dungeon, is in

  1. it’s in our own mind, our own thinking


The quality of your thoughts

determines the quality of your life

The true person is not

anyone in particular;

but, like the deep blue

colour of the limitless


It is everyone,

everywhere, in the



“An interesting question posed in an interesting way. A simple treatise on the effects of the pandemic on mental health across the world – and the way it then suggests we are all prisoners of our own thinking was sublime. There was a troubled edge to this poem that comes across strongly along with a concern for others.”

“the quality of your thoughts determine the quality of your life”. What a statement to stand by.”

“This poem meanders along sharing a message which suggested a troubled outlook and then develops into the most creative and compassionate ending.”


Sonnet Twenty Two

5 Minute Phone Call

Self isolation not just the

bad boys and girls the

whole nation

Strange situation being locked

down with the rest of the


5 minute phone call not

long at all

I hear the moans and groans

from other people waiting on


Loved ones locked in there

homes sitting by the phones

saying this is hard with no disregard

I keep up the fascad that

things are bad knowing

I would be glad to be living

In there bad

I wouldn’t be sad I would

be glad living in there

situation being locked down

with the rest of the nation

with no frustration

I miss getting a kiss or a

hug because that is my drug

I’m having withdraws from

her touch thats what I

miss so much

Living in this strange situation

with the rest of the nation


“This clearly highlights the benefits and total necessity of contact with the outside world. It was interesting to note that the writer puts on a face when listening to the whinges of the outside world – a stoic defiance in the face of ever-increasing adversity on the inside. Again, the articulation of relationships and the need for the stimulus of touch – something that I found touching! Finishing with the clear message, we are all in this together…sort of!”

“The yearning of a hug, to be held, this truly demonstrates the impact of not having that connection with loved ones. You can feel the hurt- it’d be hard not being touched.”

“What comes to mind is you stand in my shoes; your lockdown is not the same as my lockdown.”


Sonnet Twenty Three


Trying to get thru this

it’s our loved ones we miss

Even tho wear not thair

we can all show how much

we caire

Fighting this virus

seems a mess

but we can all help

buy doing our best

We’ll bang and clap

for the best

Who will forget our NHS

Keeping us happy and calm

it’s been a challenge for our big man

Hats off to our officers

who put up with a lot

It’s becoming a pain

this lockdown again

this time is different

this time its fair

For everyone out thire

Friends and family

We want you to know we still care

I know it’s hard for now

Sunny days will come around

We are all thriving we are all surviving


“A poem of positive positivity. It is almost like there is no pandemic or risk – it is all about concern for family on the outside and respect for the NHS. There is even a recognition that it must also be tough for officers! I liked the line “this time is different, this time its fair” – in my minds eye this is someone who has hurtled through the revolving door a few times…and not all of them were justified, in their humble opinion.”

“Summed up perfectly, what a crazy time this is; to having gratitude for services, to being vulnerable and disconnected from family. Really hit the spot!”

Reaching out to tell family to take care and they are cared for whilst acknowledging their own disconnect is powerful. The praise for staff and NHS speak to a humanity and the positive ending is a credit to the poet.”



Sonnet Twenty Four

No Laughing Matter

It’s no laughing matter

When we are all locked down

We miss our loved ones

that’s a fact

Trying to keep smiling

doing this time

Nothing to do

But write to them

Sometimes it gets lonely

when you’re feeling low

but don’t feel down

happy times will come around

this is a start to open your heart

always know you’re not far apart

you’re loved one will always

be in you’re heart


“I first looked at these on my phone – the perimeter of this poem looked like the key space on a lock – a visual representation of what is happening globally. It had the undercurrent of putting on a face, sadness at separation but still some hope for the future.  Short, succinct and straight to the point.”

“The pain of being cut off from family is palpable here but the willing to find a way to communicate and remain positive speaks to a strong character.”

As with Section One all of our poets in Section two have reached out to us in with a raw authenticity and again choosing favourites has been difficult but again we have chosen our section two top three.

Our winners are:

1st Place – Sonnet Seventeen – Making Yoghurt

2nd place – Sonnet Sixteen – Locked In

3rd place –  Sonnet 18 – Banter

Congratulations to our winners and a massive thank you to all of our authors who have like their peers before them selflessly provided a window into another reality for us all to absorb this week.


Thank you for taking the time to visit the First Time Inside / Hidden Voices blog today, we hope you found The Saughton Sonnets as powerful, challenging and uplifting as we did ourselves. Apologies if your own particular favourite didn’t win todays competition but I’m sure you will agree there are no losers on display here today.

Thank you to all those who Sponsored our output this week – Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to do the same on our remaining output which is taking place daily throughout this week including an opportunity to sponsor our Champion of Champions output this coming Friday.

First Time Inside would like to take this opportunity to thank the writers for trusting us to share their talent on our Hidden Voices platform as well as the staff at HMP Edinburgh and Scottish Prison Service for trusting us, whilst sharing the content, to respect the residents and the environment they currently find themselves living in and a massive thank you to our extensive panel who made todays output possible by volunteering their time to contribute to an initiative which we hope will offer many food for positive thought.

This is the last batch of poetry from HMP Edinburgh and our Saughton Sonnets but each day this week we will review a previous winner with some thoughts from our judges on their experience of being on the panel and part of the Hidden Voices community these past four weeks culminating in a crowning of our champion of champions this coming Friday.

If you would like to enquire about advertising with, sponsoring output or supporting the work of First Time Inside / Hidden Voices contact us at [email protected]

Have a wonderful week, stay safe, follow the Govt. guidelines and take a moment to reflect on the experience shared by the courageous men of HMP Edinburgh today @FirstTimeInside out

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