Over the course of the past four weeks First Time Inside (FTI) & Hidden Voices have been privileged to coordinate the Saughton Sonnets project – a collaboration between ourselves at FTI and HMP Edinburgh – and now we have arrived at a position where all our panel have to do is select an overall winner.

A task which if the previous weeks are anything to go by will present a massive challenge. Our belief is that every poet is a winner not only in terms of talent but simply by virtue of their exhibition of bravery sharing some very personal thoughts with an unknown audience.

Today we are sharing the five weekly winners again to refresh your memory and remind you – through this small selection – of the standard of work we saw created by the immensely talented men and women from HMP Edinburgh.

Please enjoy reading over the final five one more time, as well as some of the panels comments from their release day and remember to pick your own favourite to see how it compares with our panel.

Feel free to join the discussion that is sure to ensue thereafter on Twitter when the result is published here on Friday morning at the regular time for all the Saughton Sonnets output of 8am.

A quote from one of our poets about their experience of participating to start.

 

Saughton Sonnets  – The Final Five

 

Found a Friend on Lockdown

Sitting here in lockdown I got lost inside a book
Not much way of comfort, chocolate was all it took
I was sitting reading in my cell but got rudely interrupted
I flew up to my sweetie stash which was terribly corrupted

I counted all my sweets but one? How could this be?
A mouse was running we the last mars bar! He’d made an enemy
I pounced but flounced and saw him scurry over the floor
I had to grab him in a hurry before he reached for something more.

I held him in a vice like grip then saw a tear jerk from his eyes
It didn’t matter what he had done. I couldn’t bring his demise
“Gone then Miss Convict! Go on tak my life”
“Being a prison mouse is nought but hell and strife”
“Ah waz born and bred in Saughton ma daddy wiz a rat”
“He used to beat me badly but ell no go intae that”

With that he reached an pulled the fur back from his paw
There tattooed was a skull and crossbone’s I saw.
“Oh man that’s grim” I said. “You can come stay with me.
As long as you behave yourself I’ll not charge any fee”.

I made a wee pal in lockdown an saved him from myself
Now all that’s left is to protect him from everybody else!

 

“I really like Sonnet 8, the way it tells a story, and inside that story, so many other stories are hidden: How prison life can make you intolerant of others taking your things; how we default to violence; how empathy builds connection; how we see our own suffering in others’ pain and fear. This poem speaks of the traumatic experiences of so many people imprisoned. And, also, how blind we can be to those experiences if we haven’t had them ourselves. I love the mouse character – it reminds me of Robert Burns’ ‘Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie’ – and his tattoos and how he comes to represent friendship and loyalty.”

“What a joy of a poem. This two hander between the narrator and her new wee pal is so multi layered and captures so much truth of life – not only in prison- through the parallels of the ACEs experienced by the mouse. The final couplet ties the whole piece up beautifully and the humour never wanes. Just lovely.”

“It had elements of Robert Burns. ‘Being a prison mouse is naught but hell and strife’ Who is the mouse in the poem? The mouse personifies the fear experienced in prison and projected onto the mouse by the authorship ‘Saves it from herself’ But the mouse kept his humour ‘A wiz born and bred in Saughton My daddy was a rat’ How many people have no real chance? This is a very good poem”

” Wonderful story-telling, compassion, humour, rhythm and rhyme. Also demonstrates a flair for spoken word. I believe this would be greatly enjoyed read out live. My top pick.”

“I loved this! It’s utterly brilliant! Leaving to one side the quality of the composition of the poem, I loved the story it told and the story I heard, the humour and the humanity, the compassion and the kindness. There is so much in this poem that speaks to so much more that I couldn’t stop reading it – and each time, I took something different from it. I’ll let the reader take their own thoughts from this though, in keeping with what I interpreted as the spirit of the poem.”

“I found this experience (I originally wrote ‘exercise’ but realised that suggested that this was a chore – it was anything but a chore) a pleasure. It was also a challenge just to imagine how difficult it must have been for these individuals to confront their own situation and fears and then put their experiences in writing. My stomach turned in heartache at some, smiled at others and LOL’d at others. Thank you for permitting me to be part of this experience and thank you to each and every author for opening their hearts and minds to us.”

 

Gallows Humour

So I sit here alone
on my firm Plastic Chair
The Whole World outside
Sinks into despair.

An invisible enemy
Making War on us all.
not quite the end We expected at all.

The Scientists named it Covid 19
The deadliest Plague the Worlds ever seen.
An innocuous title, Im sure you’ll agree
for a bug That intends
To Wipe out you and me.

Like Bubonic Plague, and Ebola Combined
it’s insidious purpose, The end of Mankind.
So I sit here alone
On my Chair in This Jail.
For once glad The Fiscal opposed my bail.

I dont want my freedom
And dont have much use for hope
I just sit here alone
A content Misanthrope.

 

“Just love this one, as I can see myself sitting on that chair, my safest times was in my cell. I feel this one most.”

“Rich language and wonderfully crafted ponderings throughout, the direction of the poem is a clever and astute one, especially when the poet states “For once glad the Fiscal opposed my bail”.”

“I loved the vivid and imaginative language used throughout here, especially coupled with the “Gallows Humour” that ran throughout. The misanthrope content in the situation that most want to leave, cynically dismantling the innocuous title of the virus with its seismic impact worldwide and its “insidious purpose”. Really powerful and intelligent writing.”

““a content misanthrope…” Gallows Humour – an apt title – I loved the irony of this poem, the talent is breathtaking”

” ‘So I sit here alone/on my firm Plastic Chair’: I like this poem a lot. The way it repeats the image of the narrator in the present tense – ‘I sit here alone’ – emphasises his aloneness and his resignation, acceptance, even gladness at being separated from ‘The Whole World outside’. The use of capital letters is interesting: it gives his ‘firm Plastic Chair’ a weight and presence that the material belies. Even though it’s plastic, and (presumably) uncomfortable, it’s strong, it’s holding him. There is a clarity and resolve in his voice. He is not seeking to be heard, so much as listened to, yet content to be forgotten. This one made me think. ”

“Great writing. If it was a proper poetry slam, being judged by peers, this would undoubtedly win by quite a long way. You demonstrate a firm grasp of language and the confidence to deploy it without fear of judgement. Keep going! Fuck the haters.”

 

A Little Jail Phone Call!!

Lying awake in the dark my thought’s are of my children & the wife
Im worried for their health my precious children are my life
And now theres no visit’s or bonding absaloutly nothing at all
All I can give to them is a little jail phone call

This call originate’s from a Scottish prison if you don’t want this call please hang up
But they have been waiting patiently I thank the stars for my luck
I chat away or listen intently to all they say and when its over Im standing tall
This is what they give back to me with a little jail phone call

Daddy I drew you a picture and can we sing you a song
Obviously I say yes and was over joyed to try and sing along
These are all the thing’s that pick me up when I feel I could fall
I don’t know what Id do with out a little jail phone call

I’m starting to realise the wife is struggling just to try and cope
I can hear it in her voice she’s reaching the end of her rope
I need to support her emotionaly & mentaly I can not drop the ball
This is what I give my wife with a little jail phone call

I also phone my nana and get a big family report
Im the one ment to be strong but she’s the one giving me support
This is what my family & I need if not I would hit the wall
The only thing keeping our spirits up is a little jail phone call

So goodnight my little babies sweetdreams when you goto bed
Dear wife I love you remember every single word Ive said
If we didnt have these moments I don’t think we would cope at all
We might be locked down but Im still grateful for,
A Little Jail Phone Call

“This is an exceptional poem with a different angle from anything else written. Family-orientated, the consolation of prison phone calls becomes all-important, and the writer articulates this breath-takingly and beautifully.”

“Strong poetry that uses the outbound phone call from a locked prison world as an asset to maintain relationships on both sides of the prison wall, helping everyone affected to survive and cope with separation in family relationships. Building on the phone call as an asset, this work evokes a tangible sense of missing loved ones and the longing to reconnect, seeking in the words to atone the writer’s own responsibility for absence.”

“This made me cry – the isolation caused by imprisonment, the fear for your family, the wanting to help care but you can’t and the lack of control on even the most simple things in life. The importance of relationships shine through as does the hard reality of prison.”

“This literally brought a tear to my eye and made me look at my family with even more appreciation and gratitude than ever.”

“A Little Jail Phone Call really spoke of the lifeline that contact with families is. I could see this man standing in a noisy hall singing to his child or sitting alone in his cell with thoughts and worries of how his wife was coping. It was a privilege to read and resonated so much with our own experiences. It brought into sharp focus the impact of having no visits for 3 months or no access to in-cell telephones.”

“A Little Jail Phone Call moved me so much, brimming with humility and humanity. The suffering of separation eclipsed only by the extent of the love between the poet and their family. It absolutely emphasises too how important it is to facilitate meaningful contact between those imprisoned and their families – for both parties – and not just under lockdown!!”

“Sonnet 12 moved me to tears . The isolation felt by this man and the way he acknowledges that pain and also sees the pain of his family through those precious phone calls is truly breath taking.”

“This sonnet tells a heart wrenching story about grief – loss and separation. The recurring focus and visualisation in the poem about the phone call reiterate the importance of human connection and how this has become a lifeline to the people we cherish most – but also highlights the negative ripple effect on families when incarceration is imposed. The poem evoked strong feelings– which most people are experiencing in COVID but stripes away all the bravado and unearthed every fathers/human’s deepest vulnerability which is to be alone and separated for the family/people you love. The line “Daddy I drew you a picture and can we sing you a song’ I thought of my own children and wept at the thought and anguish of this separation. It was encouraging that while the author unearths such strong feelings, the poem had nice breaks every 4 lines which allows the reader space to breath.is connecting with. Finally, despite the separation and loss of personal visit, the authors attitude remains grateful for the smallest things keeping him surviving.”

“The simple sadness of the message running through this lovely poem will stay with me for a long time. Sincere thanks to the writer for perfectly capturing the love and care that he feels for his family and the loss he lives with every day . It was a privilege to have these deeply personal emotions shared.”

 

 

Lockdown

  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.

 

“This is an exceptional poem with a different angle from anything else written. Family-orientated, the consolation of prison phone calls becomes all-important, and the writer articulates this breath-takingly and beautifully.”

“Strong poetry that uses the outbound phone call from a locked prison world as an asset to maintain relationships on both sides of the prison wall, helping everyone affected to survive and cope with separation in family relationships. Building on the phone call as an asset, this work evokes a tangible sense of missing loved ones and the longing to reconnect, seeking in the words to atone the writer’s own responsibility for absence.”

“This made me cry – the isolation caused by imprisonment, the fear for your family, the wanting to help care but you can’t and the lack of control on even the most simple things in life. The importance of relationships shine through as does the hard reality of prison.”

“This literally brought a tear to my eye and made me look at my family with even more appreciation and gratitude than ever.”

“A Little Jail Phone Call really spoke of the lifeline that contact with families is. I could see this man standing in a noisy hall singing to his child or sitting alone in his cell with thoughts and worries of how his wife was coping. It was a privilege to read and resonated so much with our own experiences. It brought into sharp focus the impact of having no visits for 3 months or no access to in-cell telephones.”

“A Little Jail Phone Call moved me so much, brimming with humility and humanity. The suffering of separation eclipsed only by the extent of the love between the poet and their family. It absolutely emphasises too how important it is to facilitate meaningful contact between those imprisoned and their families – for both parties – and not just under lockdown!!”

“Sonnet 12 moved me to tears . The isolation felt by this man and the way he acknowledges that pain and also sees the pain of his family through those precious phone calls is truly breath taking.”

“This sonnet tells a heart wrenching story about grief – loss and separation. The recurring focus and visualisation in the poem about the phone call reiterate the importance of human connection and how this has become a lifeline to the people we cherish most – but also highlights the negative ripple effect on families when incarceration is imposed. The poem evoked strong feelings– which most people are experiencing in COVID but stripes away all the bravado and unearthed every fathers/human’s deepest vulnerability which is to be alone and separated for the family/people you love. The line “Daddy I drew you a picture and can we sing you a song’ I thought of my own children and wept at the thought and anguish of this separation. It was encouraging that while the author unearths such strong feelings, the poem had nice breaks every 4 lines which allows the reader space to breath.is connecting with. Finally, despite the separation and loss of personal visit, the authors attitude remains grateful for the smallest things keeping him surviving.”

“The simple sadness of the message running through this lovely poem will stay with me for a long time. Sincere thanks to the writer for perfectly capturing the love and care that he feels for his family and the loss he lives with every day . It was a privilege to have these deeply personal emotions shared.”

 

 

MAKING YOGURT 

A gloopy mix,

Of ‘Graham’s Low Fat’

And milk

Sit in an old Pot Noodle pot,

Perched on a pipe.

Warm…waiting

For the transformation to occur.

Tomorrow

I will eat yoghurt

A Milkybar.

Kettle-melted, thick and sweet

Nuts, raisins, cereal

Combined:

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”

 

The winning poem will be announced on Twitter this Friday at 8am @FirstTimeInside

If you would like to discuss creating a Hidden Voices collaboration to support your own organisations work e mail [email protected] send for the attention of Gerry Hamill and we can start the conversation. See you all here on Friday morning @FirstTimeInside out.

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