Today it is a great honour to share the Hidden Voices platform with a 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 presents, the first week of a four week initiative, our project Saughton Sonnets.

It is also pleasing to confirm that todays Hidden Voices output has been sponsored by The Faculty of Advocates.

Today we are bringing the creative talents of the women currently resident in Ratho Hall at HMP Edinburgh to Hidden Voices we trust you’ll share in our admiration of their talents.

The role of First Time Inside (FTI) in this initiative is not only to showcase the work and let those Hidden Voices be heard but to honour the work by presenting it in a manner which is both respectful to the talent shared and the environment they find themselves in. To facilitate this last week FTI put out a call, via Twitter, to ask if anyone would like to join this initiative and participate as a judge on a scoring panel for a poetry competition. The response was both stunning and entirely humbling.

As this first tranche of poetry is shared today we have 42 individuals and/or organisations – in what we now call our little hidden voices community – coming from all corners of justice, criminal and community, from academia to the literary world, from third sector to private citizen. Each and every one has embraced the project with compassion as well as passion and some of their comments on this weeks poetry can be seen below. It is fair to say that the toughest part of participating for everyone was scoring the poems because as you’ll witness in a few moments the depth of talent they had to work with is so impressive. There is, as with any competition, a winner and you’ll find that as you make your way through the creativity today but in reality each and every poet is a winner in our eyes simply for demonstrating the strength and courage to share their thoughts not only with a community of strangers but also a wider audience on social media and elsewhere.

As you make your through this creative maze you’ll see comments specific to individual sonnets and more general comments about the poetry as a whole in between each piece of work.

Our challenge to you, the reader, when reading these poems is to open your hearts, park any preconceptions you may have and listen to your fellow human beings who have no other method of communication with the wider world reach out to you in their own ways, in their own words.

The poets were asked to express their feelings, in verse, of being in prison during this lockdown period and under the tough regime imposed by the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis. The last word prior to letting you enjoy all of the work comes from David Abernethy who is Governor of HMP Edinburgh.

“As someone who has worked in prisons for more than 30 years I am all too aware of the talent that people have and it’s great that FTI has agreed to give residents of HMP Edinburgh a voice in these strange times. All too often people are labelled and marginalised when they enter the justice system and something as simple and authentic as a poem, expressing feelings of loneliness fear, anger or frustration, can help to let people who have never been in a prison know that people in prison just like the rest of us.” David Abernethy, Governor – HMP Edinburgh

Without any further introduction here are the poetic tales from the ladies in Ratho Hall at HMP Edinburgh.

 

Sonnet One

Kicking Covid’s Ass

1. Living in this lonely lockdown situation
2. Everyone is feeling a wee bit of frustration
3. Trying to overcome this crisis with some patience
4. Keeping people safe with your own self-isolation
5. If you’re feeling lonely, missing social interactions
6. Just mind that shaking hands could cause fatal reactions.
7. Everyone’s at risk, there is no discrimination
8. Covid-19s plan is to take out our full nation
9. If we work together to defeat this deadly virus, staying home, wash your hands, don’t touch your mouth, nose or yer eyelids
10. If you ask me why I’ll provide you with the answer
11. To protect those most at risk with diabetes, asthma, cancer
12. Everyone can help if we all just do our best to eliminate Corona and
13. PROTECT OUR NHS!
#[email protected]#SAVELIVES

 

“Demonstrates a real sense of unity and excellent rhyming structure. One of my favourites.”

“Core public health messages; kindness and compassion to others, particularly the most vulnerable.”

“This is a great poem, which reads almost in the rhythm and metric of spoken word. I thought it conveyed a critical message about the need to manage the pandemic in a prison context, for the good of the collective, in spite of the impact on the self.”

“I do not remember ever seeing a poem that has numbers on each line. As a numbers person this was not necessarily a bad thing! 13 lines in total and Protect our NHS is at number thirteen – traditionally the unluckiest of numbers and currently the unluckiest of environments to be working in – I do not know if this was deliberate on the writer’s part or a happy accident but it added meaning when I read this. Notice how it is outward looking – it is tending to ignore the fact they are writing this from behind a prison wall… ”

“The sonnets offer an authentic , sometimes raw, insight into the internalised and practical impact of imprisonment on their authors. Even the term author offers its own insight in turning our own thoughts to seeing this community as people with capacity to care. In darkness there is hope and determination to overcome this adversity. Scoring in order of merit is only a reflection of our own preference, indeed another prejudice to face in their lives.”

“Wow! They were all fantastic, but I fell in love with ‘I found a friend in lockdown’. That one just drew me in from start to finish and whilst it related to covid it was a tale of friendship, hope and second chances. There was a sense of two communities in many of the poems, feeling part of the prison community and the added challenges that brings at this time but also knowing we’re all in this together, facing something that doesn’t discriminate against any of us and taking action for the good of others.

Thanks to all who took part, I really enjoyed reading them all. Sonnet 1 Kicking Covids Ass could be turned in to a rap! Well done.”

 

Sonnet Two

Covid (19) Together We Stood

There are days you feel alone and just want to go home.
There are days you feel down.
Just remember the frontline and there need for a mask and gown.
This is for are own good
But remember it’s together we stood.

You may feel your in a room the size of a shed
But always remember there will be light at that tunnel ahead.
For the greater good we all stood.
The days seem so long like you don’t belong
But Remember savings lives isn’t wrong.

People will remember the part we all played in this horrible time.
Saving lives doesn’t have ryme.
So remember for are own good we all stood.

One day wel tell family and friends where wev been and what wev seen
So lets see the back of you Covid (19).
One day we will laugh again and we will cry
But in the end wel wipe they tears dry and kiss Covid goodbye.

We all did this together, me and you.
Dont be so blue cause in the end Covid, wel say goodbye to you.
This wont last forever. We all did this together.

FOR THE GREATER GOOD WE ALL STOOD

 

“I loved the rise and fall of language in each verse. A poem grounded in reality but with a thread of optimism and connectedness”

“This poem conveys a sense of suffering and yet also a strong sense of solidarity, of inner and collective strength in the face of adversity. It powerfully illuminates the personal sacrifices people are making in very solitary and stark conditions. It is humbling.”

“Personal resilience & strength whilst considering the greater good; feeling vulnerable though recognising the need for actions & everyone playing their part; feeling disconnected whilst being connected.”

“Empowering piece with a thread of ‘sacrifice’ running throughout.”

“Reading these poems was a great privilege, it was like being invited into the minds of these women and seeing through their eyes. A strong theme ran through all of the poems for me. That and was ‘strength’. The strength to understand and accept even more restrictions than before, despite the worry and impact on themselves, knowing they are saving lives.”

“I found the “grading” of these poems really difficult, it seemed to imply that I disliked Sonnet 9 in comparison to Sonnet 8. I don’t, I actually enjoyed all the poems which all had fantastic merit in their own styles …I have comments on each but that is probably too much to go into in a comments box!

There were a handful of poems that stood out to me and they are all my favourites. The grading doesn’t really reflect that. “Found a Friend on Lockdown” had a cheery, upbeat cadence that made it easy to read but there was also a subtle darker undertone to the content in terms of the mouse’s history. I thought that was a very clever juxtaposition and I liked this very much. “(My Mind) Life in Lockdown” was raw and honest. I think the last line “…Be out the dark” was beautifully simple but contained layers of meaning and that line just stayed with me. Sonnet 7 was another that had a jaunty cadence to reading it, a dry humour to the language but with a very clear message. It ended with a call to arms almost, a sort defiant pride at being part of the HMP community. These three poems were my favourites but all were very different in tone and content.”

 

Sonnet Three

(Untitled)

Please don’t let the Coronavirus get you down
Don’t let it give you a frown
Keep a smile on your face
But remember to avoid others personal space
Wash your hands as much as you can
Stick to the Government’s Hygiene Plan
It’s not ideal to be locked up all day
But any suggestions you have then just say
It’s all done to keep you well
Which unfortunately means us isolated in a cell
Collecting our dinners one by one
Is just the way it’s got to be done
Holding the mail back for 24 hours
To banish the viruses contamination powers
Everyone at the moments living in fear
We just have to stay safe while we are in here
We have to all stick together
And see this virus through this stormy weather
Please keep your hygiene tip top
And hopefully this virus will come to a halt and stop.

 

“I really enjoyed the down to earth and matter of fact tone throughout this sonnet. The optimism of the writer shone through despite the restrictions of the new rules put in place to keep the community safe. A genuine care for others is so well communicated.”

“Acceptance of restrictions during a challenging situation; consideration for others whilst personal responsibility; recognising emotions. Beautifully written.”

“An insight into how the regime has changed inside – even though the rest of us are suffering this current madness and having to adapt, it is the little things that matter on the inside – getting letters and association and human contact at dinner times. There was a sadness about this one – a sad acceptance at the place they are in and that the rules changes are just what they are.”

“This poem shines a light on how people in prison experience the measures in place to manage and control the virus. Despite the recognition of the necessity of these measures, the understanding, and the solidarity expressed, this poem also conveyed the experience of isolation of being locked up all day, the enforced solitude, delays in receipt of mail – and thus even further distance and disconnect from the outside world, and importantly, those who matter most and can provide critical comfort and reassurance at this time.”

“This was impossibly hard to do……Each sonnet was clearly written with thought, passion and humility. The amount of work and talent was endless. I was humbled to be allowed into the minds of individuals, conveying their experiences. There was a real sense of social understanding within the context of a prison setting. Impressed beyond words!”

“Absolutely delighted to receive these wonderful works. Please pass on my thanks and congrats to the authors of each, they are very talented people. The works are all individually very impressive and different. I enjoyed sonnet 3 the most as I found it vey uplifting in these circumstances. Very impressed.”

 

Sonnet Four

(My Mind) Life in Lockdown

Life in lockdowns horrible
I wish I could say its not
I feel like we just get locked up
And were left there to rot
My mental health has broken
My mind it just wont stop
Worried about my family
Who I really miss a lot
I phone my daddy every day
At night I get on my knees and pray
For Carona Virus to go away
Im trying to stay positive
And smile as much as I can
But its really hard with this socilising ban
Im thankfull for the NHS & and the lifes they save
To be on the frontline there extremely brave
I cant wait untill its over and wee get our lifes back
Wont be long now I hope & wee will all
Be out the dark

 

“This is such a powerful poem! I could feel the rawness of their pain, the sense of aloneness and loneliness, of abandonment and of being forgotten, the overwhelming fear and anxiety, and the torture of a frantic mind, and the darkness – and among all of this, the courage and the efforts to keep going.”

“Powerful tone of voice, an intimate reflection or personal feelings about Covid. Good use of rhythm and end rhyme.”

“The impact of life in lockdown in so clearly communicated in this sonnet. The bluntness of the language emphasises the pressure on the mental health of the writer and yet, even amidst the darkness and worry, gratitude to the NHS shines through.”

“Fantastic split-poem where Pt 1 focuses on the writer’s personal concerns, Pt 2 provides the solution, and closes tidily in those final few lines”

“As predicted the poems were heart wrenching, but also full of talent, compassion and humour. I read more consideration and compassion in these lines than I saw at the weekend in the general public’s response to the easing of lockdown. The vivid descriptions of life in prison during this time were stark. On one hand the impact of isolation on each woman’s mental health, on the other – deep descriptive resilience and sense of strength in togetherness. It has been a privilege to read and I am very grateful to everyone who took part.”

“What a talented bunch you are! I absolutely loved reading your poetry and was very impressed and moved by them all.”

 

Sonnet Five

(Our Worlds in Lockdown)

The streets feel calm,
As cities stand still.
Theme parks now quiet,
Where we’d go for that thrill.

OUR WORLDS IN LOCKDOWN

The nurses, the carers,
Our martyrs, our saviours,
Bravely, answer our prayers.

OUR WORLDS IN LOCKDOWN

Gazing up to the skies,
Stars, twinkle like eyes.
We can see thier faces,
Your mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.
Just for now, they haven’t forgot us.

OUR WORLDS IN LOCKDOWN

 

“The calm reflection of the verses is blown away by the starkness of the recurring refrain. Lovely use of descriptive language that brings imagery to life.”

“A real sense of embracing peace. Loved the ‘carers/saviours/prayers’ rhyme.”

“This is a beautifully written poem and brilliantly composed”

“Simple and straightforward – brilliant use of imagery and getting the message across about the state of affairs. Support from the NHS and families – no visits so you look to the skies…this one really touched a nerve with me.”

“What a wonderfully difficult choice, every time I read the poems I changed my mind. The imagery across the different poems was powerful and resonating of the fears we all feel however there are some lines that reflected the similarity in experiences of lockdown in prison and the community and others that shone a light on the stark differences. I also really loved the humour that came through as well as the sense of togetherness, of sticking together, of community within Saughton and out with. There was also a sense of hope and coming out the other side which everybody needs so thank you.”

“This was so hard to judge, as all of the sonnets were so different. Some made me laugh – some left me with a real insight in to how the prison community must be enduring this lockdown and the sacrifices they are making.
I thought the language in Sonnet 5 ‘Our martyrs, our saviours ‘to describe the NHS workers was amazing and so well conceived.

I picked number 8 as my favourite because it made me smile and I could picture the interaction between the mouse and the writer.”

 

Sonnet Six

The Bells Shall Chime

From the unknown you were born.
a pact with darkness you have sworn
in our cries, hear my voice
my life is mine, I have a choice
in isolation I will stay
in our Lord I shall pray
for the end of this long dark night
that He may return the safety of light
for in his glare you are broken
Corona virus, the world has spoken
it is time you departed
and let our world be restarted
Our strength and love shall get us through
you will not break us, this is true
For now we bide our time
for surely when you are gone
The Bells Shall Chime

 

“Very moving. I loved the first line and the last”

“Brilliantly written poem – I loved the embodiment of Covid-19 ‘born from the unknown’ as this dark and powerful force which has cast a long shadow over the world, but the poem takes us from this position of darkness into the light; it is a poem about faith, resilience, hope and strength.”

“Resilient and strong poem. Demonstrates a steadfast faith.”

“The evocative tone and content of this Sonnet will stay with me for a long time. The powerful use of capital letters emphasises the strength of the battle of the light – “our Lord…He may return” versus the darkness of “Corona virus”. Good vs Evil. The clarity of the writer’s understanding that he/she has the power to do the right thing and make the right choices to allow the bells to chime again in the future is powerful. Love and hope runs throughout this lovely poem.”

“An excellent response by a hidden community who are all making their own sacrifice in these difficult times. All the poems had value and some real stand-outs – specifically number 5 – which used the striking imagery of an abandoned theme park – and the idea of different ‘worlds’ in lockdown – and number 6 – with religious symbolism and the knockout for me – the idea of the chiming of church bells at the end of the virus– reminiscent of the WW1 Armistice to evoke the sense of an end of conflict. Very moving and deeply felt work – thanks to all the guys for sharing their work! A real privilege to read.”

“These poems perfectly describe #HiddenVoices hopes and fears. Yet they also reflect a real sense of unity and togetherness and a light at the end of the tunnel.”

 

Sonnet Seven

(Untitled)

Being locked up was on the clock, but bein’ locked own wis a shock
Stay 2 metres apart, “yer too close if ye smell that fart”
Social distancin’ is gonny save lives, so hopefully we can aw get home tae oor wives
The corona virus dusny care aboot your name in the hall
“bigger they are, the harder they fall”
It isny fussy aboot who tae infect, so stick tae the rules, theyre there to protect
Wash yer hands, cough in yer sleeve,
dont be the reason a mother needs to grieve
behind oor doors were forced to confront,
breakin’ these rules makes ye a cu**t
excuse ma language, but at times like these
we need to dot the i’s and cross the T’s
and through it all, never forget –
we are the HMP community, and together we shall get through this in UNITY

 

“What can I say? I laughed out loud and loved every word of truth, fellowship and authenticity that ran through this. Responsibility for self and others at the forefront of every word with a community united in common purpose despite the enormity of the impact of the virus. I loved the locked up/ locked down contrast in the wonderful opening statement. Fantastic work.”

“Shows an astute, comedic approach with an underlying strength in unity among fellow inmates.”

“This is a punchy poem with a distinct writing style and I loved the rhythm and power of it. I think it will have wide appeal, and really gets across the message in a way I haven’t heard from others.”

“My favourite is Sonnet 7 – its voice is clear, distinct, authentic. I can hear the person speaking to me – about the day-to-day world of being imprisoned (“Being locked up was on the clock, but bein’ locked own wis a shock”) and how it’s been shaped by the pandemic. “The corona virus dusny care aboot your name in the hall” – this line speaks of the experience of being unseen, unnoticed, uncared about, which we’d normally associated with being a prisoner, but which hints at the virus being a kind of equaliser, treating us all the same in some respects, putting all our worries into perspective. I like the sense of common vulnerability that this evokes. I like the idiom (“behind oor doors were forced to confront, breakin’ these rules makes ye a cu**t”), and the way the rhymes sound as though the meaning came first. Often when we try and make poems rhyme (and they don’t have to, of course), the word choices can sound contrived, as if shoe-horned into the meaning rather than being incidental to it. It’s an art for rhyme to follow meaning. This poem, this poet, is practising this art.”

“Even with very limited knowledge these poems were extremely powerful and connected the reader to reveal insights into a world unknown to many – but I could relate to the fears that are global.

The theme and centre of the poems around Covid connect the reader to fellow humans incarcerated and enable a process of identification and connection.Many had very powerful descriptive language and powerful imagery.I particularly love the use of creative arts in expression as a way of exploration and supporting desistance from crime. My favourite is sonnet 7 has a powerfully edgy and has mischievous element contained within it. I love the use of slang, which connects you to the Scottish identity.I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the poems and want to express my gratitude to all the writers for the phenomenal work.”

 

Sonnet Eight

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.”

 

Sonnet Nine

(Untitled)

From your fingers to your wrist
From your palm to your fist

As the insecurity beckons
Just remember 20 seconds

Don’t touch your mouth or nose
Is the instruction that surely shows

Keep hands off your face
Mind your space
Lets work together do our Bit
And save the human race.

 

“This is a great short poem and I think it’d be great for young people and spreading the public health message around preventing Covid infection spreading within communities.”

“The simplicity of the language and sense of shared responsibility in the narrative gives real clarity to the story here. The writer should be in charge of writing government messaging!”

“Sonnet 9 speaks to me of the rhythms and rules of prison life – do this, do that – and, also, the weight of expectations on people imprisoned – to do better, to be better, to fix themselves, to “save the human race”. These expectations are unrealistic – we can’t do it as individuals, we can only do it as a community, together. This poem contains more than its brevity suggests. I love the first lines of this one:“From your fingers to your wrist From your palm to your fist As the insecurity beckons Just remember 20 seconds…”

“Cleverly keeps the poem small, focused; the personal responsibilities we all have as individuals – and then explodes into the duty of the world in that final line.”

“Poetry and writing is a brilliant way of using your voice. It invites people to listen, to think, learn, and maybe even change. You are being heard. Thank you for writing these poems, I enjoyed reading them.

The poems speak to how you are playing a part, as community members, being thoughtful about doing things for the benefit and protection of others during this difficult time of coronavirus crisis. Using the metaphor in Sonnet 3, coronavirus has been a long time of ‘stormy weather’. I really hope things improve to the point where the strict restrictions in the prison regime can ease for you soon – though I do understand why they are in place. The themes of your mental and emotional health, the things you miss, the things you are waiting and hoping for, and each of you as family members missing connection with loved ones are strong themes in these poems. You have been through a lot and it has been very hard, but this coronavirus crisis will not break you. We can hear your strength in these poems. One of the things I welcome and applaud in creative writing is using words and spelling which sound like you. People are drawn to real. Authenticity speaks for itself. This can include using Scottish words and phrases, and spelling some words in the way you say them (e.g., oor, intae).”

Having read though all of todays poems from the ladies in Ratho Hall 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. That said we did score and when you consider the number of panellists we have it is incredible that only two points separated the top two with our third place winner not much farther behind.

Our winners are: 1st Place – Sonnet 8,  2nd place – Sonnet 3 & 3rd place Sonnet 5.

Congratulations to our winners and a massive thank you to all of our authors who have selflessly provided a banquet of authenticity for us 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.

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.

Over the course of the next three weeks – always a Friday, always 8am – we look forward to sharing the creative talents of the men from HMP Edinburgh, they have a lot to live up to given the quality of their female compatriots work.

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] Send for the attention of Gerry Hamill and we will get back to you promptly.

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

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