Sleigh Cells Ring, are you listening…

It is wonderful in the week we managed to publish a Hidden Voices first, namely our  Saughton Sonnets Anthology – First Time Inside, that we are able to bring a festive feast of authenticity from the residents of HMP’s Edinburgh and Low Moss.

Prison is a challenging environment at any time but Christmas can present unique emotional hurdles as today’s verses demonstrate.

Our Hidden Voices community – which for this small project includes a sitting Scottish Government minister, lawyers, poets, academics, community justice practitioners and those with lived experience of the prison system –  rallied on fairly short notice to support this small initiative but as always connected with the creative work of the residents almost instantly, something evident in the comments included around the Christmas themed verses shared here today.

That depth of connection is demonstrated in some of the feedback comments from within our little community as evidenced in these comments from two of our number involved for the first time after being presented with the poetry. For those reading and not involved one of the challenges our tribe need to complete is the selection of their own personal top three – this has proven all year to be a difficult endeavour in the face of such raw emotion and authenticity…

I have commented on the 3 that I have picked, which in itself was incredibly difficult to do. I changed my mind several times and even as I get ready to conclude this, I still have some lingering doubts. Reading them all was quite an experience! Not just because it displays the incredible talent that exists within our prisoner population, but it reflects brilliantly that without doubt, we are “Aw Jock Tamson’s bairns” at the end of the day. 

There are two lines in SCR-8 that talks about “so fellow prisoners just take a little walk, and find a friend “if anyone needs to talk”.
Given the open display of what the writers have collectively captured in expressing the range of emotions they are all experiencing at this time, it is a brilliant, and incredibly uplifting 2 lines that in themselves offer up a useful and effective piece of advice, at a time when undoubtedly some would benefit from that option. I hope they do just that.
I wasn’t sure what I had signed up to or what to expect from becoming involved in this project, but without doubt it is something I feel extremely humbled and grateful for having had the opportunity.”


“Where to start. To take a seat on a wet, cold Sunday afternoon, I was not expecting to feel so moved and reflective. Each poem a dance, each word dancing on the page, opening up 11 windows into the lives and thoughts and feelings of 11 talented poets. These poems are honest, reflective, moving in both sad and happy ways and I love reading them a couple weeks before Christmas. Thank you to all who contributed and wrote such brilliant poetry.”

Without any further pre-amble, other than to encourage everyone to park any preconceptions they may have and listen to their follow human beings reach out to communicate with them in one of the few ways available to them,  I give you…

Sleigh Cells Ring from the residents of HMP Edinburgh and HMP Low Moss.


SCR – 1

Blessed Occasion

May your home be filled with bliss.
May your heart find peace this Christmas.
Show kindness to strangers, family and a friend.
Be polite to everyone and do not offend.
Push the boat of regret and let it sail away.
Happy is the moment, so smile on this day.
On this blessed occasion fulfil the poor’s dream.
Let your frozen emotions flow like a stream.
Cheery children, stockings and lights appear
Knowing Santa will bring gifts on his sleigh and deer
Snow is falling and flakes are dancing in the glow.
A white carpet covering everything on the ground below.
Bury the bitterness under the new fall.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.


“Any poet who bravely takes on the tight discipline of writing in the sonnet, this was being the standard Shakespearean style deserves praise. A striking first line holds the reader’s attention to the rhythm of the poetry and the final couplet ‘bury the bitterness under the new fall …’ – wonderful!”

“This one was like a kick in the sore parts – it really got to me. Do not know if it is because it was first on the list or if it was the very vibrant chord it struck as someone who has previously served a sentence. “Push the boat of regret and let it sail away” – oh if only it was that easy was what I was thinking. It is perhaps the one ship that cannot sail – quite ironic given the recent changes to disclosure mean that I no longer have to disclose but administrative rehabilitation does not take away the regret…the rest was a gentle reminder of how Christmas should be. This should be positioned under a green bitter fruit – purely sublime.”

“a delightful ‘feel good’ poem about seeing this time of year as an opportunity to move forward and be kind to one another.  I particularly like the line “Push the boat of regret and let it sail away”, a lovely visual metaphor for letting go.”

“This piece seems like it has been written in the here and now. It reflects a feeling of self-improvement and cherishing the special moments, especially at Christmas time.”

“Excellent use of rhyme to accentuate positive intention to move on. No sense of being stuck in the present and openness to a new beginning. Leaves me with strong sense of hope.”

“The words of this poem felt warm, comforting, of family, inclusive, determined to be positive and smile.  I relaxed and felt the happiness of a perfect white Christmas, full of cheer – the poet wanting the best for everyone at Christmas.”


SCR – 2

A gift I don’t want for Christmas

Do you remember last Christmas; love between us was like flying
Even though we were apart, every day seemed so fresh and new
But since Covid we’ve drifted apart, our connection slowly dying
The conversation dried up, it’s like I don’t know you
It used to be when we talked, I could hear love in your voice
Even on the phone you made me feel so awkward and so shy
Now I get the feeling young hang up if you had the choice
Is someone else there this Christmas and that’s the reason why
Every waking moment I lay thinking in the darkness in my bed
About cuddles we had to keep us warm, and sharing mistletoe kiss
I’m doing time in prison, but I’m also locked in my head
It’s destroying my soul, I truly can’t live like this
We use to be able to talk for hours about nothing at all
It was effortless and easy, and we could just be ourselves
And we made plans to visit relatives for New Year, and I felt ten foot tall
Since prison I have been put in a box, in a cupboard on some shelves
It hurts because you’ve turned cold, and I’m just dealing with my denial
And you don’t need to admit it, because darling I already know
I wish I could hold you one last time, so I can see your beautiful smile
But you’re free to love who you choose this Christmas, because I’ve just had to let you go


“Honest and raw emotions are the hardest yet basic tools in a poet’s bag yet are the hardest to use far less expose to strangers and also maintain the pace of rhyming verse. This poem has tackled those issues very well.”

“The personal pain and the strain on relationships is very much highlighted here. Mental anguish to the fore – it really emphasises how much prison messes with your mind. My wife once phoned me and kidded on she was going to see a guy that night, I was politely asking wo it was but absolutely seething inside, almost ready to pull the phone right off the wall…she was of course coming up to visit me. Reflecting upon that I can see the intended funny side but it was real gut wrench that lasted for the duration of the call. This poem takes that feeling to a whole other level – I’m wishing that the writer is wrong in this but what an eloquent statement of issues that many do not consider…”

“This poem made me stop, think and reflect. A personal, moving account so beautifully woven together, each line like a painting, each image crystal clear in my mind. This is an emotional piece of writing, and the emotion has stayed with me as I write these words, thank you for sharing such a personal story. The last two lines are beautiful, powerful and made me reflect on my own relationships with friends, family and partners. Letting go can be a near impossible decision and as I made my way through this poem I had a small window into your life, your story, and I admire and hugely respect your honesty and bravery in reaching a place where you could let go. I love the alternate rhyming lines, it adds a flow, a driving force, allowing the message and image of the line to hit. This is such a brilliant piece of reflecting writing and that last line has left me with a sense of hope in my heart and mind, thank you, this piece of writing will stay with me for some time. Please keep writing. Thank you.”

So many moods so clearly described as we journey through this poem. It doesn’t have a happy ending but it has a selfless and kind ending. I hope that his future sees a return to more hopeful days for the writer.”

“now this moved me, I felt it – and by the end I was near to tears. Wow. The power and humanity of this poem, the melody of the rhythm. I love this poem, even though it is agony to read, painful to hear. It is raw and honest. I reverberates with and reflects so many experiences I have heard about the challenges of sustaining relationships in prison, and the risk in so doing. I felt every part of this person’s experience – of how prison creates distance and disrupts even the most intimate of relations, the loss and grief that this engenders. This is the very best of the poems from #HiddenVoices I have read. I hope this is conveyed to the author, irrespective of rankings.”

“This is eavesdropping in to a chat with an partner and  oh, what an anxious time, caused by separation and the insecurity it brings! The author is very clear on how the connection has weakened with time & distance.  I could feel the feelings as he listened to the voice on the phone.  He reflects on how it was and how it sounds now. The real imprisonment is being cut off & imagining what’s happening to his dearest outside, crushing his confidence & spirit. The reflections & realisation that prison has changed the relationship, wanting the best for his partner, but feeling that he’s losing that carefree love that was – and hoping that his offer/recognition that she might decide to be free of him. It is a challenge to know whether he is sinking into deep depression in his isolation or genuinely setting his love free to choose.”

“The past and regrets all combined with COVID-19 ready to destroy the soul, destroy relationships and destroy any ounce of hope. You can feel
their pain. A reminder that there is more to prison and punishment than loss of liberty.”


SCR – 3

Lockdown Christmas

Lockdown Christmas will be hard for us all, but think of the others
Who have nothing at all.
There’s a homeless man living on the street, he’s down on his luck
With no food to eat.
There’s an elderly widow who’s alone and upset, she’s worried
About how she’ll recover from debt.
There’s a nurse on a ward away from her son, still 13 more hours
Until her shift is done.
There’s a pretty young woman whose body is bruised, she’s afraid
To tell anyone she’s being abused.
There’s paramedics who are out saving lives, with too much work
To go home to their wives.
Over-indulge, relax and unwind, you’re part of a family that’s one of a kind.
Christmas isn’t about the things that you’ve bought, it’s about appreciating
All that you’ve got.

Merry Christmas.


“This poem maintains its rhythm throughout which in itself merits mention but the poet has also bravely yet with care and attention not forgotten the poem’s structure. A fine poem, confident in its placing of words on the page, not afraid of its spaces and consistent in its delivery of powerful images.”

“What a beautiful poem – the concern for others shines through like a sparkling Christmas bauble. Quite ironic given that the majority of the public will not ever think about people on the wrong side of the wall. The acceptance of our lot is a key message – there are others who are voluntarily giving up their time to help whilst there are others who suffer much worse in silence. The alternating between the two views and a brilliant rhythm just added to the magical effect…”

“I thought the piece captured brilliantly that ‘person’ too many forget when they think of a prisoner. Despite his circumstance the focus is on others who either have less, or that the writer is conscious of and grateful to. It must take great effort to maintain such a frame of mind just now, but he has done it with genuine warmth and consideration. I found it a very uplifting, warm and giving piece, which captures perfectly the spirit of Christmas.”

“a thought-provoking tribute to all those who’s Christmas will be impacted not just by the time of year but the added pressure of Covid-19.  It encourages us to be aware of the world outside of ourselves,  when we can often get trapped in viewing life through our own lens.  It reminds us to see the big picture – that we’re all part of one family –  and make way for gratitude for all that we have.”

“This was a moving poem, fraught with what I interpreted as self blame and remorse for the impact parents can have on their children, and particularly in this context. I am not a poet so I don’t know the right language, but I found it artful in the structure of rhyming triplets.”

“This piece is a perfect fit for 2020! That said, it is a great piece which has meaning every Christmas time and should be remembered every year, even throughout the year. My favourite piece as it really shows insight into the world we live in.”

“This poem brimmed with empathy and captured some of the many different perspectives there are to what has been a truly global experience. I like that it reminds us to be grateful for to the small things.”

“Lockdown difficulties ‘for us’ is dismissed in the first line, and moves quickly to consider many others who have ‘other’ real problems and who will be experiencing the ‘hardship of Christmas’ not the happiness commonly portrayed for everyone. These heartrending experiences sit side by side the relaxed happy ones.   It exhorts us to concentrate on appreciating all that we have.  A salutary lesson indeed, very clearly expressed!”

“A very humane response to Lockdown. A lesson for us all.”


SCR – 4


Symmetrical but random are the dimension of a snow flake
Its beauty is so reassuring like a warm hug or hand shake
Gentle in its decent, a glide to earth that’s almost still
That covers rooftops softly and along your window sill
Each one unique in design, each one is an individual
With the right conditions on earth, their creation is unconditional
Mother Nature’s microscopic precision in their architecture
No one could really argue if the subject was open for conjecture
So each little snowflake appears to have a life or a soul
And just like us a snowflake dies when conditions take their toll
This world is hard and that’s just how its planned
Your life is the equivalent of a snowflake landing in your hand
In no time at all that snow flake will turn into water
Every time a snowflake is born it’s sent straight to the slaughter
No-one knows how long each snowflake lives and survives
One day that snowflake could be reincarnated from the corner of your eyes
If you see a snowflake this Christmas, take a moment to think and please smile
And understand a snowflake’s existence is so very short and fragile
So its time to love and be love and time for forgive a mistake
Cause everyone at Christmas is precious, because everyone is a snow flake


“Although the analogy between snowflake and humanity is common in contemporary prose, I admire the poet’s weave of it into the Christmas messages of love, care and forgiveness into the short time we have on this earth to make a difference. A lovely poem.”

“Wow, just wow. The metaphors and imagery in this blow me away. What a wonderfully constructed and beautiful poem. It almost seems sacrilege to try to write about this one – it is that good! (Equally I might just be rubbish at recognising good poetry!) The Nobel Prize for literature would be thoroughly deserved for rhyming architecture…”

“Mother Nature’s microscopic precision in their architecture

No one could really argue if the subject was open for conjecture

I loved your poem and these two lines sum it up. Such brilliant and smart word play, I would love to hear you read this out loud, this is a poem that I loved reading and it needs to be heard by all. The rhyming last lines adds such a great rhythm to your poem, each line feels like a snowflake with how they sound as I read. This is such a visual poem and I love the imagery you have created. My mind was full of beautiful images as I read line after line, and you have crafted and created a poem that makes such great and unexpected, yet precise and correct, comparisons between human life and the snowflake. Your last few lines are fantastic, and I love the lines about understanding existence, the time to love and forgive mistakes. We all make them, we all need love in our hearts, and we all need to have our ideas, stories and experiences listened to and you have illustrated that so beautifully here. Thank you. Continue doing what you’re doing because you have written something beautiful here.”

“A powerful use of juxtaposition to compare similarity in both beauty and fragility, between nature and human life. Created a strong connection in my visual and emotional senses.”

“I liked the play on words in this one – snowflake the insult vs snowflake the natural wonder. I found my curiosity sparked about the beauty and complexity of their structure and felt the comfort a connection with nature brings.”

“What clever imagery! It immediately makes you reflect on the beauty and uniqueness of a single tiny snowflake; the silent, gentle fall to earth; the eventual death.  Comparing snowflakes to ‘us’ and reminding us to consider how short and precious are our lives and to make the most of our time – and to value each, precious, fragile person.”


SCR – 5

In my realm I’m the hungry ghost

This Christmas there are two little girls who live worlds apart
Nothing could be more different on how each life did start
One is compensated with love, one learned how to protect her heart
The latter won’t have half the Christmas than her counterpart
Because her father is locked up behind bars within a jail
One gets hugs from her dad, and one gets hugs through the mail
One gets encouragement, one has no wind in her sail
It seems a father’s actions may have set his daughter up to fail
Insecure and sensitive, she can’t help that she’s so shy
Mum thinks she’ll grow out of it as she tries to justify
Her behaviour and all of the reasons how and why
But all those experiences have shaped that kid until the day she die
Socially she’s awkward, she’s expecting to be hurt
Watching her mother use her body to get what she wants by being a flirt
In her experience most men treat woman so horrible like dirt
These are things she sees that will make her introvert
If you get a chance this Christmas, think about that little girl
Her Christmas won’t be nearly as good as your happy little world
In a gloomy sea of uncertainty she’s as precious as a pearl
I can’t believe i let her down the day I joined the underworld


Poetry provides a platform in which very few poets dare to stand, to share their inner thoughts but those who do brave the step up as this poet has risked, deserve praise but also gratitude for providing a platform for all of us to reflect and examine our own relationships.”

“The regret and remorse are strong in this one. The ripple effect of how a sentence can have long-term effects on family members and particularly young folk is well known – one of the ace scores involves parental imprisonment. This is something that I also worry about – what effect my time away had on my children…there is no easy answer to that for anyone…There is also an interesting sub plot in respect of the way men treat women, again expressing a sociological awareness that speaks volumes and underlines the hurt being felt.”

“While it is a painful read in lots of ways, it is the power of the emotion and reflection in it that meant its impact stayed with me long after reading it. It is deeply reflective, and the writer looks to accept his part in how he sees the impact on the girl in question, without seeking personal sympathy or absolution in any way. You can feel the regret and pain when he describes the insecurities and anxiousness of his daughter, but the most powerful, yet upsetting part is his expectation of the inevitability of that being life for her without change, mainly because he has too many examples of that being the case all around him.
It is easier to pick the uplifting and warm Christmas messages in some of the other contributions, some of which were wonderful to read. But I picked this because for me it captured very powerfully and eloquently the deep-rooted emotions of prisoners and their families, at a time of year when it can hit the hardest.”

“In my realm I’m the Hungry Ghost” “A strong reminder to all of us of the pain felt by families left behind and the impact on children so clearly and sadly articulated by the writer.”

“This piece was particularly heart-grabbing and really shows insight. It reflects on the emotions of the individual and suggests regret of the individual’s actions. Very pleasant to read.”

Overwhelmed by the sadness expressed in this poem. Very acutely observed using the device of comparing 2 young girls’ lives. There is such regret in witnessing the changes in his daughter; what she has witnessed & experienced; and feeling guilty as being the one who created the background to that upbringing. Very powerful. Very poignant. Very full of regret/guilt.”


SCR – 6

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Christmas used to be advent calendars, with chocolate behind numbers
And my mother knitting me big warm scarfs and woolly jumpers
I can remember them being itchy and not liking them that much
But Id give anything to go back in time, to experience a mother’s touch
Day by day the excitement would build I could barely contain my joy
Those Christmases were of a simpler time, when I was just a boy
My mum and dad would work so hard, but we never truly understand
How parents make ends meet and give us the day they planned
I’d be up early and take my parents through, and we’d sit on the floor
And open our presents and laugh “what else is Christmas for?”
I’d grab my favourite toys in amazement, and play for awhile
In retrospect my mum and dad’s gift, was just to see me smile
That’ what parents do, that’s how a mum and dad adores,
Its those little moments together, like sitting watching Mary Poppins or Star Wars
It seemed every Christmas, those movies were on the TV
And when I see them now they bring happy ghost back to see me
I guess I must admit I’m glad, that all these memories survive
So in my mind and in my heart, those Christmases are still alive
After the Christmas meal I can remember, the adults would each sing a song
And I would join in with the drunk adult’s voices, and try to sing along
Soon I’d be tired and a family member, would take me to my bed
No Christmas is like a Christmas past, so remember what I’ve said
So remember each and all cause you don’t think it will be your last
But soon there will be a day when you think of a Christmas past


This is a wonderful journey through memories of Christmas past woven with personal touches and images to which can all relate yet the poem flows purposefully toward a poignant message at its finish. And any poet who braves the rhyme of ‘dad adores’ with ‘Star Wars’ gets a bonus nod of respect.”

“Hard to work out what the Christmas present is, other than the gift of a great poem! Plenty of great memories and a self-evident understanding of the true meaning of Christmas – an insight into how perspectives change over the years. Is that the Ghost of Christmas Future at the end – memories are all that exist and a yearning for days of yore…”

“This is a strong entry that clearly represents a great effort by the writer. Put heart and soul in to the subject and draws on own reflections of what was important in the past. Everyone can find connection in these memories demonstrating the connection and sameness between us all.”

“The storytelling and scene setting of this poem is very strong. You’re hooked from the start reflecting on the shared memories of the build up to Christmas. You can really imagine yourself watching the family preparations, the simple, childlike, appreciation of Christmases past. Good memories are great to have – and replayed over and over.  It gives a cautionary warning that they can end being produced, and from then on you can only rely on the memory alone!”


SCR – 7

Merry Christmas

If Christmas was a happy time, then why we all locked up
Missing play days with family, no trips to the shops
Get one visit if you’re lucky, with a two metre block
Social distanced from family, that’s all that we got
They say these times are changing, we should appreciate it all
But how do you appreciate this shit, when you’re staring at four walls On the upside in the morning, it’s the sight of the lads
Grown men in onzies, 30 odd year old dads
cheesing at their Christmas jumper like it’s the best thing they’ve had making the best of a bad situation trying to make it a laugh
it is what it is and we done what we done
they can take away our freedom but we’re keeping our fun
so once this is over and Christmas is done
you can come back in summer for my next number one
Merry Christmas


“they can take away our freedom but we’re keeping our fun’ – I have to be honest and say I initially thought the poet was going to reference Braveheart but I was wrong. Poets are incredibly jealous of each other when one poet uses a line in a poem which the other whispers they had thought of and this is one such line. So I’m jealous of this poet but importantly it has been used in the context of a piece that could only have been written by a poet drawing from their own life experience. No one else can do that. Well done!”

“I like this one – optimism oozes out over everything. Yes so what, we are locked up but you cannot take away our laughs. The humour inside can be very dark but the idea of some in onesies made me chuckle. A positive poem that really does hope we can go back in the summer to hear more…”

“The thoughts expressed in this poem are much more pent up with resentment at the restrictions of prison life & Covid rules. Thoughts of life improving seem far off and difficult to appreciate. The focus then changes to the daftness of Christmas and casual clothes, and of the efforts to make the best of their bad situation, keeping each other’s spirits up with humour, ending with a look to the summer ahead when life may be better allowing eg actually meeting up – and a No 1!”


SCR – 8

A humble Christmas in Jail

Please be kind to those who have little at this time
Try it, I bet it makes your feel sublime
Its not what you get, but what you can give
Christmas is about saying “live and let live”
Tinsel and fairy lights twinkling so bright
That colour, the city silhouette like stars in the dead of night
Sweets and chocolate and chestnuts are Christmas smells
Accompany carol singers and sounds of jingle bells
So be positive right now about covid and even jail
So many still send me love they just send it in the mail
I decorate my cell an put my cards on my wall
I hope we all have something to give a “little jail phone call”
So fellow prisoners just take a little walk
And find a friend “if anyone needs to talk”
Yes I do agree that Christmas with family is best
But you’ll get through this time, it’s just a personal test
An when your children answer the phone and say “who is this?”
You can say “good morning, this is your dad” and wish them a


“A beautifully flowing poem which achieves the right balance between the Christmas sparkly stuff and the stark reality bod the poet’s personal experience yet the poem is edged with a positive tone that is maintained throughout the piece. I do like this poem.”

“As a Saughton Sonnets contributor the sight of the line “a little jail phone call” brought back and conjured up many happy memories and insights. This is another superb analysis of what the festive season means in a place where traditionally the seasons mean nothing. Again, it conjures up images of hope, restitution and just dealing with shit as it is – nothing more and nothing less. Was a bit worried about being “positive” about Covid – perhaps the only time you want negativity… J This whole poem was indeed very humble in its structure and message.”

“This fantastic poem offers us so much positivity and in a difficult challenging year I felt a smile immediately rise up and appear on my face. You have beautifully captured the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas and I loved how each line creates another Christmas image. It’s brilliantly visual this poem and each image made me reflect on my own experiences of this festive time of year.  You also touch on some very important parts of Christmas and this festive period, checking in on friends, speaking with family and sending love. I felt moved after I finished reading your last two lines and I hope and wish you and your son the best Christmas wishes this year. This is my Merry Christmas to you and him! The way you have laid the poem out, to look like a Christmas tree is brilliant and adds another sprinkle of Christmas.”

“It shows insight into prison life but also insight into life on the outside. This individual is cherishing the important festive memories had on the outside and seems to be looking forward to achieving other important memories on the outside when possible.”

“A really humble poem indeed, exhorting considerations of others and the reminder of tolerance and giving. The description of Christmas is so clear; of the lights, silhouettes, of Christmas smells and sounds. Then we are brought back into the cell, cards on the wall, but still feeling connected to family with a lovely nod to “little jail phone call”. The poet accepts that the current difficulty and separation is not the best but is upbeat and encourages the keeping in touch by phone and wishing the family “Merry Christmas”.”


SCR – 9


Christmas in prison equals time over solitude to ponder a decision
There’s no solace for most so some choose the path of religion
When we need laughter and love to disperse like light through a prism
A rainbow of love and hope to help the human condition
This time of year is a vulnerable time to sit and think in your cells
Not every memory is happy triggered by the jingle of those bells
Christmas songs on the radio, weaving their magic spells
Reminds us of happy times passed, an sights of lights and those smells
We remember for a moment as we think of times when we shield
In an instant those memories remind us of Christmas with our child
And regrets of a time of bad choices, Christmas is yours and not mine to take part
I’ll go through the motions in spirit but I just cant in my heart
When I’m free some time in the future, then may I will start
But I find it too overwhelming, to try whenever we are apart
I wish I could tell you Christmas in this prison is good
But Christmas spirit alone, can’t put vulnerable souls in the mood
Competitions and games and laughter with some food
Maybe I will or I won’t, but I would if I only could
But realistically it’s a time to just sit with regret
That I hide deep in the darkness so no-one knows I’m upset
I owe my child more than presents, I owe an emotional debt
Brought on by my actions, and not keeping the promises I set
So this Christmas don’t give us a thought, please just have fun
Take deep joy in the moments shared with a daughter or a son
Savour time with grandparents or a father or a mum
Cause you didn’t put me here, no, I was that one


“This poem has been carefully structured with thought and sincerity but importantly it reads well and is one of those poems that deserves to be a spoken word piece by its poet which would lift and emphasise the images from the page. In the absence of that, the poem still shines.”

“I spent too much time overthinking the first line in this poem. As someone with a numbers background I like equations (the first step in dealing with any problem it to acknowledge it publicly!) so I was trying to work out if this was actually an equality or a glaring inequality. Or was it a tremendous piece of writing specifically designed to confuse ex-mathematicians… As for the rest, it pretty much articulates the reality of being inside in the Christmas season. There is a deep feeling of regret, remorse and a recognition that they are responsible for it all. A genuinely open, honest and insightful reflection into festivities and how they can affect people.”

“I really liked the rhythm of this one. I can almost imagine it being performed which made me wonder about the voice of the writer and the cadence of that voice. It packs a thought provoking punch.”

“It starts with a mathematical formula of what Christmas is prison is (time/solitude) and then recognises that Christmas has a religious significance/centre for some. Reflections are not always happy when you feel vulnerable and alone.  The sounds of Christmas songs triggers regret.  Feelings are overwhelming and it is difficult to get in a positive mood and a belief that there will be no sincere engagement until out of prison. He then reveals an acceptance of regret, hiding true feelings, regretting past decisions that brought him to being in prison.  He encourages others to enjoy Christmas and family & not to think of him in prison. So sad!  Worried about the silent, depressed figure that is hiding his pain.”


SCR – 10

I’m 40 now

Christmas, a mass coming together to celebrate an age old traditions
but it seems these days are forgotten conditions

For me, I never have had Christmas, it is an unfamiliar taste

I’m 40 now and when I was just a wee boy,
there were no family meetings over the openings of a toy

I’m 40 now and I look over my years
and I try to understand the why’s and how’s and I hold back the tears

to be brief, I had a belief, I may still do
I had a friendly united free minister too

He’d hold me back alone to pray, maybe for it was my alky father’s twisted ways

A wannabe watchtower Jehovah saying how Christmas was wrong!
So you may imagine my childhood houses were never full of Christmas song

Birthdays just the same, I’d watch my friends get things that were in the trend
I’m 40 now, family have passed away, I’m alone now and I pray

I’m 40 now, I have no kids, but if I did or do, my place will be full of song, happiness and proper good times too

Corner tree and a little something for everybody I come to meet
Who knows, maybe my prayers will get more than seen and my 40th Christmas and birthday the same as I have dreamed…


“There’s a fine line that poets must find and respect which separates a poem of honestly expressed emotions and images from being a cobbled together rant at the walls. This piece is a poem. I especially like the use of the repeating phrase ‘I am 40 now’ as a hook to stitch the reader back into the weave of the poets thoughts. A solid piece of poetry.”

“Time is the one thing that does not stand still but this poem seemed to stop it at 40. Is it a tip of the hat to the old adage that this is when life begins. I am left hoping for so much more for the writer who has clearly not had the best of upbringings. And there is also something about it being a religious time but yet you get the distinct impression that religion may have contributed to the melancholy…well crafted and thought provoking.”

“I can’t get this one out of my head and it will remain with me long after this Christmas. I pray that the writer’s prayers result in future songs, happiness and good times to come.”

“Ah, this poem. I was transported into the memories of a man and boy, really. I read this as a poem of loss, not just of what has been lost, but of what has been missed. I got the sense of a person always on the outside looking in and I really hope as they do that this changes.”

“this poem jumped off the page for me. Evocative, vivid, insightful and ultimately a tribute to resilience and full of hope.”

“Such pathos! A story, line by line, of Christmasses and birthdays never celebrated or shared with love as others have experienced – but passed with no joy, love or presents. Now aged 40, although full of accumulated trauma, there is still the hope and dream of having a full, loving family and for him to get to experience a happy family life.  The repetition of the line ‘I’m 40 now’ reinforces the time that has passed, and the weight of the heartaches endured.”


SCR – 11

A Carol of Corona

C is for Corona – a virus that’s changed how we live, stopping human contact right down to the hugs that we give
H is for humanity and on this we might be clear, humans need to love humans at this time of year
R is for rejoicing with family who are still fit and well if you don’t tell them you love them, this will ring that bell
I is for inconsequential that’s what every other thing should be, nothing is more important than loves ones, your kids and family
S is for sacrifice by those on the front line and most in danger, never has your life been more in the hands and actions of a stranger
T is for transmission, and controlled by masks and washing hands but it seems to me people don’t care or no one truly understands
M is for medicines saving lives, is the best Christmas gift we could get a covid Christmas in your bubble is the one and only true safe bet
A is for abnormal, a Christmas so strange and different but a Christmas all the same so beautiful and magnificent
S is for segregation, but it is for a very good reason, unfortunately this is how it has to be on this Christmas season
L is for love, we need more for each and all just caring for one another, treat every human being like they’re your sister or your brother
O is for opportunity to be kind and generous at this time look around you at the world, god shouldn’t need to give you all a sign
C is for chestnuts roasting in that little open fire, a symbol of Christmas and those things that you desire
K is for kaleidoscope of sounds and smells with colours and sparkling lights, woolly gloves and bottle hats worm in snowball fights
D is for determination to not let coronavirus ruin Christmas and win, we’ll celebrate on and on with some eggnog and some gin
O is for optimism that every human needs to feel and have, so eat and drink and be merry and sing along and laugh
W is for wisdom that comes from lesson and so we learn at Christmas you love thy neighbour and have compassion and concern
N is for nostalgia of Christmas’s both gone and past, hopefully with God’s blessing this lockdown Christmas will be the last


“A wonderful effort by this poet to draw all of the images of Christmas into one poem with considerable thought given to the words that hook each verse into the poem as a whole whilst weaving in the contemporary tragedy of the coronavirus and how it impacts on our understanding of what is normal. I especially like the reference to those in the front line. A fine and current piece of poetry.”

“A veritable poetic manifesto for Christmas. It covered all of the bases as to the hows, whys and wherefores of what it should be all about. The letters got me thinking about which words I would have used in a similar format and on each occasion I just sort of gave up and went with the authors authoritative view – this is a clever piece!”

“I thought this was a very clever well thought out, and deeply insightful piece, not just of prison life, but of the world as it is for everyone at the moment. I think it is very colourful and articulate, that painted pictures in my mind as I read it. I loved the reflecting back to Christmases past, and the memories captured for him. I also loved that he captures the reliance we all have on one another at the moment, and that we need each other to get through this. The use of descriptive language had me rushing to read the next lines, all the time seeing imagery in my head. Finally, I felt very uplifted and upbeat that it
finishes with a wish and hope that will perfectly capture the thoughts of us all this year.”

“A rhyme for every letter of CHRISTMAS LOCKDOWN and evocation of the year we have had in 2020; the restrictions that Covid 19 has brought, the selflessness of some, and the encouragement to enjoy Christmas. A kaleidescope indeed of situations with which we can readily identify. Very clever idea with so many letters to have to consider an individual thought!”

“A lot of time, thought and effort has gone into describing life through the lens of someone incarcerated. We can all read and learn from this. Sometimes we need to be lifted out of our comfort zone and take a long hard look at reality. This is reality.”

Having read though all of todays poems from our poets from both HMP Edinburgh and HMP Low Moss as well as having 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 breadth of the panel it was an incredibly close run event.

Our winners are: 1st Place – SCR 3 – Lockdown Christmas

  2nd place – SCR 4 – Snowflake

3rd place – SCR 2 – A Gift I don’t want for Christmas

Congratulations to our winners and a massive thank you to all of our authors who have selflessly provided a festive banquet of authenticity for us to absorb this week before Christmas.

Thank you for taking the time to visit the Hidden Voices blog today, we hope you found Sleigh Cells Ring 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, HMP Low Moss 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 wonderful Hidden Voices community who made todays output possible by volunteering their time to contribute to an initiative which we hope will offer many food for positive thought.

Next week we will share the second and final part of Sleigh Cells Ring and we will announce the release date on Twitter @FirstTimeInside over the course of this coming weekend. At the moment we can say it will be 8am, it will be before Christmas and it is every bit as engaging as part one has been today.

You can purchase a copy of our Saughton Sonnets anthology here : Saughton Sonnets Anthology – First Time Inside

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 our talented, courageous poets today.




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