Hidden Voices was created as part of the First Time Inside website to create a platform where amongst many others those incarcerated, currently or in the past, could share their experience with a wider audience.

A platform which simply allows forgotten or discounted voices to be heard.

With this in mind it is a great privilege this week to share this platform once again with some of the men currently incarcerated within HMP Barlinnie during this Covid-19 crisis.

It is also important for me to take a moment to thank Gary McAteer and Beltrami & Co a leading Glasgow law firm who in agreeing to sponsor the HMP Barlinnie blogs for First Time Inside set the hare running on a project that has caught so many peoples attention.

The Justice Minister himself, Humza Yousaf, took to Twitter last Saturday to comment, “Thank you for sharing this, have only just managed to take a look now. Very powerful testimony and challenging in many aspects too.”

And Dr Hannah Graham, criminologist and academic, also stepped on to Twitter to say, “Men in Barlinnie prison have written about what it’s like inside during COVID-19 pandemic, with a poem, metaphors and some very real personal reflections. So important to hear these #HiddenVoices”

These are only two of the hundreds of comments that were received, all of which were entirely positive, from amongst the sharing on Twitter which exceeded 250k Tweeple. Numbers which are simply overwhelming to the men who chose to share.

In addition Sarah Angus, Head of Offender Outcomes  from HMP Barlinnie itself was in touch earlier this week to say, “I saw the blog entries on LinkedIn last night. They read really reflectively and it was good to see.”

And yesterday, as a result of last weeks blog, First Time Inside were invited to discuss with HMP Edinburgh governor David Abernethy how we could implement a Hidden Voices initiative within the capitals prison as well as Sisco being invited to get their recovery work underway at the earliest convenience there too.   

At First Time Inside we believe passionately in the concept of prehabilitation in justice and Sisco Recovery, our collaborative partner for today, are a walking example of that ideal. For those unfamiliar with the term prehabilitation it is perhaps easier to understand initially in the medical context in which it is commonly used. Prehabilitation is the process of enhancing an individual’s functional capacity to enable him or her to withstand a forthcoming stressor, e.g. major surgery. Essentially if we fail to help those in need prepare for their next challenge we may consider ourselves complicit in their likely failure.

In conjunction with Sisco Recovery, a young Glasgow charity, who operate recovery cafés in our prisons, including HMP Barlinnie, First Time Inside are delighted to give you the Boys from the Bar-L (Part Two).

For this Hidden Voices offering, Sisco asked the boys to share some of their thoughts on being in prison during Covid19 and what follows is what they have personally chosen to share.

Our challenge to you once again when reading this is to open your hearts, park any preconceptions you may have and listen to your fellow human beings who have no other method of communicating with the wider world reach out to you in their own ways, in their own words. Let us begin, as we did last week, with a poem received from another one of the boys…



Opposites are drugs and life

Ones your mistress, ones your wife

Drugs you take your all alone

Life is love and family at home

Drugs you feel good and then your deprest

But lifes 24/7 buzz is the best

Coke, Vals, Heroin or Hash

Takes away health takes away cash

Break away its never too late

Start living again your life could be great

Driving down a road take a left or a right

Left is with drugs ‘n’ feeling like shite

The right turn is hard and you’ll need to fight

But on that road there’s good things in sight

You might not be ready but that day will come

When you need to decide if your being smart or being dumb

So spend your life being happy being fit

Making love making memories

Happy as a pig in shit.


And now for some more of the boys thoughts…


Hello Natalie, Thank you for the e mail, I hope you and yours are well, only time will tell if this monster will affect my progression. I am glad you’re staying connected. Everything is good considering what is going on. 7 months the other day when i first messed up. Ged told me he done the same out on a home leave in his uncles pub. Then he got back in about recovery with more focus and look where he is now. Things seem better this time, I am doing a little better with meditation and also more training. I am not sure if thats because I have a better quality of recovery. I am pushing to do these things more than I did before. But they are defo helping. I am working for £45 a week a week in the industrial cleaners. They came and asked me to work there. Still doing my degree and three weeks away from completing my diploma. Enough about me hope you and the family are well, your probably home schooling, hows that going? All in all things feel good and positive. It’s the guys still suffering long lockdowns in the halls that I feel for.




Hi Nat. Was lying listening to snoring all night last night just couldnt sleep. Was thinkin what if this bams snoring means hes got the virus does that mean Im going to get it? Might sound daft but there is a physical pain not seeing the family. It hurts the head even my muscles feel like they’ve been seen to at times. Phone calls are good but every time you pick up the phone your worried. What if Im going to get bad news from out there or just what if the call is a disaster. That just sits on you til the next one. The best pain relief for me is a hug so it is. Not sure how to describe how it is here its weird and quiet but stressful as well. The screws look stressed and tired as well. They must be worried about their families as well when they are in here but at least they can walk oot when the shift is done. Whats it really like oot there is everybody walking aboot with masks on? Will we be gettin phones I dont know if thats going to happen but everybody says it is a new law or something? Going to try and get another puzzle book to keep thinking aboot other stuff.



Hey Natalie, sorry it’s took so long for me to get back to you You are right it is tough in here but it must feel as if yous on the outside are doing a sentence too haha. My mate was telling me about Zoom meetings, how are you finding them and a didnt know you were a teacher so your a clever cookie eh. I got in touch with my old sponsor so we have shared a bit of recovery work over the phone and in writing thats my excuse for taking so long to write back. I’ve been hard at it getting back to basics but it has been good for me I’m clean and my head is in a good place as it can be considering my surroundings. Haven’t seen anyone from the cafe since it’s been off, but they are all doing well every time I ask our favourite screw don’t tell him I said that LOL..I’ve asked him to get on the ball and get some recovery sorted so we can get started again, it’s not his fault but he listens so he gets the importance of recovery. I know I went off track to what you asked me to do in the email, but what do you expect I’m an addict haha..Hope your well lots of hugs back at you







Hi Nat. How are you and the family? Hopefully bearing up + managing – Remember, Its time you’ll never get again + will miss after it’s gone! My mum doesn’t know what to do with her time – She appreciates you asking how she is + is asking for you too. No doubt your wondering where my answers are too who am I etc? Honestly, I havn’t looked at them since we last spoke – can I post them to you along with social workers report by mail (youre address is on the e mails but I thought I should ask first) I haven’t looked at them since because I don’t want to analyse them to death – So I put them away hoping youd forget or they’d go away!!! I will sit down one afternoon + you’ll have them before the weeks out or start of next but will post them this week. On writing something on Covid19 I’m sorry but someone else would be better placed than me as I don’t really feel affected (rather its helped me) I never lost my placement. I had just arrived. In fact I see it as a blessing because its given me the chance to settle instead of being flung in the deep end agin. Okay we don’t get visits or face to face contact with outside services but I cant moan because of whats happening with other peoples lives outside – Some are far worse than whats happening in here. I can go sit in the fresh air longer than some so I’m grateful! I will give you a phone in the next day or two, take care, stay safe.

Thanks boys for taking the time to share.

During this period of Covid19 uncertainty and imposition I have been aware of many people commenting that they now know what it must be like to spend time in prison, rest assured you have no real idea. Over the past two weeks some very brave, vulnerable individuals have offered a tiny glimpse of reality. The loss of liberty is, for many, the punishment for committing a crime – but far from the only one -and in that regard with the restrictions on our liberty during this partial lockdown period there may be the vaguest of similarities. It is hard to generalise when there are those with no great creature comforts and living in deprivation as well as those who have enjoyed an extended work break perhaps largely at the governments expense, with access to shopping, a garden and full digital inclusion.

Strangely – or perhaps unsurprisingly – it is those with BBQ’s, wi-fi and gardens who seem more prone to making the clumsy comparison, perhaps that speaks to a mindset, amongst some of the privileged, which is a little self indulgent and empathetically challenged. It also speaks to a demographic who have easy access to communication platforms but no real respect for the platform itself or some of those they are communicating with. Try and remember, Twitter for example, is not your front room – even if that’s where you are sat Tweeting from – you are being afforded access to an audience some of the great orators in history could only have dreamed of. Why not take a beat, be brave, and contemplate the power of using that platform to share a message of positivity, kindness, compassion and empathy, particularly during this unprecedented time?

It has been a privilege for First Time Inside and Hidden Voices to be trusted by the men themselves to share their thoughts and feelings of being inside HMP Barlinnie and we look forward to bringing more insights into their life inside during this Covid19 crisis. We hope that these short accounts have helped you connect with ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances.

We believe we have respected the men’s right to anonymity when sharing as well as the environment they are in and those trusted with their care. We wish them all safety, good health and a smooth transition from a regime made more onerous by circumstance to a future built on respect and dedicated to changing lives.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read through the men’s contributions, to Gary McAteer at Beltrami & Co for supporting our efforts to get this online and to Natalie McLean and Sisco for all their amazing work carried out in their recovery cafes. We need more like them, people who walk as opposed to talk.

If you want details on how you can support either First Time Inside or Sisco Recovery, in our respective work, please do not hesitate to get in touch here.

As always please do feel free to comment here or on social media Twitter @firsttimeinside and until the next time hold your loved ones tight and please stay safe, First Time Inside out.

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