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Made in England - Ballads of Reading Jail 2009

  • Date: 9 February 2010
  • Artform: Literature
  • Area: South East
Shaun, with Jon Potter of Company Paradiso present the project to the Thames Valley Partnership Annual Conference Shaun, with Jon Potter of Company Paradiso present the project to the Thames Valley Partnership Annual Conference, Company Paradiso

From the age of 19, after being involved with gangs, Shaun spent six years in various prisons including Reading YOI.  When he came out, he clutched a book of 300 of his own poems, all written while he was inside jail.

Still trying to get back on his feet, Shaun was living at Reading St Leonards Probation Hostel when he got involved with poetry workshops run by West Sussex-based Company Paradiso and performance poet John Hegley as part of the Ballads of Reading Jail project. It was there that he wrote Walk in My Shoes.

Walk in My Shoes
Walk in my shoes and see how I feel
Try and find peace of mind when you can't even find peace
Take a look through my eyes and see what I've seen
Believe me you won't be having sweet dreams
Make friends with my friends find out who they are
Do you still wonder how I made it so far
Live how I used to and watch your own back
Stay clear of your loved ones, can you live like that?
Knowing they're planning and arranging your end
That's not just the enemy, that's my so-called friends.

'I'd never really written much before,' said Shaun. 'It was while I was sat in a prison cell, and I had all this stuff going through my head, that I decided to pick up the pen. I needed to express myself. I still keep things in perspective with my poetry, as in not wanting to go back.'  

Shaun's poetry and life story was broadcast, alongside work by other prisoners and young offenders, on BBC Radio Berkshire in the week of 20 - 24 April 2009. The following Sunday, Shaun's story and poem were selected for Radio 4 'Pick of the Week'.

John Hegley went on to read this poem on Radio 4 'Loose Ends' on 19 December 2009, which he wrote, inspired by the project:

Certain prisoners doing their time
can respond to a rhythm and rhyme
it can break up the ice but don't make it too nice
you don't want them doing more time
just so they can go back inside for more poetry workshops.

The Ballads of Reading Jail was part of Made in England, which is a national partnership initiative between BBC English Regions and Arts Council England. It aims to explores the relationship between the landscape and the artist from a diverse range of artistic perspectives across BBC TV, radio and online. Launched in April 2008, Made in England has been supporting arts broadcast projects throughout 2008 and 2009 bringing artists and the public together to explore their creativity.

Company Paradiso and John Hegley ran poetry workshops in Reading YOI, St Leonards Probation Hostel, and Reading Youth Offending Service. Inspired by Reading Jail's most famous inmate Oscar Wilde, who wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol while doing time, the project taps into ballads and rap poetry. 

'We were taken aback by the amount of writing being done in Reading Jail, and by the interest in writing rap lines and poetry,' said Jon Potter, Artistic Director of Company Paradiso. 'Much of this reflects a desire by prisoners to communicate with family and loved ones.'

The project culminated in a book containing many of the poems produced during the workshops and which can be viewed online here http://www.companyparadiso.co.uk/projects2.php.  

Broadcasts are available on companyparadiso.co.uk 'listen again', as are songs by Berkshire bands using lyrics written during the project.

To see and hear the poetry performed, go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/berkshire/content/articles/2009/04/17/ballads_of_reading_gaol_feature.shtml

For more information about other 2009 Made in England activities, go to:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/madeinengland/