John Hegley, the popular performance poet, has been working with prisoners
and young offenders on a project called The New Ballad of Reading Gaol.
The project is inspired by Oscar Wilde's remarkable poem, 'The Ballads of Reading Gaol', and has found that poetry is alive and well in the prison.
Reading Gaol is an iconic Victorian prison, now housing nearly 300 1821 year olds, sited in, but quite separate from, Reading and the surrounding area. The purpose of this project was to bring ballads about these young people's landscape and social landscape to people in Berkshire.
John Hegley says: "We've been writing about important steps in your life - that's one exercise I like. Our challenge is to find the right way to work with these chaps and open them up, to do any good."
This collaboration will engage young offenders in three community residencies, and will also be a broadcast residency where artists Jon Potter, John Hegley to deliver a week of Made in England special programming around St George's Day, 2009.
The residencies will try to strengthen young participants' understanding of their own story, their social landscape and their family. Strengthening social and family ties, and increasing self-awareness and self-worth, can aid reintegration of offenders into their community.
Young people in the criminal justice system often lead a chaotic, unpredictable life. Many mistrust authority. Many have become disengaged from education. Others are just plain scared. All of this makes working with these young people extremely challenging. It's often "one step forward and two steps back". These are young people struggling to understand their story and to move forward positively.
The aim is to help participants understand their lives more and make better choices. They are helped most in this process by the words of their peers.
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