'In on the outside': the narratives of creative writing practitioners working in prisons

Simpson, E.A (2022) 'In on the outside': the narratives of creative writing practitioners working in prisons. PhD thesis, Bath Spa University.

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The presence of the creative arts has a long history in prisons in England and Wales. During the second half of the 20th century the penal voluntary sector took an increasing role in the provision of authorised arts programmes in prisons, often delivered by professional creative practitioners. However, as the presence of these practitioners has increased, their voices have become less heard. The advent of evaluation research, aimed at evidencing the links between prisoner participation in the arts and positive personal change has often failed to capture the authentic voices of these practitioners, despite their indispensable contribution to the programmes delivered. There is a clear methodological split whereby practitioners are asked about their jobs, prisoners about their lives. This lack of focus on the practitioners’ biography seems particularly negligent at a time when desistance theories, particularly an interest in redemption narratives (Maruna, 2001), are being accepted into criminal justice policy. This is nowhere more pertinent than in a consideration of the narratives of creative writing practitioners, whose deliberately composed life stories may tell us a great deal about these practitioners’ possible significance in the custodial environment, and the value of the narratives they facilitate in their work with prisoners. This thesis explores the narrative construction of 19 creative writing practitioners’ intentions, motivations and journeys into work in prison, using an arts-based methodology combined with rigorous narratological analysis. The study found three types of narrative: the suffering artist, the (inadvertent) healer and the (human) revolutionary. None of which identified work in prison as an overarching goal. In most cases, prison was initially approached as a means to end. Some unexpected overlaps were found between the stories of practitioners and the literature on prisoner experience and there was a clear sense of ‘outsider’ (Becker, 1963) status expressed by the majority of practitioners. This suggests a different type of penal voluntary sector activity, grounded in an ethos of mutual aid rather than class-based benevolence, at work within the criminal justice system.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: creative writing practitioners, criminal justice system, English prisons, Welsh prisons, 20th century, prison arts programmes, life stories, narrative construction, prisoner experience
Divisions: School of Sciences
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.17870/bathspa.00014885
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2022 14:38
Last Modified: 21 Apr 2023 13:39
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/14885
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