Stories from our project with fathers in prison
Create has a long history of working with fathers in prison. Our Inside Stories project, which has been running for 13 years, helps improve the bond between prisoners and their children using the art of storytelling and music. The stories are often set in fantasy lands with magical protagonists inspired by their children, but in our new project with fathers in prison, participants are encouraged to set fantasy aside and express their vulnerabilities on the page.
My Dad’s In Prison is our innovative storytelling project that promotes understanding of having a parent in prison. Working with professional writers and visual artists, prisoners work collaboratively to write and illustrate a story that simply and sensitively explores this experience, promoting understanding and reassurance around a taboo topic.
In November 2021, participants spent four days in writing workshops with Create writer Carol Topolski, working through their thoughts and feelings on being in prison together and combining their experiences into a book. They then spent two days on visual arts and collage workshops, providing them with the inspiration and the skills to design their book before it goes to print. The project culminated in a sharing with family and friends in December 2021 and the printed book was shared with other residents at Oakwood HMP.
We spoke to Kieran and Adil (not their real names), two residents at Oakwood who shared with us their experiences on My Dad’s In Prison.
“I’ve really enjoyed the last two weeks. We’ve been writing stories from different people’s perspectives about our families, our children and about life in prison. We’ve also been doing creative stuff like artwork for the books. I don’t really write because I’m a tree surgeon, so the writing bit for me was a bit difficult but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. The bit at the start was a bit emotional but I think that was a good thing.
“Life has sad parts, and good parts, it’s like a book.”
“Originally I didn’t want to do this project because it makes you miss your family a lot. Talking about your family can get emotional, especially when you’re in front of other men, you put a bit of a front on when you’re in prison. That was the hardest part, but once I got through that I enjoyed it. It makes you think about what you’re missing and how your children feel.
“If I had written a story on my own, I wouldn’t have gone down the emotional route. But it’s good we’ve done that because it makes me think a lot more about it. Life ain’t all good is it? You have sad parts, you have good parts … it’s like a book isn’t it? Life is like a book.
“We aren’t bad people for being in prison.”
“I think the project has had an impact on us all. A lot of people haven’t shown it, because you go back to your pad at night and you reflect on everything. My children think I’m working away so for me, this book means a lot because when they grow up, I can actually sit and explain what we did and how we did it. It’s going to be easier for me to tell them about my time in prison.
“I think [My Dad’s In Prison] should be offered to more people because a lot more people would benefit from this, it would bring their families closer. Writing a book about being in prison would show that you aren’t a bad person for being in prison. Everybody makes mistakes and we have to learn from them.
“When I walked into this project, I was apprehensive listening to what was going to be involved. All the feelings and issues we were going to be discussing. I’m only six months into my three-year sentence, so I didn’t really want to start touching on these feelings, I wanted to suppress them.
“At the beginning I thought, what have I got myself into? I genuinely did not want to be here any longer, but slowly throughout the week, it became almost therapeutic. Speaking to you guys and to my fellow residents in prison, it made me address a lot of the issues that I was scared of. It genuinely made me grow as a person.
“Even if we hadn’t written the book, I honestly believe that just the sessions where we sat together and worked through, just doodling our thoughts on paper and having these candid conversations that we don’t get time to do on the actual prison wing itself… I will always use that word therapeutic, it really made me grow as a person and grow as a father.
“It really made me grow as a person and grow as a father.”
“From my perspective, because my son is three years old, I’m hoping he might not remember my time in prison. But if it ever comes up and he thinks “Dad, where were you for three years of my life? There’s no pictures of me and you together, no birthdays or festivities or anything” then this book can go a long way to show that at that time I was actually thinking of him. This book with the collective of the whole group is taking it another step further, it’s not just my thoughts, it’s other people’s thoughts and I can look back and remember how other people were feeling at the time.”
You can read the book that Kieran, Adil and other prisoners at Oakwood created together below.