Erwin James talking in Court No. 1 of the Old Bailey © Julia Quenzler


I was reminded once again of the importance and impact of Create’s work when we hosted a unique event, Inside Stories at the Old Bailey last month at which author, journalist and Create Patron Erwin James gave an historic and inspirational speech.

It was in Court No. 1 of the Old Bailey that Erwin was handed down a life sentence in 1985. Whilst in prison – he served 20 years to the day – he discovered his passion and talent for writing.

He spoke from the witness stand in Court 1 about the power of the arts to change lives: “When I was sentenced and taken down to the cells below the court I was pretty sure my life was at an end. It had been a difficult and painful life, for me, but more importantly for other people because of me and I was relieved that it was over. I never expected to live again, not in any meaningful way. I certainly never imagined that one day I might be back in the same dock sharing the journey and explaining how I managed to salvage some good from the wreckage that had been my life before prison. I’m not proud of much in my life, but I’ve witnessed the work of Create in prisons and in the community and I’m proud and honoured to be a supporter. Experiencing creativity and the arts in prison helped me to find some value in my life and gave me the confidence to try to find a better way to live.”

Erwin’s speech was moving, powerful and challenged our guests’ perspectives on prisons and offenders. I’d like to say a huge thank you to him for his time, honesty and generosity on what was clearly a hugely emotional occasion.

Inside Stories at the Old Bailey was carefully planned to raise funds for our Inside Stories project, which connects fathers in prison with their children on the outside via storytelling. The evening started with a reception in the spectacular Grand Hall, including an introduction to the Old Bailey from our host, Sheriff Peter Estlin. We then entered Court 1 where His Honour Judge Topolski QC talked about the history and function of the courtroom itself. The significance of this particular court left us in no doubt about how momentous it was for Erwin to speak once again from the witness box.

After our guests had moved to the Judges’ Dining Room Create, novelist and Create writer Carol Topolski read three stories from a special edition of Stories from Daddy to Me – an Inside Stories storybook that had previously been recognised with a Platinum Koestler Award – and shared moving stories the fathers who had written them and their children. Carol subsequently wrote an article about the project for The Observer.

The evening concluded with tours of the Old Bailey, including the cells, generously led by Sherriff Peter Estlin, Lindy Estlin, His Honour Judge Topolski QC and Charles Henty, the Secondary of London and Under Sheriff and High Bailiff of Southwark. We appreciate so much the generosity of our hosts for enabling such an incredible evening, which raised £43,315 net for our work in prison and was described by one of our clients as: “the most remarkable event we can remember at Create”.

Nicky Goulder, Founding Chief Executive

This article is from 2017.