an artwork from My Dad's In Prison

Create has a long history of working with fathers in prison. Our Inside Stories project helps improve the bond between prisoners and their children through storytelling and music. My Dad’s in Prison is our innovative storytelling project that promotes understanding of having a parent in prison.

In January 2024, 15 participants spent four days in writing workshops with Create writer Carol, followed by three days in collage workshops with Create artist Chloe. They created an illustrated book entitled ‘It’s Not Forever’, which is a heartfelt depiction of how being in prison affects them and their family. The project culminated in a sharing with family members the following month and the printed book has been shared with other residents at HMP Oakwood, and shared with other residents at HMP Oakwood and other prisons.

Graham, Neil and Ryan, who had all previously taken part in an Inside Stories project, spoke to us about their experiences on My Dad’s in Prison.

First of all, can you explain what the story you created is about?

Ryan: “The story is about us as dads in prison, and how we feel going to see our kids on a visit. How they feel in preparation for coming to see us the night before and on the way and after they leave. How we put on a brave face and try to hold it together, although we want to cry at times.”

What made you decide to take part in this project?

Graham: “Well they just said it’s all for your kids, so you do it, don’t you?”

Ryan: “Yes, you do it for your kids. It lets them know you’re thinking about them.”

Neil: “I’ll second that. It’s an amazing little gift for them. I asked to go on this project, because my little girl loved the Inside Stories [book]. Obviously with what Inside Stories turned out to be, I knew this would be a good book as well, which it has been. I’m very impressed with it. You get a nice family day out of it as well where you can share your emotions.”

Why is it meaningful for you to share this book with your kids?

Ryan: “It was a nice feeling to give a book to our kids. Hopefully they’ll learn something from it too, or realise that they’re not the only ones.”

Graham: “And they’ll realise that we know they’re struggling as well.”

Neil: “Yeah, they’ll realise that we understand their emotions. Because we had to put ourselves in our kids’ shoes. At the end of the day, obviously we’re being punished, but they’re also being punished. And actually, thinking about that, it plucked on a couple of heartstrings, I ain’t going to lie. And I’ve read the book out to a few family members and it made them cry. Even though we call them every day and speak to them, this is a different way of talking to them.”

Ryan: “Day to day you talk about normal life, you don’t talk about emotions and deep stuff all the time.”

Hopefully they’ll appreciate it and just see that. They know I love them. But with this, I suppose, you’re showing it as well as saying it.


How does being in prison affect your children?

Neil: “I’ve been in a few years now, so it has become the normality to them. I can imagine when I first came in, it was a bit daunting when they came to visit. They didn’t know what to expect. My son said it was a scary place to come in. He hated it.”

Ryan: “It’s a complete change for us isn’t it. I’ve been in here, being told what to do, locked behind a door. Out there it was not like that. It’s just difficult isn’t it. It’s a massive change.”

Neil: “You know, there’s things we miss out on. I know my son was talking about he was in a classroom and there was kids going ‘oh yeah, my dad this or my dad that’ and he’s like ‘oh, my dad’s in prison’ and he started welling up. And obviously I couldn’t be there. But it’s not forever, as the book is called. Reading out the story to them [at the sharing] will be a bit emotional I think. I would probably say it would bring us closer together.”

How did you feel about being creative?

Neil: “When I found out you had to make up a story and do a collage, you think; ‘Oh my [goodness], I’m just a roofer’. When it comes to doing things like that it’s a bit daunting. You’ve got to talk from your heart. You’ve got to hit the inner mushy bit inside of you.”

Ryan: “For me, the artistic side was a little bit difficult. That’s why it’s good to do it as a group, as we all put our little bit in. It’s good to see it come together.”

Neil: “We all split into groups, we all done little sections of the story, moulded it together, made a wicked story. If I was doing it on my own, I would’ve struggled. But because we did it as a group, it come together.”

Graham: “Yeah you wouldn’t think of making a story like that, but everyone did. You can write something. Before you know it, you’ve got a story.”

It’s amazing when it all come together. I was amazed at what we could do.


Working together

Ryan: “I think the fact that we all got together as a group was good. Teamwork is something that we don’t really do in prison. But it’s good to actually do it. You have to sort of work as a team, try and get on with everyone. I think it was a good group, so nobody was overpowering. Everybody had an opinion, but everyone was willing to let it go for the greater good.”

Ryan: “This project has been emotional. It’s nice that we all share that with each other. We’ve all got to know each other a bit better on the wing as well. Not everybody is in touch with their emotional side. It’s all a bit macho in prison. But I think if you want to be upset, you should be upset. We cry. I’ve cried on a visit before.”

Graham: “I give him a big cuddle when he come back. And then it started him again.”

Ryan: “It’ll start me off now if you carry on.”

Neil: “We’re all in the same boat here really. Even though we’ve all done different crimes, we still all have the same emotions towards your kids. Not everyone’s story is the same, but everybody gets each other.”

And the best part is the end result, that we have something to give to our kids.


My Dad’s in Prison was funded by The Boris Karloff Charitable Foundation, Edward Cadbury Trust, Elle (via HMP Oakwood), The Leigh Trust, and The Michael and Shirley Hunt Charitable Trust.