No Bars_Poetry is a poetry competition which celebrates the redemptive power of poetry for people in our prison system. It is building connections between people in prisons and a supportive community on the outside through mentorships and publishing.
Your support will help us fund:
- mentorships for monthly winners
- publication of poetry videos on the nobars_poetry Instagram page
- publication of our No Bars anthology
- better understanding for all of us
The gentle power of poetry The No Bars team was formed last year during the first lockdown. Our team includes people with personal experience of being in prisons and working in prisons. We knew that Covid would have a big impact on prisoner wellbeing and without being able to go into prisons in person any longer, we needed to find different ways to offer support. The answer for us was the No Bars poetry competition. Some of the best artwork to come out of prisons is poetry which draws on universal human experience. We all agreed that the public needs to hear these stories, to better understand our modern society. This competition also seeks to encourage "the restorative, rehabilitative and transformative possibilities of writing" by bringing that valuable work into the public domain.
Building understanding: This project shares unheard stories and is building a community of artists with and without the experience of prison. We know this works because when we bring colleagues into prisons to work with inmates, they leave transformed in their understanding of who our prisons are housing, and why.
And when we bring prison leavers to work with artists and in schools, amazing things happen.
Prison is not a natural environment. While staff do the best they can to make it rehabilitative, they are working in very difficult conditions. This is one of the reasons why the arts are so important. They allow humanity to thrive. There are great benefits for us all, and especially prison leavers, in pursuing the arts. But leaving prison brings stress and often the return of poverty, leaving no scope for self-care in any form.
The No Bars_Poetry competition addresses this issue by creating links between people in prison and a supportive community outside. The idea is simple - invite poems from people inside prisons, have them performed by volunteers and share them on Instagram. We offer prizes including mentoring and publication in our annual 'No Bars' anthology.
(The nobars_poetry Instagram page)
A three-month pilot funded by the National Prison Arts Alliance brought poems from HMPs Hewell, Leicester, Ranby and Newhall, Wormwood Scrubs and equally from people outside prisons who want to be part of this new positive community. An unexpected pleasure has been the rediscovery of sending and receiving letters by post, of slower and more meaningful correspondence. We have built a community of supporters on the outside who record the poems and in doing so, have come to a new understanding of people locked away from society. Our Instagram page focuses on the power of words and art to build positive futures and our monthly winners work with professional mentors to develop e.g. new work, a performance or a creative plan.
To date we have published 40 poems on Instagram and built a network of poets, artists and supporters to read them (and we always need more!). Our first 5 winners have been connected with mentors Carol Leeming and Cally Maxwell. We have sent poetry resources into 5 prisons and sales of books have so far paid for two further mentorships.
With your help we can turn this project into a long-term venture which will provide employment and opportunities for ex-offenders and artists alike. All through the gentle power of poetry.