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Art and education for prisoners brought to life in new play hosted at Leeds Beckett


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A new play by acclaimed writer Dean Stalham, set in the infamous Strangeways prison, will be performed at Leeds Beckett University on Wednesday 30 November.

A scene from Barred, by Kristy Garland

Barred tells the tale of a prisoner, Danny, trying to rehabilitate through the power of art and education: a change he needs to make, not only for himself, but to rebuild the fractured, near broken relationship with his daughter, Holly. Barred tackles the debate around whether or not art and education are viable means of rehabilitation for prisoners, something that Dean, being a former prisoner himself, is passionate about.

The performance will take place at the Rose Bowl, Lecture Theatre A, from 5-7pm, followed by a drinks reception with Dean and the cast of the play. Tickets are free and can be booked here.

Since his release from prison in 2006 from a five-year sentence in HMP Wandsworth prison for handling stolen art works by Warhol and Dali, Dean has devoted his life to art and theatre. Leaving prison with an A Level in Art, a BTEC in Radio Production and three National Union Journalism Awards, Dean knows firsthand the virtues and benefits of taking education inside prison.

A scene from Barred, by Kristy Garland

He explained: “My aim with Barred is to give a voice to the minority of prisoners who are striving to change through the power of art and education and to change common perceptions held by the public and society. One question that always comes up when I'm interviewed is, 'Why should we care what happens to prisoners; why should they be allowed access to education, to study art?’ My answer to them is, 'Imagine your life without art' - it's a hard question to answer. They generally say they can't. I then ask, 'Is your life a better place for having education and art in it?': 'Of course it is', they say. The majority of prisoners do not and have never had art in their lives - so if it makes life better? Art is for all. Why deny another human that right?

“My ethos is simple - if you let art into your life, your life will be a better place. Once art is in your life, it helps you to communicate; and once you start to do that, you start to share. Once you start sharing, the world becomes a far bigger place.

Barred is going on at Strangeways Prison in front of 70 category A prisoners serving long sentences - many of them are studying for degrees - the day before the performance at Leeds Beckett University. I want the same feedback questions to go out to both sets of audience members. On the surface you cannot get a more diverse set of audiences; but I hope they are not as different as many would say or think they are...”

A scene from Barred, by Kristy Garland

The performance has been organised by the Prison Research Network at Leeds Beckett University. Dr Helen Nichols, Co-Leader of the Prison Research Network, said: “As lecturers of penology-focused modules in the Criminology Group at Leeds Beckett and active prisons researchers, we feel it important to identify opportunities for the development of greater understanding about the reality of prison life for our students and wider audiences. This play has been written for a prisoner audience and has received fantastic reviews from serving prisoners, specifically about its authenticity.

“Although not opposed to taking students to visit prisons, we are conscious of the need for there to be a specific purpose for doing so, rather than simply to ‘have a look’. This play mobilises the reality of prison life and in this case, we are bringing the prison to the University. For us, this is an opportunity to enhance our students’ knowledge, understanding and overall experience of learning through an extra-curricular activity that, for the duration of the play, will transform the lecture theatre into a prison cell.”

Representatives from local prisons and related organisations will also attend the event.

Barred is supported and produced by Carlotta Allum, founder and director of the prison arts charity, Stretch. For more information, please click here.

All photos copyright Kristy Garland


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