Silvia Converso- Punk Rock goes to Prison
Silvia Converso is a Leonardo da Vinci scholar and co-ordinator of Hay in the Parc.
Not everybody knows that the Hay Festival has a sister festival running parallel as Hay, from the 31st till the 15th of June. It is called Hay in The Parc and takes place in Parc Prison, Bridgend and started in 2008. It is absolutely unique in its genre as it is the one and only festival in the world entirely happening in prison for prisoners. The Hay Festival every year send some of its authors to HMP Parc to talk and run workshops with the inmates. Extremely valuable speakers, authors, journalists such as Owen Sheers, Erwin James, Nick Broomfield have attended the festival in the past.
Yesterday for the first time a musician participated in Hay in The Parc. James Fearnley, co-founder and accordion player of The Pogues talked for more than an hour to a group of 40 inmates about the story of the band, their music, his life as a musicians and some episodes taken from his recently appeared book Here Comes Everybody with the wild charismatic front man of the band Shane MacGowan. Funnily enough, one of the inmate is a huge fan of The Pogues and was asked on that very morning to interview his hero. Richie is also the guitar player of the band of the prison and really knowledgeable about the music scene of the early 80’s. From a small CD player he played some of The Pogues’ tracks to give a better idea about their music to the inmates who did not know the band’s music so well. It was surprisingly amazing how cool, natural and relaxed the conversation between James and Ritchie flew. It went down tremendously well, even better than I expected. Everybody truly enjoyed it, prisoners and prison officers alike. It was entertaining, enjoyable, ‘very educating, accommodating and humble to listen to’, as some inmates commented in their feedback. Fearnley conveyed ‘a great story and interesting insight to a cool and legendary band. The guy was down to earth and real.’ One prisoner described it as ‘Proper old school – it was nice to sit down and here from the real people of that era.’ One inmate commented that ‘the prison can only benefit from events such as this and more should be done to encourage similar events’.
I think this is certainly the point. I wish more people could attend these events and see what is like. Aside from being truly entertaining, genuinely enjoyable, one can really feel that both sides, authors and inmates, benefit from them. Only some days ago an author who attended Hay in The Parc some years ago revealed to me that his talk in prison inspired his subsequent novels. Likewise, a man who served an 18-months sentence in prison and attended Hay in The Parc while he was there, got inspired by the creative writing workshop he did and started writing a story for his little girl. He was released some months ago and this year he came to the Hay Festival and saw Michael Morpurgo’s event. He told me that it was the most educative day he had in his life.
Literacy is a big problem in prisons and there is a lot of work to do. Prison is more than a place for punishment – it offers people the opportunity to change. Therefore, literature in prison is a great form of education and should be encouraged, thus motivating prisoners that changing is part of what prison is all about. Discovering literature can have a very therapeutic side as it offers them the chance to get inspired and try new things, such as writing or reading. We all have stories to tell, regardless if we are in prison or not.