Writers behind bars given creative crash course

Emer Lyons, at Otago Corrections Facility. Prisoners on a creative writing course. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Emer Lyons, at Otago Corrections Facility. Prisoners on a creative writing course. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Creative writers behind bars received a late boost with their competition entries following some expert intervention.

New Chapters, a writing prize run by the Otago Daily Times and Corrections, closed last week and winners will be named at the weekend.

Those at the Otago Corrections Facility who were refining their entries, put together over the last couple of months, were treated to a masterclass recently.

Emer Lyons — from the University of Otago’s Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, and one of the competition judges — ran a lively workshop for inmates showing them the potential potency of words.

She was accompanied by Liz Breslin, another writer and ODT columnist.

It was not Lyon’s first time in the prison; her first visit was during a Dunedin Fringe Festival when she went to see prisoners perform the play RE-CYCLE.

Ruth Carraway directed and guided those involved , and Ms Lyons credited her as the inspiration behind the offer to run the writing workshop.

Though there was near tangible trepidation at first, it did not last.

Both the men and the facilitators were soon cracking jokes, sharing ideas, and working together.

The room almost vibrated with excited energy.

Ms Lyons and Ms Breslin introducted several activities, beginning with haikus, prompting everyone to write about a book or TV show they enjoyed, before sharing them as a group and attempting to identify each person’s topic.

Ms Breslin said the atmosphere was remarkably relaxed and comfortable.

“Once we started on the prompts and all sat around together at the table, the space opened up and so did all of us. They were all so willing to share their work and I honestly feel so privileged to have been involved with their creative development,” Ms Lyons said.

Otago Corrections Facility prisoners during the creative writing course. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Otago Corrections Facility prisoners during the creative writing course. Photo: Christine O'Connor

“It was beautiful to watch them work and to hear them read aloud what they had created.”

The pair said they did not think of the group as prisoners, only as fellow writing enthusiasts.

“I left the prison after the workshop feeling inspired by each person that participated. They showed immense trust towards Liz and I, a trust that we do not take for granted,” said Ms Lyons.

The winners of this year’s New Chapters competition will have their work published in this weekend’s ODT.

- by Bo Beaufill

Bo Beaufill is a University of Otago criminology department student and co-director of ‘‘New Chapters’’ this year

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