Behind the Book: My Time Inside

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707There are three stories that stand out in my head from my time as writer in residence of a high-security male prison.

The first is when I met a man who wrote the most beautiful poetry in immaculate sloping script. X was rather frightening to look at but when you spoke to him, he seemed as gentle as a lamb. During the two years that I knew him, X told me about his life. It was a sad tale of being in and out of care. He then told me how he had murdered a man and rung 999 to report his own crime.

Poetry helped X come to terms with his past and to repent. He was one of the best poets in the group. One day I came into work and this man didn’t turn up for the group. ‘Where is he?’ I asked. It turned out that X had been shipped out overnight. This means being sent to another prison at midnight when everyone else is asleep, to cause the minimum of fuss. His crime? Putting something extremely nasty into other prisoners’ food when he worked in the kitchen. I can’t say what. But it’s haunted me ever since.

The second story involves helping a man to enter a national writing competition. I’ll call him Y. He had never written before but clearly had natural talent. Y wrote a very moving story about being on the streets. He also described in graphic detail, how he had been abused as a child. His entry won first prize. I will never forget seeing the look on his face. From that day onwards, he changed. Staff reported that he seemed more compliant. Keener to forge a better life for himself. While I was there, Y was moved to another prison. He asked if I would visit him. I said I would if I was given permission. Unfortunately I wasn’t. I still worry about this.

The third story is more humorous. When I worked in the prison, I discovered that you needed to be able to laugh at times or you wouldn’t be able to cope. There is a fine line between tragedy and humour. Anyway this is what happened. It was on one of my days off when I was sitting on a train next to a friend and we were discussing our week.

Obviously my work is confidential and in fact I was about to describe a talk I had been to in the prison chapel. I started my sentence with the words ‘When I was in prison ….’

And then I stopped. The man sitting opposite me was clearly shocked. He got up and moved places. So did the woman sitting on my right. I spent the rest of the journey being stared at. It’s certainly one way to get more space in a crowded train carriage!

There are also many more stories. Some of them were the inspiration for My Husband’s Wife. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Jane Corry is a writer and journalist, and teaches creative writing all over the world. Recently she spent three years working as the writer-in-residence at a high-security prison for men.

In her own words: ‘I had always thought prisons were terrifying places for people who had done terrible things. But after my first marriage ended, I found myself working in one, and discovered a world I could not have imagined without actually being there. A world in which no one was quite who they seemed. A world that I found strangely addictive – so much so that it wormed its way into this book.’

MY HUSBAND’S WIFE is available in the UK and in the US.