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Art in prison: building on Safe Ground

Photos by Jonathan Perugia and Warwick Sweeney

CALM is delighted to announce a partnership with Safe Ground –a charity using creativity to educate people in prison and young people in the community. Over the next few months we'll be showcasing writing and art from men involved with Safe Ground's 'Man Up' programme, a workshop using group discussion and creativity to explore what it means to be a man.

Unsurprisingly, prisons are struggling to cope with record rates of suicide and self-harm. 2016 saw 126 self-inflicted deaths in custody. Suicide rates among recently released male prisoners are up to eight times higher than the national average. This partnership aims to shine a light on the issue and give a platform to men in prison to reflect on their own experience through creative self-expression. We caught up with Safe Ground's Office Manager, Keisha Bhamra to learn more about their work.

Hi Keisha, so tell us a bit about what Safe Ground does?

Safe Ground challenges people and communities to do relationships differently. Through drama, dialogue, and debate, we aim to enhance empathy and encourage expression, help develop self-awareness and promote social justice.

What unique pressures and challenges do people in prison face?

The continuous cuts to funding mean people in prison are often unable to access the services they need to be rehabilitated and prosper when leaving the justice system. Psychoactive drugs are easily available and addictive. The reduced number of prison officers obviously impacts the support when trying to move people in the system. The prison system is at crisis point and people in prison are aware of the dangerous conditions they’re being held in.
The public must understand that to rehabilitate people you must support them on their journey to change.

Tell us more about your Man Up programme

Man Up aims to tackle issues around masculine identity, and the impacts of stereotypes, expectations and limits imposed by traditional (cross-cultural) gendered roles. This three-day programme uses Safe Ground therapeutic methodology in small groups to discuss what makes a man.

A poem by Gus


There are so many titles for a man:

Dad, father, son, brother, uncle, Mr, monster, job titles and what not.

We’re different, but alike, you and I.

For me, and many like me, prison is a miserable place. For a long time I’ve been living miserably, with limited choices most times chosen for me by another.

Does a man’s mental health suffer whilst in prison? Of course, In a number of different ways. But as men we shy away from speaking about our faults.

For a man to ask for help? Wow, how hard is that!


What role can creativity play in helping people in prison?

The use of drama techniques and arts practices such as music and poetry are all part of our core methodology. Holding the space, managing conflict and supporting people to take risks – to try new things, speak up and perform, these are therapeutic processes. They can be cathartic and afford people a freedom to reach new goals. The use of character and story can allow participants to express or experience other people’s perspectives; experience with new ways of being or doing, and feel the impact of someone’s actions from another point of view. The arts help us understand ourselves and each other.
The use of character and story can allow participants to express or experience other people’s perspectives and feel the impact of someone’s actions from another point of view.

How do you feel about the public's understanding of our prison system?

There are a lot of tensions between punishment and rehabilitation. For a person to settle back into society they need access to health care and support from services. This should be the aim for people in and coming out of prison. The reoffending rate is high because there is no simple answer and people's lives are complicated and messy. We use arts work to bridge the gap between prison and the community. The public must understand that to rehabilitate people you must support them on their journey to change.

Anonymous piece


Before I came to prison, I like our society general, took the telephone for granted. In my professional days it was more of a curse than it was a benefit. I recall leaving short meetings and having countless messages waiting for me. As I endeavoured to return those, more would then accumulate.

Now the telephone for me has returned to how to was in the 80s. A mode of communication that is one dimensional. Back then I would receive a call from a friend, normally interrupting the family evening meal, much to my father’s grumbling dismay.

The importance of the telephone to me now cannot be overestimated. It’s a vital component to my survival here in prison. Telephone credit is expensive, a ten minute call can cost you half a days wages, but to hear the voice of my vice of my wife and to receive the reassurance that they are all well that day is worth a week’s wages.


What do you hope to gain from partnering with CALM?

We hope this partnership will challenge and diversify conversations around masculinity to create a culture that enables men to seek support when they need it. By doing this we believe there can be better relationships and support for people that are vulnerable and more likely to be sent to prison.

Learn more about Safe Ground's work and look out for our next instalment in the coming weeks.