Creative writing 2018-01-27T00:25:15+00:00

Creative Writing

Creative Writer Sheree Mack and historian John Saddler worked with three groups of prisoners within three North East prisons; HMP Frankland, HMP Durham and HMPYOI Low Newton, over the course of twelve sessions.

Prisoners often do not have access to heritage while inside prison, and will often not have visited many heritage venues in their lives. Beyond the Borders was an opportunity for Dilly Arts to help participants explore what heritage is – and can be – and show how they can access and understand heritage, even while inside prison. Beyond the Borders reinforces the message that heritage and its venues are for everyone, including our prison community. With the support of Sheree and John, participants developed a variety of new skills, from research and investigative skills, through numeracy and literacy to collation of historical data, interpretation and presentation. Each fictional character is based on historical information drawn from the surviving records and materials within Hexham Gaol.


Creative writer Sheree Mack gives us an insight into her experiences of working with the prisoners to create our Beyond the Borders characters.

It was a cold grey December morning, when we first met all together as a team. I’m not sure if it was colder inside or outside as those old stone walls of Hexham Old Gaol held tight to their cold and history. But there was good cheer around the table as finally this well planned out project was beginning. I was excited to be part of it.

I’ve always enjoyed working in prisons because the participants really appreciated the opportunity to take part in different projects. I love that some of them find that they have hidden talents from taking part and getting involved in new things. This project in particle interested me as I could see clear parallels between the historial and contemporary lives. That said though, in answer to the question – what do you envision doing within the project? I could not answer.

You see I am the creative writer attached to the project, the very heart of the project. But did I have any idea what I was going to do with the participants in the three prisons? No I did not. Because the creative process relies a lot on practice and magic.I worked closely with John, the historian. Each week, He would present a different part of the Border Reivers’ history. From this I would devise activities that would foster some kind of relation between the participants and this history. Something they could relate to, and jump off from into creating something themselves. Some weeks, we would improvise and run with what the participants had taken a fancy to, such as the week we spent exploring the uses of different herbs and superstitions within the women’s prison.

The best week in all the three prisons, and I’m making the judgement based on the participants engaging and creating from the heart, was when I shared some of my writing about my family and history. I showed my vulnerability and the participants respected that, made a connection and were willing to go that extra mile in expressing themselves through the characters they produced.

So each prison, each different in their own way, produced a character who is part of the exhibition at Hexham Old Gaol but these animated characters are only a small proportion of the writing and artwork they completed. From my 12 session in each of the prisons, I would say that the participants were actively engaged with the project and saw it an opportunity to reach from inside across the barriers to the outside.

Why do you think there is a strong nature, outdoor motif running throughout each of the characters’ monologues? Because the people who created them dream of being free.

A selection of writing created during our workshops by the women of Low Newton Prison