Guest Blog

The Impact of Prison Visits

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Chris Baker is a former Koestler Award entrant and mentee turned public speaker and aspiring documentary filmmaker on a mission to educate and inspire change.

We invited Chris to join us on our prison visits across the UK, to share his story with learners and encourage entries to the Koestler Awards. He shared with us why he thinks visits are so important, and how it felt presenting in the prison art classes.

Visits are so important. I first learnt about Koestler Arts when they visited the prison I was in. I was 3 and a half years into a sentence at HMP Ford, an open prison, and I stumbled upon a presentation that Sally Taylor, the former CEO, was doing about the Awards.

She had mentioned that someone at Ford used to volunteer at Koestler, so I went back to my cell and immediately wrote a letter asking if I could come and work with them, and they agreed! This was in 2019, I started doing two days a week, then five, and I ended up working there for 7 months – it was the best thing I did. It made me feel like I could contribute to society in a better way.

When I came out, I was lucky enough to join the Arts Mentoring scheme, and since then I’ve been asked to perform at Koestler’s Voices from Prison poetry event, share my story with an audience at their Postcards from Prison fundraiser and feature in publications to help motivate and inspire others to enter the Awards. None of it would have happened if Koestler Arts hadn’t visited the prison I was in.

So, to be asked to join Koestler Arts on prison visits was a very surreal full-circle experience… it felt much better being at the other side, as a guest speaker rather than a prisoner!

I got to co-facilitate the sessions alongside the Koestler Outreach team, and input my own personal experiences. People showed us their artwork, and it was compelling to see how the Awards still create the same positive impact in art classes as they did when I was in prison. It felt good to be able to talk about the Mentoring scheme too – the guys were really interested in it because of the effect it had on me.

I feel that it’s key for people with lived experience to go into prisons and demonstrate that reform and rehabilitation are possible, and encourage people to want to change, so I hope to be able to do more visits in the future. Plus, I was so inspired after the visits that I’ve actually entered the Awards again this year!