John’s Story

A photo of a poem written on a piece of paper.

From A Young Offender Institution To The Venice Biennale

When I first went to prison I was angry and messed up. I did a bit of art therapy and found that helped. I remember being in my cell the first time I wrote something like an actual poem. It was for my sanity, and it was a list of things that should and shouldn’t be happening. Like,  you shouldn’t be in Costa del Feltham. You should be in your Central St Martins studio, you should be making artwork’ [see left]. Five years later, when I was in my Central St Martins’ studio, I found that letter and there I was!

The Koestler Awards helped me kickstart that journey. Having someone outside redeem your talents is crucial for artistic growth in such hopeless conditions. After release I was accepted onto the Koestler Arts mentoring scheme.

I started my BA at Central St Martins a few months after I got out of jail, and then got the phone call from Koestler Arts saying I’d got a job there, and then they said, ‘and do you want to come to the Venice Biennale with Jeremy Deller’? I thought someone was pulling a really cruel joke on me but it turns out they weren’t!

Koestler Arts has had such a profound effect on my life, and to look at the journey from prison cell to now has helped me realise just how much you can achieve with care and guidance.

Download John’s full story here

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