Pride of Polmont

Charlotte Bozic attended the premiere of ‘Home: A Philosophy’, performed by inmates at HMYOI Polmont.

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the performance of ‘Home; A Philosophy’ devised by Jeremy Weller and Mark Traynor of the Grassmarket Project in partnership with Fife College and Creative Scotland, and written and performed by Polmont HMYOI inmates.

According to the invite, the performance and story was based upon the experiences of six young men who think they are free, in fact, they are in prisons everywhere:  the prison of their bodies, physically held but most of all, they are held in a prison of their own personal anguish.  They search for ‘home’ through love, amongst their friends and in trying to change their lives, find a way to begin again.

The audience included family members, some of whom had made a long journey to be there. It gave an added sense of pride and joy to the afternoon, which I felt privileged to be part of.

After a long wait, which nobody seemed particularly perturbed by, the actors entered the room in high spirits. The sense of trust and goodwill between the young men and their teachers described by Jeremy and Mark was evident; as Jeremy joked: “Sometimes they were the ones doing the directing!”

Another thing that stood out, and was commented on by everyone, was their bravery. To stand up in front of an audience and your peers is daunting at the best of times, but to do it when you’ve never done anything like it before,  and have been told that you’d never be capable of doing such a thing, takes a huge amount of courage to screw to the sticking place and not fail.

After their initial shyness, the actors simply shone. Delivery was sometimes mumbled, bursts of laughter were inevitable, but none of it mattered – what captivated us the young men on stage, sharing their lives, hearts, dreams and disappointments.

The format of the play followed the lives of two young men as they were released from Polmont. Both made strong attempts to fit back into civilian life – but as one of them admitted: “No matter how hard I try, I always end up going back and doing the same thing”.

Weaving throughout the narrative were true life accounts from the performers, either relating to their own experiences or those of others. One lad described how six months in Afghanistan had changed his perspective on death; another confided how taking ecstasy had affected his personality. All were honest, and all were deeply moving.  I didn’t feel pity, only respect and admiration. These are the young men you read about in the headlines, the ones we’re meant to fear. Yet as flawed as they are (as we all may be) they came across as honest, vulnerable…and very young.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Positive Prison? Positive Futures…at last week’s youth justice conference.  The man I was chatting to had served time and wanted to help others in the same situation. He told me just how hard it is to reintegrate back into the ‘ordinary’ world after serving your sentence. This was echoed by one of the actors, who admitted: “I like the routine that comes with jail. Once you’re out, the buzz of seeing your family and friends wears off…and you get back to your old ways. I like being back (in jail) because I have a routine again.”

Laughter warmed the afternoon, with some wickedly well-timed asides from the actors.  A performance by J, a strapping six foot inmate as ‘Sandra’ caused much mirth – particularly amongst his watching family!

It was clear to me that acting gives the young men the chance to be themselves, to act out their frustrations and encourage them to achieve what they didn’t think was possible. When I spoke to Jeremy Weller of the Grassmarket Project, which supports people through transitions in their lives and re-connects disengaged people, he strongly agreed.

“Drama gives the boys a space to let off steam, and vent their feelings,” he explained. “The art is just a framework for everything else, for emotions to be played out. Through this, we’re able to give the boys an opportunity to explore who they really are.”

A buffet followed the play, giving the inmates valuable time to spend with their families and mingle with the audience. One inmate told us how much the drama workshop gave him something to look forward to, another confessed that acting is something he’d like to pursue, and we even got an autograph, signed on a paper plate. The sense of pride in the room was tangible, as families chatted, inmates teased each other and praise was given again and again.

The only reminder that Polmont is a prison came when the order for time up was given, albeit respectfully. As we filed out gratefully from the overheated room, looked forward to feeling the fresh air on our faces, I couldn’t help think of the proud young men who would be returning to their cells. But hopefully, with a sense of achievement and renewed determination.

Perhaps the best words to finish on are from J aka Sandra:

“They say every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future…and I’m looking forward to mine.”

About our blogger

Charlotte Bozic is Knowledge Exchange Officer for CYCJ. She manages the Centre’s marketing and communications activities, including digital marketing, media relations, design and branding. Read more about Charlotte.