|Out of the Wood
Stride - 1989 ISBN 0 946699 88 7
Anthology including guest contributors: Tim Page, Colin Wilson, Kit Wright, and Joy Walsh
Foreword by the Governor
It should surprise no one that a book of creative writings has been produced in a prison. Men taken aside from the community and separated from their ordinary emotional outlets will often find release through writing. There can be no better time to confront one's own personality and to reflect upon the world and the precarious place which we hold in it.
It is no less true that those of us who work in prisons are confronted daily by moral problems which remain in the realm of theory for most people. We too may seek to express our doubts and concerns by setting them down on paper.
We are grateful to Alexis Lykiard for guiding our novice pens with great patience and for enabling us to share the company of those professional artists he introduced to us.
A final hope is that the reader will enjoy the work and through it gain some insight into the unusual world which for us is commonplace. Perhaps Housman expressed it most clearly:
You might imagine that an anthology of writing from inside a prison would be amateurish, self-pitying, depressing; you'd be wrong. Exeter writer Alexis Lykiard spent about half of 1988 as writer-in-residence at HMP Channings Wood, courtesy of funding from South West Arts, the Home Office (which is encouraging) and the Devon Library Association. 'Out of the Wood' is the result and it is a rich dish full of surprising and unexpected delights.
As far as one who has never ventured inside Channings Wood can tell, the varied contributions combine to present a rounded picture of the prison. There is a "chatty piece from the Librarian, an elegant and hopeful poem from the Governor and an affectionate one from a tutor, and a brave critique of the prison service from a warder as well as stories, poems and autobiography from the prisoners themselves. Of these, many show skill and insight that stand up well beside the work of the professionals (Colin Wilson, Joy Walsh and Kit Wright, who visited during the residency, in addition to Lykiard himself) but it is often the rawest that are the most moving, with a directness that comes from the heart. Anyone who reads 'What Comes Next' which recounts uncomplainingly the most horrendous childhood with matter of fact acceptance, must start to question society's role in the making of the criminal'.
Channings Wood has prisoners of 27 nationalities, sharing 18 languages and 15 faiths and this cultural mix is also reflected in the writing. Mandela's drum and JAH rub shoulders with recollections of Welsh approved school and a youth in Broadmoor. As a bonus you have (excellently printed, by the way) a collection of colour photos of the prison by the Vietnam veteran photographer Tim Page. Sad only that they are (for obvious reasons) mainly architectural. It seems to me that what 'Out of the Wood' says to the reader, softly at first but with increasing insistence as you delve deeper, is that prisoners are people too, not really that much different from us. Perhaps we're just luckier. And books which do that should be bought, read and valued.
[Anna Searle Event Southwest 1990]