Page last updated at 08:45 GMT, Saturday, 3 May 2008 09:45 UK

Festival books captive audience

Many prisoners turn to writing as a way of grappling with their problems

The Hay literary festival is linking up with a prison to capture a unique and captive audience.

Organisers of the Powys event near the Wales-England border hope a satellite festival for Parc Prison, Bridgend, will help transform perceptions.

It will see writers and poets visit the prison to give talks during the 11-day literary jamboree from 22 May.

This year's festival will start and finish with books from writers linked to the prison.

They will include biographies by a current inmate and a former inmate.

A link to the festival's site is also being planned to allow prisoners to watch scheduled events live on TV.

Among the festival line-up will be former US President Jimmy Carter, comedian Ken Dodd, chef Jaime Oliver and barrister Cherie Booth, the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Prison is more than just a place of punishment it offers people an opportunity to change
Phil Forder

The unlikely link between the prison and the celebrated annual festival is the brainchild of the prison's former writer in residence.

Phil Forder, now its arts intervention manager, said the talent and literacy of many inmates would amaze most members of the public.

He got the inspiration for a link between the prison, which has 1,126 male inmates, and the festival after searching its official website.

"I noticed they did outreach programmes in places like South America taking literature to places around the world," he said.

"I thought, 'hang on a minute, it's great going to the third world but you don't need to go anywhere near that far.'"

He said he decided to contact the festival director Peter Florence, who immediately jumped at his proposition.

Former US President Jimmy Carter
Former US President Jimmy Carter will be at this year's festival

"It was a bit of a wild idea that just struck gold," Mr Forder said.

He said many inmates had turned to writing as a way of grappling with their own personal problems and eventually found they had talent.

He is also hoping that the festival will work to change perceptions on both sides of the prison divide.

"It is true that, dare I say it, we have a captive audience here, but I believe very strongly that something like this can change perceptions.

"Prison is more than just a place of punishment it offers people an opportunity to change.

"We have people here who are free of drugs for the first time and who are free from the pressures of the outside world perhaps for the first time.

"Motivating them to change is part of what prison is all about and discovering literature can have a very therapeutic side as well."

Mr Florence said it was clear "a lot of good work" was being done in literacy and literature with inmates.

"People have to remember that books are probably a much bigger part of an inmate's life than they are of other people's lives," he said.

"So many writers like Cervantes, who dreamed up Don Quixote behind bars for instance, used their time in prison productively.

"Many people who start to write in prisons find they have a talent for it."

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