What Stories Mean by Rebecca F. John
It might seem obvious that stories hold different meanings for different people. Of late, however, I’ve been given cause to consider the true scope of this idea. Stories, for some, are an easy joy: an opportunity for escapism, learning, growth. For others, stories are intimidating, a thing to be feared. To certain readers or listeners, they are a reprieve from loneliness, a vindication of their thoughts and feelings, a reflection of their identity. Perhaps even a home away from home.
For three of the inmates at Parc Prison in late August, what stories represented was a chance to spend valuable time with their young families.
I was privileged enough to sit in on the creative workshop these men were permitted to invite their partners and children to take part in inside the prison, facilitated by Literature Wales. On the surface, the creative activity was very simple – the inmates and their families were to write and illustrate a story which would later be made into a book they could all keep and enjoy. For the families, it meant two five-hour days during which they could be together, inventing characters, drawing pictures, sitting side-by-side and laughing. For the men, it was no doubt a hugely incentivising experience: if they needed any further encouragement to behave well for the duration of their sentences, to ensure they returned to their homes at the earliest opportunity, here it was, paint-splattered and happily noisy and stuffed to bursting with imaginary tales.
What struck me most, though, was the meaning of the story these families, these children, invented. Their collective narrative included adventurous siblings, wolves, witches, and deep dark woods. Naturally, they wrote about magic – they were still of an age when they might retain just the tiniest spark of belief. They wrote about a brother and sister who wandered away from their parents, befriended vicious-looking wolves, and fought evil witches. But, at its core, hidden behind all those magical elements, their narrative was essentially, touchingly human. Because what those children wrote about – and likely without ever fully realising it – was misconception and redemption.
What then do stories mean to them? I’d like to think that maybe, at least in part, they represent the opportunity to be heard.
This blog post was written by Rebecca F. John after she had the opportunity to shadow storyteller Michael Harvey and illustrator Sarah Edmonds at creative workshops with inmates at HM Prison Parc. These workshops form part of Literature Wales’ Literature for Health and Wellbeing activities. To discuss similar shadowing and training opportunities, please feel free to contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org / 029 2047 2266.