Creativity Found: finding creativity later in life

Glasshouse Theatre – prison officers turned playwrights

June 25, 2023 Claire Waite Brown/Glasshouse Theatre Episode 78
Glasshouse Theatre – prison officers turned playwrights
Creativity Found: finding creativity later in life
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Creativity Found: finding creativity later in life
Glasshouse Theatre – prison officers turned playwrights
Jun 25, 2023 Episode 78
Claire Waite Brown/Glasshouse Theatre

Navigating the UK criminal justice system and healing through creativity
What happens when creativity and a desire for social reform collide with the harsh realities of the UK criminal justice system? Ella and Harriet of Glasshouse Theatre share their candid experiences of becoming prison officers, revealing the challenges they faced, and the impact the role had on their mental health. They discuss how their initial motivations were fuelled by a white saviour complex and a desire to bring creativity to the prison environment, but the training they received left them woefully unprepared for the job.
Throughout the conversation, we explore the complexities of working in a gendered environment, the naivety and ego that motivated Ella and Harriet to stay in their roles, and the ways they dealt with the trauma of the job.
Harriet and Ella describe the difficult process of leaving the service and transitioning to life 'off the landings' after experiencing extreme trauma and being in a constant state of high adrenaline, and how that can lead to feelings of detachment, isolation and shame.
But, as with all Creativity Found stories, there is a silver lining, and we find out how therapy, lifestyle adjustments and writing the show Cell Outs – originally not intending it to be produced – helped Harriet and Ella begin to live ‘normal’ lives again, and learn to manage their own expectations in the future, be aware of trauma in themselves and others, and provide a safe space for those in similar situations now through their outreach theatre programs.

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Researched, edited and produced by Claire Waite Brown
Music: Day Trips by Ketsa Undercover / Ketsa Creative Commons License Free Music Archive - Ketsa - Day Trips
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.uk
Photo: Ella Pallet

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Navigating the UK criminal justice system and healing through creativity
What happens when creativity and a desire for social reform collide with the harsh realities of the UK criminal justice system? Ella and Harriet of Glasshouse Theatre share their candid experiences of becoming prison officers, revealing the challenges they faced, and the impact the role had on their mental health. They discuss how their initial motivations were fuelled by a white saviour complex and a desire to bring creativity to the prison environment, but the training they received left them woefully unprepared for the job.
Throughout the conversation, we explore the complexities of working in a gendered environment, the naivety and ego that motivated Ella and Harriet to stay in their roles, and the ways they dealt with the trauma of the job.
Harriet and Ella describe the difficult process of leaving the service and transitioning to life 'off the landings' after experiencing extreme trauma and being in a constant state of high adrenaline, and how that can lead to feelings of detachment, isolation and shame.
But, as with all Creativity Found stories, there is a silver lining, and we find out how therapy, lifestyle adjustments and writing the show Cell Outs – originally not intending it to be produced – helped Harriet and Ella begin to live ‘normal’ lives again, and learn to manage their own expectations in the future, be aware of trauma in themselves and others, and provide a safe space for those in similar situations now through their outreach theatre programs.

CreativityFound.co.uk
Instagram: @creativityfoundpodcast
Facebook: @creativityfoundpodcast and Creativity Found group
YouTube @creativityfoundpodcast
Pinterest: @creativityfound
Twitter: @creativityfoun

Researched, edited and produced by Claire Waite Brown
Music: Day Trips by Ketsa Undercover / Ketsa Creative Commons License Free Music Archive - Ketsa - Day Trips
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.uk
Photo: Ella Pallet

Click here to book a 1-to-1 online chat with me to understand more about the Creativity Found Collective, the promotional and networking membership for creative small businesses.

STOPTIME: Live in the Moment.

Ranked in the top 5% of podcasts globally and winner of the 2022 Communicator Award...

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

Support the Show.

Podcast recorded with Riverside and hosted by Buzzsprout
Subscribe to the Creativity Found mailing list here
Join the Creativity Found Collective here

Speaker 1:

We kind of went along with it, bright-eyed and blinking, going okay, sure, we can be prison officers, Potentially not thinking about the realities of the job.

Speaker 2:

That's the language. is violence From prison staff, from people incarcerated? that's kind of how things run smoothly, weirdly, and it's how you kind of keep control and keep people safe, which feels so counterintuitive. So I think that was a really key part of recovering for me was actually getting back to our creative practice properly. you know.

Speaker 1:

So going back and writing a play about our trauma and seeing how much it helped on par with therapy, on par with medication, on par with, you know, regular exercise, And it genuinely was a huge part of our healing and trauma recovery.

Speaker 3:

Hi, i'm Claire, founder of Creativity Found, a community for creative learners and educators, connecting adults who want to find a creative outlet with the artists and crafters who can help them do so with workshops, courses, online events and kits. For this podcast, I chat with people who have found or re-found their creativity as adults. We'll explore their childhood experiences of the arts, discuss how they came to the artistic practices they now love and consider the barriers they may have experienced between the two. We'll also explore what it is that people value and gain from their newfound artistic pursuits and how their creative lives, in which they're practical, necessary everyday lives.

Speaker 3:

For this episode, i'm speaking with Ella and Harriet, the writers and performers of the play Sellouts, spelt C-E-L-L, which gives a very big clue as to the roles they both worked in before taking this brilliant show on tour. Hi, ella and Harriet, thanks so much for joining me today. Thanks for having us. You're very excited, oh, so am I. So you are theatre makers whose work on stage and as workshop facilitators is inspired and informed by your frontline experiences of the UK criminal justice service. What I would like to know first is why and how you became prison officers.

Speaker 2:

Well, we met at university, Ella and I, and I was studying English and Elle studied English and theatre. So not necessarily the most conventional route into the prison service, possibly not what people would expect from an officer, But we were both really interested in like using theatre and arts for social reform and bringing it to people who maybe feel marginalised or don't normally have access. So we heard about a scheme where graduates are being encouraged to kind of join the prison service And I actually guilty, i was the one who emailed Ella the link saying we should do this. So it's all on me, i'll put my hands up. And yeah, that was. That was why we kind of wanted to get involved. It was sort of pitched as being like a chance to see prisons, frontline work with those people who were incarcerated and have a real focus on rehabilitation and positive impact in that system, which you know for better or worse. That was the intentions. We went in with a healthy dose of white saviour complex and a kind of social justice warrior energy. I think was pretty key.

Speaker 3:

And when you got there, what did the training actually involve?

Speaker 1:

I mean we were woefully underprepared. The training was six weeks long And it had a big focus on the sort of practicalities of the job And considering that as a prison officer you pretty much have to be a mental health expert because you're dealing with some of the most complex individuals in our society, and there was very little training around that. And there was very little training around how you also keep yourself safe from vicarious trauma, from corruption from a soul, all of those things. It was a lot of buzzwordy. It was very buzzwordy training And we kind of went along with it bright-eyed and blinking, going OK, sure we can be prison officers, potentially not thinking about the realities of the job.

Speaker 1:

So yeah, six weeks which flew by, and then we were on our landings And the moment we got onto our landings it was very much forget what you were told. In training you learn on the job And it's very difficult because I'm not sure if any kind of training, unless it's the sort of like two-year Nordic model where you get a degree at the end, could prepare you for that job, because it's unlike any other job that you'll ever come across in society.

Speaker 3:

And it seems to me that you may have been missold. Correct me if I'm wrong, but during the training did you ever kind of get to think that this perhaps isn't going to be what I think it's going to be, that maybe I won't be able to do my good arty stuff there? And at any point in the training did you think perhaps I'll just leave this, perhaps I won't do this at all.

Speaker 2:

We definitely should have thought those things. I think maybe we were at an age and a point where we weren't being overly critical, thinking kind of critically and really analysing the reality of what we were doing. I think in part the energy around slightly naive, systemic saving was being preached to us as well. I think the training attitude was that that was all going to be feasible and possible even whilst we were in that six weeks.

Speaker 2:

It was kind of like we were going to be the people who could change these individuals lives and that was the rhetoric around it And I think we very much bought into that, which, for better or worse, possibly should have had our eyes slightly more open. I think when Ella and I also have a tendency to, once we've decided to do something, it doesn't tend to get put down very easily. So I think there was a kind of gung-ho let's go for this. So many people telling us this was so unexpected from somebody from our kind of I don't know profile and background, and people assuming that the officers wouldn't, for example, have degrees. I think that's a preconception and a judgement a lot of people have around prison staff is that they're an uneducated workforce, which I think inverted commas there.

Speaker 2:

We were kind of wanting to subvert that as well and prove to people that we could be working in those kind of extreme environments which comes from a place of ego. So I think big dose of naivety kept us there. A lot of ego, a lot of proving ourselves, a lot of our own mental health stuff going on as well, like in our experiences and traumas in the past. So I think, possibly with slightly more coherent guidance and clarity over that role and the reality of it. Maybe we would have seen it for the kind of what it was going to become at the time. We were blinded by that, i think.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, i can understand the perseverance from you. Where were you both placed? How did you fit in then, as the young, enthusiastic newbies, among experienced officers and actually in the workplace?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So we were placed in not the same prison, much to our dismay. I was placed in a women's jail and Tara was placed in a men's jail and they were just opposite each other. And I remember when I got told that I was going to go to a women's prison, i fought against it. I was like, no, i, this is not what I had in mind. What I had in mind was being able to tell men and to sort of, yeah, get to their education, and I felt a lot more comfortable telling men off and asserting authority over men, which is maybe subversive to what people might think.

Speaker 1:

But I was a lot more scared going into a women's prison, not because of the levels of violence I mean, i didn't even think about the self-arm and suicide it but it was more the, i think, the closeness and the intimacy that I knew would come with working in a women's prison and, yeah, dealing with my own trauma, whilst in that I mean I should have listened to myself. I remember calling up the scheme and saying I don't want to do this, and then, of course, got persuaded into it with facts and figures and you can change this and you can change that. And then Harry got placed opposite me in a big, big, scary men's jail. We could drive in together and sort of wish each other luck and then see you in 12 hours with a whole load of more trauma, which will then sort of laugh about in the car because that's our only way to deal with. And it was very interesting the difference in both the jobs working as a prison officer in a women's prison and working as prison officer in a men's prison because they are incredibly different.

Speaker 1:

And I think what happened to me and Harriet and our own journeys and our own mental health Issues that happened as a result of that, i think it's very revealing, yeah, very, very interesting, and kind of why we then went on to write a play about it. Because how do you function within these like hyper gendered, hyper violent, just hyper everything, environments and, yeah, i would say that I probably took on too much of the Yeah, i took on a lot of vicarious trauma from the women, which is almost impossible to not do, because you are being a Yeah, you're being a effectively like a social worker and a healthcare worker and a mental health worker and Literally a firefighter and a nurse and also like a parent, and then you're being asked to discipline these women and strip search them. I mean, how you deal with that, i don't know. And then, yeah, and then we had Harriet and opposite me in the men's prison. What was the difference then?

Speaker 3:

do you think Harriet between your experience and Ella's um?

Speaker 2:

I think, When I was and I talk about this now we kind of have to bed into the very gendered world of those two environments And and I don't agree with them at all But the lines of kind of male and female are so heightened in prison settings And so the expectations of behavior, i think, is similar. I think with women society we feel a lot more comfortable saying that a lot of the women in prison are survivors. A lot of them are victims of crimes themselves. They're very vulnerable. We don't have that same narrative with male prisoners, although It is a truth that most of those men for them to have fallen into a life of the kind of crime they're involved in Have been abused by the system. They have faced severe Systemic injustice. It's not a comparison point but they're incredibly vulnerable as well. But we don't treat them like that. And it's a very male in a vertical.

Speaker 2:

As Approach to mental health, it's don't talk about it, it's so much repression. There's no space for vulnerability, there's no space for kind of Talking about how you feel, even on a very basic level, expressing that, articulating it. There's just none of that Approach to it and that bleeds into staff. I think so in male prisons, regardless of the gender of officers. I think the approach is a lot more quack on, tends to be more disciplinarian. There's not space for people to be talking about their traumas, often also because of the volatility of the environment. Like violence is used as the kind of key currency And means of communication. That's the language. Is violence from prison staff, from people incarcerated? It's that's kind of how things run smoothly, weirdly, and it's how you kind of keep control and keep people safe, which feels so counterintuitive. It's very naughty to kind of unpick, but I work specifically with people with addiction issues and substance misuse. So the people I was working with had another additional level of complexity That for me to keep them safe and consistently ensure they were medicated, i shut off pretty much all of my kind of humanity. I'd love to sit here and talk to you about What the root of your addiction is, but if I do that, i'm not going to medicate this person. They're probably going to overdose and they'll go into cardiac arrest. So to keep people safe, i can't see you as human And that and that's kind of the headspace that I moved into I think maybe Elle's moved into like seeing people in prison as the only humans and dehumanizing herself and I dehumanized the people there. So it was definitely a big contrast and I think, yeah, the kind of ramifications on the self are similar. I think we both are raised all of our own needs and ourselves as people In order to wear that uniform, and I think that's the key to the addiction.

Speaker 2:

I think it's a little bit different in terms of how we're dealing with the mental health of people in order to wear that uniform, but you handle people in quite different ways. It was very like respect driven. It was very kind of etiquette based in the men's prison. It was a lot around, yeah, hierarchies, structures, how you engage with those men, and I'm glad that we can look at those two angles and compare and contrast them. Was it worth it for the trauma? Probably not, but I am glad that we have those different perspectives. I think it's really important because there's not a single experience that people have within the prison system, so it's important that we get both sides.

Speaker 3:

I'm gonna be very flippant here, but yes, it was rather good that you both went through your very different experiences And therefore you were able to give a much better show at the end of it. It's a bit, literally, It's a lot for your art guys, you know.

Speaker 1:

It's a whole new level.

Speaker 3:

Anyway, sorry, all laughing aside, it sounds like obviously More than a nine to five job in so much as it's your whole being. You take on a role, you take on a character when you are in the prison. Did that infiltrate into life outside of the prison walls?

Speaker 1:

For me it definitely did. the extreme trauma which you witness and the extreme violence and self-harm and mental health crisis and the stories you hear. Of course it's going to permeate your mind and your identity and what you become, and I definitely noticed it blurring into, like my personal life and into my subconscious and into my dreams. I'd have nightmares, i'd have, yeah, waking up, thinking I was in the prison, and stories I'd heard and it very much gets in your mind And the stories that I heard and the things that I witnessed genuinely still haunt me today. Like there is. I don't think you quite understand, unless you've been in that environment just quite how extreme it is, and so it still bleeds into my personal life. you know, two years later or however long, but at the time I didn't realise that blurring, which was where it kind of gets scary. and there's very much this right once you hang your keys up, you leave, you leave work in the prison walls And I would say that in theory going, yeah, okay, cool, we shut the gate and we go home. But that's not how the mind works and it's not how the body works. like your body holds all of that adrenaline, all of that trauma, all of that tension. you're in fight and flight 24 seven in the environment, so it's not like you can then just shut again and go cool. yeah, forget about all those people that I've just had to lock up. It's not how it works.

Speaker 1:

And, as a result, i think yeah, i think I became very anxious but also angry, resenting of a world that seemed very like flippant when I returned to it and no one was. yeah, everyone was talking about like oh, what are they doing at the weekends? and blah, blah, blah, and I just like couldn't engage in those conversations sometimes and other issues like paled in comparison when that's not how life should be. It's not always trauma, top Trumps and it's not comparative, but it became that I was like how can people be complaining about this when I've literally just seen like someone try and take their own life for 20 minutes to go at work, or someone set themselves a light in their cells and had to deal with that. Like how can you then just go back to being like, oh my God, like what are we going to do at the weekend and who's dating who? because nothing seems. nothing seems real.

Speaker 1:

And I think that's that's when it became scary, because you're in, you can't then come back down to in a vertical as normal life which is like a base level of non adrenaline, that that didn't work. So I think, me and Harriet, yeah, we definitely became hardened, hardened versions of ourselves. Well, we thought we became hardened but in reality inside we were much more we pee and insecure and who knows what. And, yeah, i became, became angry, i became a lot more like volatile in my personal relationships and, weirdly, a lot less empathetic to probably the people in my personal life, because I didn't have anything left to give to myself or to others Because I've given everything to that job.

Speaker 1:

So, therefore, when you sacrifice your identity and your integrity for something, when you then try and form healthy relationships in friendships with loved ones, with family, it's not going to work because you're not looking at yourself and you're literally showing yourself no love, and so, of course, you're not going to form sort of healthy, a healthy identity outside of those walls. And I really respect people who can do that, who can do that job and still maintain a sense of identity and a sense of joy and love in their personal lives, because I think it takes the most incredible boundaries which I did not have because I did not have an understanding of my own mental health, but yeah, i think it definitely bled. I don't know about you, harriet, but I think for both of us it did.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, no, it definitely did. A big reason why so many officers are so insular in their communities like officers, best mates are officers, their partners are officers. it's a very kind of close knit bond and that like camaraderie people talk about isn't in the kind of like, oh, we're all on the same team energy. It's. Nobody else understands this. I think friendships that you have with fellow colleagues you don't ask for anything from each other because it's the only other person who understands that we're all completely empty, like our cup is empty. And I think those friendships are the ones that are based on an understanding that you can't give really that much to anyone outside of those prison walls, like there's just nothing left.

Speaker 2:

And I think that must be really difficult for the people that were in our lives at that time. I can't believe they're still around, but it must have been really difficult for the people who were, you know, with us and around us and in our kind of families and friendship circles. Because, yeah, it was. It was a big erasure of ourselves and our identity And I think, as people who normally would have identified ourselves as caregivers, loved kind of being there for our friends, very open. That's what drew us to that role. To then lose all of that when you're outside of those walls is really difficult And I think it took a long time for Ella and I to process and kind of forgive ourselves for that time in that person we had to become, because you hold a lot of shame around that and the idea that you could have kind of been that person. And how did how did I manage that transformation? I didn't realize humans were so malleable. Yeah, it's taken a long time to sort of heal from that shift in ourselves.

Speaker 3:

Let's come to that then let's start to come to the healing and the coming out of it, because that's very, very emotional what you've been talking about, and I'm a bit just re just listening to it, let alone actually experiencing it for myself. I want to know, then, how you did decide to leave. Was it a slow burn? were you seeing things in each other? because you've spoken about other people not understanding, and obviously you did. You did have each other. I don't know how much of it you saw in each other. How did you then come to both of you, decide to leave? And also, how did you physically leave And how did you emotionally and psychologically leave as well?

Speaker 1:

I think it was very, very interesting to reflect back on how those interpersonal relationships between me and Harriet, and me and loved ones affected my decision. And I had people from six months in going this is destroying you. Please, like I'm begging you to leave, and Harriet would never have told me to leave because she knew that that's an impossible ask, because her asking me to leave is asking me to like leave behind those women who I've tried desperately to care for and to leave behind a whole workforce that I'm now trauma bonded to, and so we never directly told each other to leave. But I think there was a time where Harriet went Oh, i might, i might stay on for a bit, and I remember the world fell out from under my feet because I went Well, if she stays, like I'm staying.

Speaker 1:

And I don't think people understand that until they've been like trauma bonded in that kind of environment with somebody else and because we live together. It was kind of this thing of, yeah, i have to stay and have to stay for those women and leaving is selfish. That's what it felt like. It felt like leaving is incredibly shameful and selfish and I failed. I felt this women, these women, i felt this system. And do you know what? if Harriet's going to continue, i have to continue.

Speaker 1:

And I think I remember also in the conversation, being like her, being like I might stay, and me being like, okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, maybe I'll stay. And I think her then being like Christ, you can't stay, right, rebecca, both go. Because I was in such severe mental health crisis which I can see But I think it was weird. It was like her, it was like, right, okay, well, i better leave them, because Ella definitely needs to leave as well. And, ultimately, harriet was also in absolute crisis. We were just dealing it with it in different ways And it got to the point where I wasn't really sleeping Very much, i wasn't taking care of myself at all and was having quite extreme anxiety, not when I was at work.

Speaker 1:

When I was at work, i was still functioning, which is the sort of like scary part of it. But when I'd leave that environment, I was beginning to not be able to like function as a human. And that was where it kind of like it all crumbled and a few very traumatic things happened in a sequence of events leading up to me then leaving, which basically meant I couldn't continue. I became completely disillusioned with the job, i'll argue, by the end of it I wasn't. I cared about the women, but I didn't care about the job, i didn't care about reforming the prison system, i just literally cared about, like on a base level, keeping people safe, making sure everybody's got toilet roll and getting people fed, and that was it.

Speaker 1:

And I became very like sort of angry and disillusioned and burnout I suppose severe burnout, yeah. So then I started doing a little countdown in my calendar of being like right, what day can I leave? and I remember it started at like 100 days and every day I'd tick it off and I could have left at any point. But it was this weird, this weird doomsday date I'd set And I was like if I make it till, then I will have survived, i will have done something, i will have achieved something, even though ultimately I wasn't.

Speaker 1:

I wasn't achieving anything. I was just doing more damage to myself and probably, ultimately, those who I was caring for, because I wasn't equipped. I wasn't equipped to be dealing with the situations I was dealing with, especially in the burnout condition. It was probably ultimately quite dangerous because I didn't have the capacity to take those on. And then when we left it, i remember my last coming up to my last day and it was, it was sad, i was so sad And the women bundled me on my last day. Literally I was like right look up ladies for the last time.

Speaker 1:

And then they, okay, we get me a massive hug. And then a lot of them were, yeah, very sad because, also, i was sad because they've everyone in their lives ever has left. I was leaving And I explained to them it was very nice to be able to be honest with them I went I'm done, i've given everything I can give them. They were like get out, miss church, leave, don't be here anymore, go enjoy your life. And for them to be saying that speaks volumes. So, yeah, get out, go do something, go be a teacher. That's what they'd always say, which is really lovely. And then, yeah, it was very emotional for me that last day And I still miss them, still miss the women, still miss the staff. Yeah, it was a very weird day, wasn't it?

Speaker 2:

Definitely. It was very weird. I had a very different last day because in the men's prison They're so insane about security and corruption that you're not allowed to tell them if you're leaving. So I just had a last day where I just left kind of without being able to say any kind of goodbye, like zero closure. I think maybe some of them have picked up on it.

Speaker 2:

I'm sure I let slip to a few, but in general it was a very like the idea that you'd form any kind of relationship with those men was so, so forbidden, especially as a kind of female presenting member of staff. If I had a laugh and a joke with the prisoner, there was a strong chance someone would put in a corruption report. So the idea that we kind of had any way of saying goodbye was was that? and that I found that really heartbreaking because, yeah, you care so much about those men And it really matters that you formed relationships, especially in that environment, the kind of miracle of having achieved doing that when everything is set up to not allow it.

Speaker 2:

And, like Ella said, i thought about staying on because I think I really did feel at some stage that there was this idea that you needed to work your way up in the system and get higher up, and that was where you could make change, and it was like this idea of change being dangled as a carrot. So you can make change if you're an officer. Okay, you've been an officer for two years. We didn't really mean it. Now, what we mean is you can make change if you're an, so You get to say well, you've got to be a governor.

Speaker 1:

So just keep going.

Speaker 2:

And it's not real. Now I think I sort of firmly believe that when you're within that system, the system is so against you and against the individual and rigid and built on ancient racist, homophobic, sexist. All of the kind of foundations of that system are so rotten that you're just putting a bandaid over a bullet wound. But I was really really close to applying for governor would have been a disaster. So thank goodness I managed to pretend to myself that it was for Ella that I wasn't doing it.

Speaker 2:

Both needed permission. What you can hear there is both of us needed permission. Ella needed the permission of me and I needed the permission of her to not be there And I think that's really key. and I do wonder about how many staff are in that system that feel trapped and don't feel that they have that permission. And I feel very privileged that we could leave And I think a lot of colleagues that I knew didn't feel like that was even an option for them And it's hard to imagine. but I totally understand how that can feel like it's not an option. I remember it not feeling like an option for us. So, yeah, it was. leaving was really, i think, probably one of the hardest things we'll ever do weirdly harder than a lot of the stuff I did in there.

Speaker 1:

I was just going to add to that, i think, because ultimately, the men and the women they can't leave. So who am I to be able to then just walk away and desert them? And you know, you could argue, oh yeah, but they've done something wrong, so that's the reason they can't leave. But it's like the trauma that they have witnessed in their lives is so extreme And so you begin being like oh well, the trauma I've seen isn't half as bad, so surely, like I should be able to stay. It seems pathetic because at the end of the day I go home to a lovely warm bed and they have to stay within this prison. How can you leave that without shame? So a huge amount of shame leaving.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, okay then. Yeah, i completely understand all of that. But tell me about you and your experiences of the time after you left, when you did give yourself permission to leave And, of course, after that everything was wonderful, everything was happy and lovely again. Presumably, that's not the case. What was your recovery process?

Speaker 2:

It was long, i think it's ongoing. So Ella and I left literally just before COVID. So we came out into a world that was altogether different and I think maybe because the world was undergoing such an unprecedented the catchphrase moment it almost gave us again that permission to kind of treat ourselves differently. Initially I ran straight out and now I can look back and say with confidence, with quite a huge adrenaline addiction, having spent two and a bit years in full fight or flight. Every day my body needed, was seeking that adrenaline. So I joined a kind of really lovely, fantastic theatre company and was regularly seeking out kind of the most stressful options. I think I was looking to create that similar sense of adrenaline and stress and that process of like unpicking that and stopping the repression that had become completely normal and commonplace.

Speaker 2:

I think it did take a full stop, you know, on work like having to move back in with my parents, having to spend essentially a year at home Ella and I weren't together, which I think undid a lot of the kind of trauma-bomb stuff that had really set in and we were kind of focused purely on that recovery.

Speaker 2:

So it was a lot of therapy.

Speaker 2:

It was taking it really slowly, which felt totally counter-intuitive and very alien and very unfamiliar and I think I think probably the biggest part of my recovery was writing the show, so the play that we wrote about that too in a bit years, about living together, about our experiences in the prison, that was a huge recovery process. It took us, i would say, about a year, a year and a bit to write. So we did it really slowly, we were long-distance throughout and we kept it as a really safe kind of trauma-informed space. Our director was Ella's sister, who's a fantastic director on her own right but also an incredibly safe pair of hands in that sense because she's family. So yeah, we were very conscious throughout the process of making sellouts that it was a form of therapy for us and if it never went anywhere, that was fine. It was serving its purpose simply by giving us a chance to process and explain and articulate our experiences. So I think that was a really key part of recovering for me was was actually getting back to our creative practice properly, you know.

Speaker 3:

How about you, ella?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, i'd agree. I think the initial stages of leaving for me was just learning how to live again and sleep and eat and exercise and work some kind of job and just be a little regular human again. And that took a lot of slowness and therapy and healing and to not feel shame about that and then falling back in love with the arts and creativity because we've become disillusioned with them. When we were in the prison, i think, because we'd seen that they don't even have sufficient meals or health care or safety. We were like why do they need theatre? why did we ever think they needed theatre? why do we ever think they needed arts? like they should be using all the funding that they're doing on that and be able to get proper detox and proper therapy all of that and we became incredibly, yeah, disillusioned with it.

Speaker 1:

So going back and writing a play about our trauma and seeing how much it helped on par with therapy, on par with medication, on par with, you know, regular exercise like it genuinely was a huge part of our healing and our trauma recovery.

Speaker 1:

For me it was like living proof of the power of what creativity can do, and I think that's why we set the company back up, not back up. It was never exist in the first place. We just set it up to then be able to share some of that with the people who we had come into contact with, because it was so joyous and it reminded us how to like, laugh and love and connect with humans and and feel joy which we hadn't in a long time and which the prison environment is well set up in a way that it tries to remove every element of joy and every element of humanity and, ultimately, creativity in the arts, bring that back and and yeah, allow space to do that, which is very rare in those environments. So that's that's why we then set the company up and you get to enjoy performing the show.

Speaker 3:

You also run workshops about your experiences and you take that to schools and to prisons. But when you revisit those times in those environments, how do you not go back into a bad place? you know, how do you protect yourself when you're helping others understand the experiences.

Speaker 2:

I mean, i think a large part of it now comparing ourselves to back when we first joined is, i think we have an understanding of what trauma does in a body and how it works and operates, and so much of our practice now is about managing that and really understanding our own triggers. Like there are things that don't make it into the show, there are things that we have always held back in the process and said you know, such an important part of what's biographical work, i think, is knowing your kind of safe box that is never going to make it into your work and like being really bounded about that. And I think we both have kind of that sort of material that we know doesn't need to leak into that practice. And I also think now we both understand our own mental health so much better. We have therapy. Still that's an ongoing MOT health check that is necessary. As an organisation we make sure we have like clinical supervision. You know we're working to make our practice kind of practice. What we preach in the like understanding of burnout. We don't put pressure on if performances don't feel right and we've got it wrong in the past we've made mistakes. We've definitely done performances that haven't been as safe and held and I think we've learnt a lot from them. But knowing that now I think we are kind of equipped to maybe hold that space for people. But we're not coming in and saying tell us what your trauma. You know, we're not therapists and we can say that from the get go and we can say like this is as much or as little as you feel comfortable sharing and let's keep it safe and let's make sure everyone's grounded and we're kind of checking in at the beginning of every session and checking out and that's something Alan and I do in our day to day working practices as well.

Speaker 2:

It's like putting in place those mechanisms that I think are often quite theoretical and actually applying them to like workshop spaces, performances, audiences can leave at any point during a show.

Speaker 2:

That's really important to us. It has to feel safe that people can do that and understand their own triggers. You know we have aftercare projects and places that people can turn to and resources if needed, and I think there's a lot of really interesting work being done like that in the kind of creative scene at the moment, like Clean Break to Later Show had a lot of amazing trauma-informed practices around keeping it safe and I think so many companies should be looking at that, and I think it's something that we're really passionate about, and I think it's essential when you're working with vulnerable people, and it's something we didn't have time for in our jobs before. So, you know, now we actually have the space to let people share or to not force them to share, to let people leave a room and come back when they're ready and do those grounding techniques, use breath work, use things that we've learnt in our own recovery process and kind of share those techniques with people.

Speaker 3:

That's super valuable. Let's move on. Tell me about your aspirations for the future.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, how do you ask this? at the beginning of our interactions with the criminal justice system, we would have had huge, big, ego-driven aspirations, and I think now I mean as a company, we're abolitionists. We don't believe the system should exist, we believe there are alternatives. If you want to have a longer chat with us, email us. But we're aware of our own limits and we're aware that we are one tiny little drop in an ocean of a much wider network and a network that needs to have a lot of different voices within it, and we are just two of those voices and there are areas that we're not experts on and there's areas that we do know quite a bit about and we love to start conversations. We have aspirations.

Speaker 1:

It's funny, as a company we kind of do every like six months, we take it at like slower process as opposed to this huge macro level, because that can also seem like you're coming up against a huge monster and nothing will ever change, whereas it's like if you can hold a workshop space for children whose dads are in prison and you allow them to bond with each other and you allow them to discuss and open up and give them a safe space. That is our aspiration for that moment, being able to just have these moments of humanity and joy in a space that's so devoid of them, and to be able to use our experience of that environment and what it did to us, which we never thought would happen, and be able to communicate that to a wider audience and just shed a bit of light on what is happening within our prison systems, because they are shrouded in secrecy for a reason, and the government are very clever in the way that it's shrouded and they don't want people to be able to see what's going on because it would never be allowed and the violations against humanity that happen every single day are so extreme that we want to now be able to provide people who have come into contact with that and with some of those injustices just a small space, a small space to be able to begin that processing and talk to people who have also had experience of that and start a conversation where it's not me and Hazel always talk about. It's very binary when people talk about prisons. It's very black and white.

Speaker 1:

You either have to be abolitionist or you have to be, for you have people who have done wrong so they must be in prison, and there's never this area where you can discover that like grey space in safety and be like, oh no, but what about this and what about this? and it's incredibly complex and it's incredibly not black and white. And I think that's where we want to reside. We want to be able to hold space for people to have those conversations and explore and explore alternatives and not lead in this sort of like binary, binary way that is not helpful for anyone's recovery within that environment. So, yeah, i think that's our aspirations.

Speaker 3:

I like that you are avoiding your own overwhelm as well with regards to keeping those aspirations in small sections that are achievable, and you're not then putting too much pressure on yourselves, beating yourselves up for not being able to do more, which is exactly what you've been doing all the time you were in the service. So well done for you and it is very valuable. I know you've been talking about feeling guilt or feeling like why should I feel like this when there are people worse off than me? but it is important for you as individuals to keep yourself healthy and you can be helping other people by doing that, so you don't need me to say you're doing the right thing, ladies. But I'll just give that little background of good for you. Keep doing it, do keep thinking about yourselves, and you know you're not going to go back to the kind of overwhelm that you had and the adrenaline and everything you were talking about before.

Speaker 3:

How can people connect with you at glasshouse theater? Harriet's frozen. Is she back? Oh, you're back, harriet. You're moving now. Try speaking now, saying your bit, because it should save it from your end anyway. So, yeah, you're looking good now. Am I back?

Speaker 2:

Yes, yeah, okay, i'm glad I sound like I'm back. You both look like mad robots, but that's fine. So people can connect with glasshouse by emailing us. Yeah, you go.

Speaker 3:

I'm gonna keep this in, by the way, guys. Oh, you got a laugh, don't you? I think Harriet is a little bit behind us, and that's we're looking like robots. She's a bit fuzzy and you're speaking over each other now, which is lovely. Who should? I know we don't know who should talk because Harriet's in a different time zone. She's in a different time zone. She's transported okay, i'm just gonna before you start. Harriet has written in the chat Els go.

Speaker 1:

I'll shut up well off you go, els, at least she knows when to shut up. Yes, so if you do want to get into contact with us and find out more about the work we run, we have a website, glasshouse theatercouk and you can just drop us an email, because we are well, we're constantly expanding and changing and exploring what we do as a company, so we always want to hear new ideas and new collaborations. Or, if you just yeah, or if you just want to chit chat, please do drop us an email and you can find that on our website. We have lots of projects and exciting things coming up in the community, in prisons and in the theater industry. So, yeah, we love hearing from people.

Speaker 3:

Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed seems like the wrong word, but I did enjoy sellouts. It was eye-opening, as I'm sure you would hope that it would be, and I did think it was exceedingly good because otherwise I wouldn't have asked you to come on the podcast, so I can highly recommend sellouts. If it's traveling around near you, do please check it out. Thank you so much for talking to me, ella and Harriet. Harriet, do feel free to say goodbye. I'm sure it will be recorded and I'll be able to pop it in. So thank you so much and, yeah, thank you.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much, it's been a joy.

Speaker 2:

Hopefully I'm back. Thank you so much. It was absolutely lovely, even if I did disappear at one point.

Speaker 3:

It's all part of life's rich tapestry. Thank you, thanks so much for listening to Creativity Found. If your podcast app has the facility, please leave a rating and review. To help other people find us On Instagram and Facebook, follow Act Creativity Found podcast and on Pinterest, look for Act Creativity Found. And finally, don't forget to check out creativityfoundcouk, the website connecting adults who want to finda creative outlet with the artists and crafters who can help them tap into their creativity.

Prison Officer Naivety and Challenges
Male Prison Work and Mental Health
Leaving Prison Staff Positions
(Cont.) Leaving Prison Staff Positions
Healing Through Creativity and Trauma-Informed Practices

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