Safe Ground - Using drama to educate prisoners and young people at risk in the community


The Thinking Home Experience by Gus

As a result of our successful participation in the Essex Book Festival last year, as part of Freedom and Expression at the Free Word Centre, we were invited to participate again in March 2016, this time as part of its Thinking Home strand of events at the Firstsite art gallery in Colchester. One of our graduates, Gus, was invited back especially to be part of the panel ‘Home on the Road: Between Home & Homelessness’ due to his memorable appearance the first time around. Below is a blog by Gus that reflects some of his thoughts and impressions of the day:

The Thinking Home Experience

As I get on the train again I remember yesterday’s journey. LONG! 28 stops on the Central Line. Then a ride, 30 minutes on a coach to Ingatestone. So how do you open gate in a stone? Anyway, then the train. Colchester. We arrived. Taxi to the Firstsite art gallery. Wow, what a nice structure. The building is lovely. Different!! Oops, I forgot to say I met Obinna at Liverpool Street train station (he’s never remembered is he!!!?? ha ha lol).

We quickly meet Ros Green, Director of the Essex Book Festival, and then we are taken to see Sanja Bahun, who will be chairing the panel that Obinna and I will be participating in. As we enter the auditorium she’s at the back having trouble with a PowerPoint program. We are early so we grab a drink and smoke and wait for the first panel. It’s a guy Obinna knows. He talks about the Beowulf poem. It’s serious trust me. I take a couple of quick pictures and listen carefully. We are very engrossed. Chris (McCully) runs over time and there is a break.

I exit to the toilet. Come back to the Auditorium and take a couple more snaps before linking back with Obinna in the front foyer for a drink and a snack. I spot Lucy Popescu. I recognise her from the Free Word Centre event I was involved in last year. Me and Obinna talk about it and get ready to go in and listen to what the next panel has to say. It begins with Lucy doing the introductions. I believe she starts with Tim Finch, then Glenys Newton and Delaine Le Bas. It’s a discussion about migration inspired by the University of Essex’s art exhibition Safe European home? Stereotypes are kicked about, as is immigration, refugees and people who have had a very hard time. Tim Finch is quite vocal and seems to dominate proceedings. When Glenys is trying to say something he interjects. She’s a woman who’s seen a lot of human suffering first hand, where I’m not so sure this guy Tim Finch has? Glenys is reserved but strong. She learned to tell stories, folk tales, history, lessons of old and also to listen. Then Delaine makes a presentation. It’s a mixed media art, PowerPoint presentation with a powerful message and a strong narrative about loss of identity in Europe, as well as finding a safe European home. I enjoy it a lot. The discussion is opened up and questions asked. Delaine gets across a message about Roma gypsies unwritten history. It shows how important it is to have storytellers like Glenys. My brain is working and I think of how many traveller lads I’ve met in prison who cannot read or write; and so how important storytelling is to them. We break for lunch.

Me and Obinna hit the road and walk through Colchester looking for certain fast food restaurant. It’s a nice town but we lose our way. I’m a fussy eater, after a long brisk walk we settle for pizza. I don’t enjoy it.

Back at Firstsite we meet up with our fellow panellists. Sanja gets a round of beverages. Cindy and Abigail from the Colchester and Tendring Women’s Refuge are introduced, followed by writer and poet Damian Le Bas and finally Lorna Fox O’Mahony, Professor of Law at the University of Essex. Conversation starts as to why we are all there and Damian explains he’s writing a book about Roma gypsy people travelling spots around the country. He grew up settled and only took up travelling later in life. Lorna explains about the housing laws and squatting laws and such. I explain that I’m here to represent Safe Ground and highlight the good work they have done. Even though I’m homeless, it is Safe Ground who have help me to achieve some amazing stuff. Damian says he recognises me from the event at the Free Word Centre. Obinna explains his role at Safe Ground and Cindy speaks a bit about the refuge. Abigail also has her say. These two women are quietly spoken but have an important message.

We enter the auditorium. The seats on stage are different. There is a sofa in the middle with two seats on one side of it and three on the other. Me and Obinna take one side Cindy and Abigail take the other two leaving one for Sandy with Lorna and Damian on the sofa. Sandy starts and intros are made. Before she can even begin the panel a woman in the audience interrupts and gets emotional about being homeless with her daughter and being emotionally abused and getting no help. Sanja explains that we will get round to question and answers and continues with the introductions. The refuge ladies first, Lorna, Damian and then Obinna and myself. The discussion begins and questions are asked. It’s very interesting the answers that people give. I explain how the Safe Ground programmes I did helped me to rebuild my life and motivated my desire to be free from prison. Family Man, Man Up and Transitions. That the help and support has been … GREAT. Simple. The opportunities that Charlie and Obinna along with Safe Ground have presented has allowed me to feel like have contributed to the world.

Try start your day with the thought to put a smile on another human being face.

Thanks Gus.


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