Conference info

Victoria Anderson and Wallis Eates on writing from the inside

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Victoria Anderson and Wallis Eates discuss their experiences of acquiring access to HMP Wandsworth Prison, only to be told to destroy all of their material.

Anderson and Eates first went to Wandsworth prison in 2017 on behalf of Stretch Charity. They had access to the prison for five months, and worked alongside the prisoners to help them make animated films.

Describing arriving at Wandsworth for the first time, Anderson said, “The physical space of Wandsworth Prison is extraordinary. It looks like a dungeon, like a castle,” she says.

“We were part of a charity that has been cleared to take digital equipment to take recording equipment into a prison. We were part of the only charity that had been granted permission to take recording equipment into the prison,” Anderson says. “However despite this, we got taken to security twice as a result. We had to destroy all footage.”

The decision to delete the films was made by the comms department who were worried about the films creating negative media traction. Which is ironic Anderson says, as they were they there to give voice to the prisoners, not demonise them. “We wanted to honour what was going on and the people there, not do an expose on it.”

Anderson and Eates said the prisoners were excited to get their stories out, that they were finally being heard. “They [the prisoners] were tremendous,” Anderson said. “Of all my times working in prisons, I’ve never met people more willing to talk about the big stuff,” Eates says. “Aestheticism, life, death, mortality.”

The issue then resulted into a question of storytelling itself. “How do we visually bring out these men’s stories to audiences? Bring out that their nuance? Not illustrate every single thing, but allow those words to breathe.”

Words by Juliette Rowsell

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