A Poem for 10 Nicholson Street

Police keep knocking but they can’t get in

this is junk territory, stairwell like a no

budget movie all needles an’ spoons,

a human turd, plaster of porn, lights flicker

on three times a minute an’ my letterbox

like a grim grin swallows, announces

with a thud the arrival of the apocalypse

the debt collectors red alert, it does not deliver

words I pray for. I rip it open with a crowbar

at five am, got the shakes much? I embrace

my stash but the door’s fucked it’s a token

gesture of security, it’s the wrong side of loose.

My sixth floor of madness it’s a tall box

to live in so I dream up, theatre bar across

the street gawks over wine and canapes

for the famed Nicholson St. matinees,

Junky and The Jitter Bug, Schizophrenic

and The Bondage Boy, Wife Beater

and The Bloody Sheets, big fat corpse

in my bath with a big fucking knife

I’ve tried voodoo but the bitch won’t go.

I’m a girl that needs to hit so I beat, beat

beat an old drum-kit set up where a sofa

should be, I play electric guitar in just

stilettos though nobody can see me, smile

like a bullet it’s my secret stun gun, I

walk streets where witches got drowned

poked, pricked and burnt come back to

where safe is four red walls and fifty silk

lilies stick out their tongues. Bed is the only

place, I bolt the door, batter in some nails

but they still send things, a black rose

a celtic ring – no note, a silver dildo, a gun

a skeleton hand, finest Bolivian, his wife’s

a witch as well, he says two plus me makes

three, freedom’s got me absolutely fucking

nowhere but I don’t have a price an’ I will

never read words I wait forever to hear said

what I really wanted was ecstasy but demons

speak through me so I type, type, type, type

for twenty hours a day, type as fire billows

across the ceiling and charrs the walls

black, turns all the me’s of ever to ash.

The Scold’s Bridle

I am not perfect, this light does not belong to me * I feel like I am living in a circle * Freedom is  a must, prison is no life for anyone and I always leave homeless too * Prison does not work it just gives me a break so when I get released I can take more drugs * You have no control over anything, it’s out of your hands * I feel like a bird that has had its wings clipped, all I want to do is fly away from here * Will she ever know my name? * I will steady the stars that wish to fall * I want to live and I mean really live again * The simple things in life mean so much when they are taken away * It breaks my heart everyday I’m apart from beautiful baby girl, especially behind bars pom lock and chain F@@K HMP * The soul is an angel to be kept pure, untainted and free * I miss you * A lot of young girls come into isolation and they can’t stand the pressure, so they take the sheets and rip them up, this is what they hang themselves with, they don’t tell people about these but the majority in isolation have seen them cut people down from the sheets, a couple of pregnant girls too * I have always loved you fierce * I miss being able to hug and kiss my son, I miss the loving stare of my cats * The system isn’t built on rehabilitation but on warehousing * It is in prison that a woman despite her spiritual rituals comes to know that she is entirely alone in the Universe * How can we recover our imaginations for dreaming? * The more I learn the freer I feel in silence * The floor I lie upon is just like all the world, a cold hard surface * Where is my mind? * There is nothing at the end of the rainbow * Our sentences tend to be harsher than men convicted for the same crime, it’s because we’re seen as fallen women * I have no voice * The smiles and daydreams have left me and strength is all I know * I have never got used to the invasive touch of hands that assert the right to paw my body * We had to ask to sit down, I guess you would call it institutionalised * Who are you to judge? * Out of this mouth wisdom, into this mouth, fist. Turn away to comfort while we writhe and rise. The secret of resistance is joy.

These words were written by women in prison in the UK and USA. I created an art installation called The Scold’s Bridle as a collaborative project with women in prison or with experience of prison. The Scold’s Bridle is a metal sculpture about two metres tall and around a metre wide, these words are inscribed and painted across it. An article on The Scold’s Bridle is in the next Women in Prison magazine. The Scold’s Bridle was on exhibit in Greenwich Gallery this Spring.

The Lunatic Pavilions

I’ve been in the archives of libraries and hospitals across London this week. I discovered The Lunatic Pavilions, Hope and Faith. They were the original mental health facilities built at Lewisham Hospital and were said to provide a home for imbeciles, idiots, lunatics. Anais, my main protagonist in The Panopticon debates what happens when they ‘fry the voices out’ in a chapter I’ve been rewriting recently. She wonders if they fry a memory out … or electric shock it out to be more accurate, what happens to the memory? Does it lay dormant in the spongy bit of brain that is left behind? If they pickle the brain or preserve it in formaldehyde, are the memories just gone then?  If you look at a brain in a jar it is nothing at all, just a mushy organ. There is no little flap you can open and see movies playing of a red bicycle behind a sofa, or a sunrise, or the hills on fire, or god awful sherry trifle. There would be no clunky television made of wood and plastic that had four big square buttons, one for each channel. There would be no squiggly bit of brain tissue – that if you leaned in close; would whisper the first words love said. You would not hear songs sang on beaches past midnight, or up hills, or in dirty little rehearsal rooms, or to entire chapters of bikers in remote desolate Scottish bars. The brain tissue in a jar … has no smell o vision, no scent of heather on hillsides, no lilies, no early morning cigarette, no brandy, no wood-fire in the back garden, no rain, no brine from the sea. Dead tissue has no taste transmitter with which to enjoy a familiar sip of tea! It’s only an organ. What lives in there is us. What were they doing in those Lunatic Pavilions? Does frying it out really work? Spike Milligan used to get shock treatment when his depression was at his worst. It obviously does something. I used to score of a guy that would give himself electric shocks or stab himself with a screwdriver when the voices got too much to deal with. But what of voices? What of memories? What of faith and hope? If memories are gone, the brain tissue pickled, and if there is no-one else that shared those memories, then I suppose those memories are gone for good too. Is it like they never even happened then? I mean the things still happened, just because they are not on record somewhere, doesn’t mean they did not exist. There still was a red bicycle, a first kiss, breaking into an outdoor ice rink at 6am to skid on ones knees in a silent city. It has made me consider if this is why I write? Mortality is fleeting. In writing I can hear the ocean, or fields of barley swaying like waves. Perhaps I am sentimental but the times for me are changing and will never again be the same. I salute the Lunatic Pavilions and those who defy logic and reason to originate their own ideas on what this strange existence is … that we all find ourselves in?