Raport 1 (Gr. 6)

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Report of the local pilot workshops

Venue: HM Prison Low Moss

Date: 24 April/1st/8th/15th/22nd/29th May 2018

Leaders: Neil Packham & Elly Goodman

Please present your own experience in the most instructive, simple and clear way.

  1. Please present the characterisation of the group and the participants (Special attention to the participants facing social obstacles, disability, economic obstacles, educational difficulties, cultural differences. How many would fall into this category? Which types of difficult situation are these participants facing?)

HM Prison Low Moss is a Category A prison that houses 784 men. It manages male offenders on remand, short term offenders (serving less than 4 years), long term offenders (serving 4 years or more), life sentence offenders and extended sentence offenders (Order of Life-Long Restriction). The group taking part in the ‘Create a Puppet, Create Yourself’ project all attend the prison’s learning centre and come from different halls across the establishment. Being part of an all-male environment, where crime is perhaps one of the only things you have in common with another man, makes for an intense atmosphere. Many men that we have worked with in prison portray a persona to survive the harsh regime of prison life. It therefore makes our work in this environment challenging and extremely rewarding.

The project took place in the learning centre where men choose, as part of their work schedule, options to participate in formal and non-formal learning.


Our originally planned framework for this pilot project was to work with fathers who would then perform with their puppets to their partners and children in the Family Centre. This had been discussed with a Family Link Officer and an Early Years worker from the Family Centre. This felt like an ideal situation; we explained that the principal of the project wasn’t to create ‘children’s puppet theatre’ but we would ensure that whatever they performed wasn’t inappropriate. The Family Link Officer at the meeting was particularly enthusiastic and she knew of a good number of men who would immediately be drawn to this and guaranteed good consistent attendance.  However, unfortunately between this meeting and our first workshop she had a very serious accident and was put on long-term sick leave. This had a massive impact on the project, there was no one to replace her and we had to accept a different situation in the Learning Centre. The manager of the Learning Centre had been supportive of the project from the outset, but we are aware this unfortunate situation was detrimental to the outcome of this pilot project.

Please describe the pilot workshops (the working process in detail, divided into each session, description of the venue, materials, tools, etc.).

Workshop 1

The first workshop was attended by 3 men, ‘M’, ‘S’ and ‘Ma’. It felt quite awkward at the beginning; the men weren’t really engaging with each other. We decided to use a couple of our tried and tested introductory team challenge games whilst sitting at the table. This encouraged the men to laugh and relax.

The first sheets of paper had to be cut in the room. The objects for making were laid out on the table and we encouraged them to look at what was in front of them. They didn’t really connect with this exercise, so we moved on quickly, explaining what we were going to do. Everyone then stood holding their first piece of paper, before crushing it. This simple, physical process always causes people to smile, partly because of the action but also the noise.

When we spoke about the project ‘S’ initially wanted to leave when he thought it was to do with children and the family centre. However, once reassured, he was happy to continue with the session. He was quiet and was able to create a puppet quite quickly. ‘M’ presented himself as educated and wanted to make his puppet his own way with some very fixed ideas as to what would work for him.

Ma’ got on with the job quietly and efficiently. There was some interest from other prisoners who would come into the room and ask us what we were doing. They were intrigued to see how the puppets were evolving.

Workshop 2

It was very quiet at the Learning Centre. None of last week’s men came back. This could be for a variety of reasons such as a planned visit, or meeting with a Lawyer or medical staff. A new man joined us called ‘D’. He was highly educated and a different character from the other men we had met before in prison. He seemed mildly anxious but was encouraged to give things a go. We worked closely one to one in creating his puppet together. He described the technique as like ‘hay bailing on the farm’. At times his hands struggled with the paper and string, but he persevered and continually chatted freely throughout the session. He seemed to enjoy the session and came up with imaginative ideas surrounding music soundscape choices.

S’ is a pass man, which means he is a model prisoner who is rewarded for his good behaviour by being given privileged duties and can move more freely around the prison grounds. ‘S’ was in and out of the room a lot completing cleaning tasks. He became interested and was encouraged to take part. We soon found out that ‘S’ had been involved in other theatre projects before and had really enjoyed his past experiences. He made a puppet and seemed pleased with what he had created.

Workshop 3 CANCELLED because of Prison lock down due to staff meetings – Learning Centre closed.

Workshop 4

Arriving in the room, after a week gap, there were three new men and ‘S’, who had been with us from the beginning. Elly was also unable to attend the first part of the session as she had to complete her PPT (Physical Protection Training) in another part of the prison but she joined later. ‘S’ continued to make further embellishments to his puppet and had some ideas as to the music that might work with his character. He was quite self-contained, making it possible to focus on working with the new participants. One of the new guys, ‘T’, was particularly interesting, a young man who talked a lot and liked to get on with things in his own way and time and was not keen on being helped, he wanted to race ahead. As his puppet developed he calmed down and became very engaged in the process. The two other new participants were quite quick to engage in the process; an African man, who was very positive and enthusiastic and someone who had been a chef. The second man commented on how good it was to use his hands in the process, he wanted to make everything very neat and tidy. This was his chef training coming through. There was lots of good conversation throughout this session and the men commented that in this situation you feel human and not looked down on. It felt like this might finally be our core group.

Workshop 5

The Learning Centre seemed busier today. We were in a different room because we had music downloaded onto a computer. It’s not a simple process getting music into the prison. You can’t bring in CD’s or download anything to a USB stick – you can’t bring any electronic equipment in without it being passed by security well in advance of the project starting. We were able to request a selection of music which was then downloaded to a prison computer via an internal staff member. The Learning Centre have recently employed new staff and Sarah (who teaches creative writing) was happy to work alongside me today.

We were pleased to see the same four men as last week had returned. They were keen to retrieve their puppets and continue completing them. One man added a parachute to his story and a drinking cup, another man created a surfboard and a bottle. A third man went around the Learning Centre in search of a piece of cleaning cloth to make into a head piece for his puppet.

All the men worked individually. There did not appear to be any particular friendship bonds between the men and they seemed self-reliant and focussed on their own creative choices and ideas.

By looking at the puppet and considering its characteristics they developed a storyline. I had steered them to reflect upon any aspects of themselves that they found within the puppet. However, this wasn’t obvious and perhaps a big ask of men inside prison who aren’t always comfortable sharing personal emotions in a room of strangers. The men wrote their stories for their own puppets and began to work on ideas using the black gloves to explore the possibilities of how the puppets could be manipulated. The men worked well together, helping one another with each story and chose appropriate music to support it.

One man, who had initially really enjoyed the making of the puppets, became distracted and became disengaged when we introduced the story element. He wasn’t aware that there would be a performance element, and this caused him some anxiety. After lots of reassurance he settled and was able to contribute to the rest of the session. Another man was very relaxed and spoke openly about what he planned to do with his puppet within the story. He often laughed during the session as he reflected about those who knew him on the outside and what they might think of what he was doing and how much he cared about his puppet and the additional props he had made.

Workshop 6

We were hoping to see the same four men this week but only three turned up. This was the day we intended to perform to a few interested people in the Learning Centre. ‘S’ appeared a bit low at the beginning and reluctant to move forward, however as we started to manipulate the puppets and he assisted with ‘A’’s, his attitude seemed to change, and he became more engaged and made constructive suggestions. ‘A’ directed his piece and was content to remove bits of the story that didn’t work due to the limitations of the puppet.

We managed to secure a camera within the Learning Department and ‘A’ was delighted to take photographs of the puppet in his surfboard dream. It felt like his story was about escapism in idyllic surroundings and an expression of freedom. ‘S’s was very playful and used a Spice Girls song as a theme; again, quite escapist. He exhibited considerable joy as he directed his puppet, wanting to take it further. This was a very different attitude to how he first came into the room. Much of the time in prison, the men feel like they must keep up a mask. This was a chance for them to drop this for a short period of time.

S’ continued to work away quietly in a corner, determined to finish making a ‘camel’ that was part of his story. Unfortunately, he was called away and couldn’t show his story. During the second part of the session another young man stood at the door of the room for a while watching what we were doing. Eventually he came in and at the last moment started to work on a puppet, he looked quite lost and vulnerable. In the short period of time he was with us, he completed someone’s unfinished puppet and wished he’d joined us earlier in the process.

It was felt that any formal presentation wasn’t the right thing to do. However, we asked a few members of staff to attend a brief culmination. This was appreciated by staff and performers.

We would have liked the men to have taken their puppets away with them back to their cells. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible but they have been promised that they will be displayed in the Learning Centre.


Please present the most interesting/representative case studies of adults participating in the workshop.

S’ presented himself as very childlike. He was constantly talking about not being treated like a human being within the prison environment. He is a big presence in the room and is enthusiastic and appears eager to learn. He doesn’t like to be helped or swayed in a direction other than his own. He enjoyed the creation of his puppet and often was fixed in his own world, setting up his space away from the other men and making positive creative choices. Early on he was difficult to manage, however as the project progressed he became more open and amenable to other suggestions offered.

S’ is an interesting case study in terms of exploring the benefits of the puppet making process and the effective, calming influence it had on him. In the final session he came into the room very preoccupied and angry about an incident that had happened in another part of the prison. He had some difficulty in calming down, however when we offered him a distraction he willingly embraced it and calmed down considerably. The effects of the practicality of making assisted his focus and for a short period of time gave him a positive outlet.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t complete the performance element because he was called to an important meeting to discuss his parole conditions. Meetings with the Parole Board take precedence to any activity within the prison and, although he was keen to continue with us, he also recognised the importance of the meeting. ‘S’’s involvement in this project would be seen by the Parole Board as a positive activity that may be considered favorably in his personal review. We left him a puppet tool kit to complete the task.

Please define clearly the motivation mechanisms and learning approaches used during the workshop.

It is important to work quickly in this environment, offering praise all the way through the process. We demonstrated that any error can quickly be corrected in the making due to the materials and that there is no right or wrong. We focused on working with individuals and building a bond with them. We worked alongside them as equals, making our own puppets at the same time.

We discussed our favorite music and the memories related to it. We encouraged the men to think about their storylines and got them to write the storyline down quickly, sharing the notion of dilemma and consequence in a story.

Please write your comments/evaluation from the trainer’s point of view.

The participants did not participate as consistently as we’d hoped. However, those who took part totally engaged in the process, even if it was for just one session. They all seemed satisfied by the making aspect of the project. The performance element needs more time to develop and takes considerable attention and patience; this is a more difficult thing to achieve.

A prison is not an easy environment to work in, mainly because of the bureaucracy that needs to be dealt with before you get into the room and work with the men. It would be easy to assume that the men would find this a ‘childlike’ and rather ‘silly’ activity but, in our experience, this is not the case. They engaged with the physical aspect of the creation of the puppet with enthusiasm and, by the time it was finished, they had invested enough to create a simple story.

Consistency of attendance is important, and it takes a while to build a group. It felt like our visibility in the Learning Centre started to create interest in the project and with more sessions we could have built our numbers. It takes a while to build up trust and establish yourself in the prison environment, whatever the project.

Practically, it was good having the materials delivered to the prison, rather than taking them in. Everything must be planned well in advance when working in a prison; you can’t take anything for granted. This goes for any official paperwork, getting materials in, photo permissions and any technical requirements. You must have people on the inside helping with recruitment and consider carefully how it is advertised.

Please describe any interesting point of view of the participants relevant to the piloting.

It was interesting to see the variety of men we met in a short space of time; from highly educated men, to those who had not engaged with school or any aspect of learning in their lives. It was also interesting to see alpha males who were able to laugh at themselves as they imagined what people thought of them on the outside and what they would think of them participating in a puppet making workshop.

There were other men, who didn’t care what anyone thought, and they sang and danced in the room; giving themselves complete permission to be creative. There wasn’t a sense of camaraderie or friendships formed, but this appeared to be quite normal.

The men didn’t connect especially with their puppets. One man commented that, because they didn’t have possessions in prison, they no longer valued them. They also knew they wouldn’t be allowed to keep their puppet or take them back to their prison cells for security reasons. This probably also contributed to the men being less able to make a personal connection to their puppet than we witnessed with other groups.