A Charles Darwin University arts program that teaches inmates how to express themselves through creative writing is helping improve the self-image and hope of participants.
The Ywrite project, delivered through a series of workshops in Darwin recently, sought to teach low-risk women prisoners how to express themselves through creative writing forms of prison prose, graffiti art and story-telling.
Project facilitator and Communications Lecturer Adelle Sefton-Rowston said the women examined graffiti styles from around the world, much like one would analyse poetry.
“Graffiti, as a genre of writing unconstrained by spelling, grammar and punctuation, provides a space for people with low literacy to write more intuitively,” Dr Sefton-Rowston said.
“In our workshops, participants used it for exploring who they are, what is important to them and to develop an artistic relationship to the world as a ‘free person’.”
Dr Sefton-Rowston collaborated with local Indigenous artist Shilo McNamee and staff from YWCA to workshop this year’s NAIDOC theme – voice, treaty, truth – through poetry and street art to inspire the design and content of a mural on the wall at Darwin Correctional Centre.
“The women spoke about how the mural represented building courage and recognising past mistakes.”
Dr Sefton-Rowston said the aim of the project was to foster motivation and self-efficacy through creativity, which research shows can lead to less stress, better self-image, improved literacy and more post-release opportunities.
“We found that participants felt better about themselves after completing the workshops. They also seemed to feel they could shape their lives better: they felt they could change and could imagine the future slightly more vividly.
“We will need to replicate this research to confirm these patterns, but it’s safe to say we saw enough in the pilot project to give us confidence to move towards a more sustainable project.”
Dr Sefton-Rowston said the addition of more murals in the prison was on the horizon.
“It’s important that the detainees have an opportunity to share their stories, which will in turn contribute insights into society’s understanding of incarceration.”