Arts Lab Experimental visual arts for social change

Lessons from the locked up in lockdown

If we think we have it bad in lockdown, think of all the prisoners locked up under Covid-19 regulations up to 23 hours a day, every day for months! Isolation is no stranger to these poor souls. Experts in resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and managing time, there’s a lot we can learn from the incarcerated.

Based on the success of the Great Prison Art Exchange and in response to the Covid crisis, in April 2020, Arts Lab began a pilot project – Prisoners Sharing the Light – working with up to 50 vulnerable male prisoners at Dartmoor prison. The aim of the project is to address the immediate need of prisoners currently adapting to contact restrictions, solitarily locked up in cells 23 hours a day. Responding to a large increase in issues of isolation and anxiety, Prisoners Sharing the Light provides creative outlet and time-passing activities under lockdown.

Main aims are to:

  • Use art as a means for male prisoners to stay safe, occupied and positive.
  • Provide opportunity for expression and to offload anxiety.
  • Reduce instances of suicide, self harm and depression.
  • Uplift in-cell spaces with weekly posters.
  • Further strengthen our working partnership with HMP Dartmoor.

‘At this time, we have developed a huge number of in-cell activities for the prisoners. Arts Lab’s Sharing the Light is the one thing we do that allows the prisoners to express themselves freely, that isn’t ticking boxes in exercise books and helps them to offload anxieties such as missing family. There is no question, that it is helping to reduce incidents of self-harm and suicide inside the prison already, creating an overall sense of calm and positivity in the prison environment.’

Danny Branley – Head of Learning Skills & Employment HMP Dartmoor