Artist’s Profile: Stewart Ennis

Each month SPAN will profile members of the network. This month we begin with Stewart Ennis who talks about his work in arts and criminal justice.

What is your experience of working in Scottish Prisons – past and present?

I’ve been working as a creative writing and (occasional) performance lecturer for five years now.  The amount of care the work shown by my fellow lecturers and the amount of creativity going on never fails to amaze me.  Occasionally I bring in visiting artists who have never been in a prison, and they share this amazement.  Playing a role in releasing the creative potential of prisoners is hugely rewarding. Most recently I’ve been working on a Christmas play to be performed by prisoners and officers for the children of prisoners.  This is a fantastic, fun – and I think really important – opportunity to use the creative arts bring together prisoners, officers and families.

What role do the Arts have to play in the criminal justice sector and with people residing in Prisons?

Prison arts eduction and education in general isn’t at the sexy end of teaching; people aren’t going to take to the streets demanding better education for prisoners.  But they should. The arts encourage prisoners to create new positive identities for themselves other than that of “prisoner”. It’s great to hear of family members or fellow prisoners say things like “I didn’t know you wrote poems” or “So you’re a song writer now?” etc  This is important for prisoners and their families whether they are moving on in a liberation sense or moving on in a personal growth sense.

What impact do you feel you have made whilst working in Prisons?

From a personal point of view I have seen the creative arts help a prisoner’s self confidence and creativity blossom and grow from what’s-the-point disinterest, bafflement and cynicism to a recognition that creating art for arts sake is in fact something meaningful. And as meaningfulness is important to all of us, not just prisoners, this seems to me a pretty meaningful and worthwhile activity.