BELK: A Ballad of Reading in Gaol (full version of essay published in Scottish Review of Books)

A Ballad of Reading in Gaol

(Full version of Scottish Review of Books Essay.)

By Martin Belk

A young woman hangs back after my writing seminar at the new City of Glasgow College with a question: “What’s it like, ya’ know, in there?” For a second, I’m thrown, forgetting that in the preceding class I’d alluded several times to my prison writing workshops. Before I could respond, huge, heavy tears welled up and fell from her eyes, falling down to her denim jeans. She didn’t say anything more, she didn’t need to – she has a loved one on the ‘inside’. I didn’t quite know what to tell her: a ‘modern place of rehabilitation’, to reassure her, or, a ‘bona-fide prison’, to confirm and confront her worst fears? Neither is entirely true, there are problems in the narrative.

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