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The future is unchained

“It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come,” sang Sam Cooke about the African American Civil Rights Movement. A live acoustic version of this song also opened Unchained Nights, beautifully woven with Lady Unchained’s first live poetry reading at Toynbee Studios on 3 May. 

As part of Artsadmin’s creative criminal justice programme, Education Producer Siobhan McGrath has been working closely with poet and artist Lady Unchained. Having served a prison sentence herself, Lady Unchained created Unchained Nights as a platform to showcase the creativity of people who have lived experience of the criminal justice system and to create a network of ‘unchained’ artists to prove that there is life after a prison sentence. 

The Arts Bar & Café was packed for a night of poetry and music, curated and hosted by Lady Unchained. Every artist performing at this sold out event had lived experience of the criminal justice system – they spoke about their time in prison, the effect it had on their families, friends and on themselves, and how things have changed for them since that time. Two of the artists had never performed in public before, but the crowd’s support settled their nerves. 

As one of the poets is currently in prison, Joseph Barnes Phillips from HighRise Theatre, a hip hop and grime-influenced theatre collective, read out his poems on the young man’s behalf. We were delighted that his three sisters were able to be in the audience and that Straightline, Prison Radio Association were recording the event to ensure this brilliant artist will be able to hear the incredible reaction and support he received.

“My mission since coming out of prison has been to prove that there is life after prison. On 3 May I did just that, I showcased stories of my #ExpertCitizens and boy did it sell out. Now I have a family of supportive brothers in the mission, the future looks bright, the future is Unchained.”

Lady Unchained

One of many wonderful moments of the evening was when Lady Unchained realised that her previous probation officer was at the event – neither of them had made the connection and the probation officer had come along without knowing who had organised it!

Unchained Nights is a special and important platform, and Artsadmin is excited to support more events in the future as part of its ongoing criminal justice work. Follow #UnchainedNights and sign up to our Toynbee Studios events newsletter for updates!