Body of Writing

7th October - 5th November, 2017

Body of Writing was an installation developed for the cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral which featured the writings of prisoners from HMP Erlestoke in Wiltshire. The project was developed in partnership with Salisbury Cathedral's Learning & Outreach Team as part of a season of events exploring Memory and Identity. The words of the prisoners came out of creative writing workshops linked to LLL's Penned Up festival held at Erlestoke in March 2017. Led by reader development consultant David Kendall and LLL's Artistic Director Mark C. Hewitt, the aim was to focus on creating short, punchy texts that could sit alongside images of prisoners' tattoos by Lewes photographer Willie Robb. The two panelled towers created for the installation were designed and constructed by exhibition company, Standard 8.

The work was officially launched on World Mental Health Day, Tuesday 10th October, at a special event with an introductory speech by Erwin James, writer, journalist and editor of Inside Time, who himself spent 20 years in prison.

(More photos in the gallery at the bottom of the page.)

The texts

The following are some of the texts by prisoners that were used in the installation:

"A pot of flowers in the window. It's better than looking at a 25ft tall steel grey fence topped with razor wire that stretches years ahead."

"If the house was silent then someone was in for a beating."

"Ink. Tall. Welsh. Helpful. Religious. Angry."

"Whether on forearm or back, or even on face
For ego, tradition, or the mark of your race ..."

"When the judge gave me 20 years I was still young. I’d have preferred the death sentence."

"I remember when my kids first visited me in prison."

"In the forgotten cell I will leave behind the noise of prison … the cacophony of despair … the idiocy of juvenile posturing …"

"The trembling on waking before I don the mask of bravado you need to present to the others here."

"Tall ashtray. Photos. Old 50s stereo. Pictures of dogs playing poker. Stained yellow net curtains."  

"I remember having my lips round a shower drain trying to suck out the drugs I’d stashed while my mates laughed in the exercise yard."


clear sky at dawn
my grandchild’s hand on my face
seagulls above a beach
on my bike, throttle in hand 
Spanish voices, The Canaries
scent of apple blossom
tug of a fish on the end of a fly-line
dancing to music I still like
a chocolate orange
having someone say ‘I love you’


"I was an angry man and I blamed my god for deaths and all misfortune. But it wasn’t Him so much as my own perception of why these awful things happen. I prayed in church for all I was worth and then at last I recognised God. He’s the one that never listens."

The photographs

The photos used in the exhibition were taken by Lewes photographer Willie Robb in a one-off photo shoot at Erlestoke Prison on 17th August, 2017. 

Willie Robb is a photographer, video producer and artist who was born and raised near Perth in Scotland. He graduated from Brighton University in 2008 with a BA (Hons) in Photography and  continues to create self-initiated projects using a blend of autobiographical and documentary practice. In 2009 Willie started collaborating with Standard 8, a company specialising in outdoor, photographic experiences. |

Hear Willie interviewed on BBC Wiltshire local radio

Visitor feedback

"Fantastic compassionate project. Eye-opening. A peek into the dark corners that we all avoid looking into."

"The particular statement of 'if the house was quiet then we knew someone was in for a beating' has stayed with me since and was genuinely quite moving."

"... a very thought-provoking exhibition ..."

"The words expressed their experiences and raw emotion ..."

"The photos, of tattoos not portraits, added a haunting feeling to the exhibition. Making the authors anonymous made me think I could be passing someone on the street experiencing this and I would not know."

“I did not expect to find the exhibition as moving as I did."

"The installation gave a glimpse into a world that we just don’t know about and how these barred people feel."

"A crucial empathetic project asking the question, how should we treat each other, even in the most testing of circumstances?"

"I remember thinking it was quite brave of the Cathedral to include the words of a prisoner who was basically crying out against God.  That was uncomfortable, too, right in the heart of the church.  But it showed the fact we respect the right to free speech, which is great!"


The words featured in this exhibition were written by prisoners at HMP Erlestoke in Wiltshire. The project was facilitated by LLL Productions in partnership with Salisbury Cathedral Learning & Outreach Team. The project was financially supported by Arts Council England, Salisbury Cathedral and Friends of Erlestoke. 

Particular thanks to Elizabeth Williams and Daniel Hobbs at HMP Erlestoke and Sarah Rickett and Leigh Chalmers at Salisbury Cathedral.