Chris, who was formerly imprisoned in the USA, shares his experience of a visit to the Southbank Centre to see 'Freedom', the 2022 Koestler exhibition of prisoner artwork and poetry, curated by Ai Weiwei.

I was deported to the UK just under two months ago after spending 30 years inside a maximum security prison in the US. I am still adjusting to life not only outside of prison, but a life in the UK.

My Resettlement Officer suggested I visit a free exhibition in London, which was made up of art created by prisoners. I visited the Koestler exhibition one rainy Saturday afternoon and spent a good hour walking around taking in the pieces created. I then got talking to someone who worked there, discussing what was exhibited.

I was really taken aback by the talent - it was amazing - although I also felt a lot of pain. Being at the exhibition conjured up a lot of memories for me. I knew guys inside prison who drew and wrote poetry, and we used to tease them as we thought no one would see or appreciate it. I suddenly realised, wow – they weren’t wasting their time. The Koestler exhibition showed that there are people who value those in prison and want to hear their experiences. I finally saw the meaning behind it all.

There was a lot to take in, a lot of creativity. Some pieces really stood out to me. There is great talent behind those walls.

Seeing the art from this side, having been behind bars for 30 years, was quite painful, as the artwork was reflecting how I once felt.

I knew all too well what the artists were saying. Knowing the guys still inside, those who will never get out, and those who told me never to forget them, is hard for me to think about. They are still in prison experiencing all these things.

But I felt I understood the artwork on a deeper level having lived through it myself, in a way that others haven't. The artists want the world to see something different and to understand the destruction prison can have on you, the isolation.

I left the exhibition with feelings of sadness, but was also moved and grateful now that I have my freedom.

I feel a sense of peace living in the UK. A whole oppressive sentence has been lifted from me and I’m ready for life.

Creating a safe, non-judgemental space for shared experiences.

Prisoners Abroad helps family members affected by a loved one’s imprisonment by providing one to one support as well as hosting family support groups around the country and arranging overseas visits.

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