Scots in prisons
In anither ticht-packit episode that saw the Scots Radio team stravaig aa across Scotland, fae Shetland tae Glasgae, ae feature stauns oot: the wark o Jim King yaisin Scots in prisons.
Frieda Morrison gaed doon tae oor biggest city tae meet wi Jim, the heid o the creatin opportunities unit wi the Scottish prison service. His role is tae heize up the education, employment an life prospects o the inmates.
Yaisin Scots, Jim telt us, is vital tae engaging wi fowk in the Scottish prison system. He hauds storytelling sessions an poetry screivin classes, focussin on gien prisoners the confidence tae pit their Mithir Tongue tae wark in self-expression.
Jim stertit warkin wi the Scots Language Dictionaries daein a projeck cried Scots in Shotts. He funn that it warkit affa weel wi a guid skelp o the mair thrawn inmates at HMP Shotts. Jim telt Frieda anent the fact that in particular “we targetit guys that wernae itherwise engaging wi education”. They went doon wi a storyteller an encouraged them tae wark wi their ain stories.
Owre the sax-week projeck we had them daein their ain stories, their ain poems, an yaisin their ain tongue tae dae it.
“There’s a lot in the poetry we gie them that’s familiar, that’s aboot drink, aboot the culture o Scotland, the language o Scotland so when they hear their ain voice, it’s no something that’s abstract, it’s no something that’s unknown tae them. It’s something they can spik aboot an it’s something they can engage in.”
Jim yaises his ain Scots poems tae encourage the prisoners he warks wi tae open theirsels up an tae get discussions stertit. He read us oot a bitty fae ane o his poems, but first gied us an innin intae the wark, which is cried Chick the Chanter
“Chick the chanter is a wee guy fae the Glasgae area wha’s hud a wee problem ye know, wi the drink, as mony fowk in prison do. He gets a bit o a fright. Chick finds himself in the pub, an wance he gets wan or two haufs inside him he wants tae get a wee sing-song…no aabdy appreciates his singin an he gets flung oot the pub, an he his a sair landin. His spirit leas him an he arrives at the Pearly Gates…”
Beyond this earth his mind finds berth an settles in its station
One een leuks oot an casts some doot upon this new location
Those pearly gates is what awaits an St Peter sez “Hullo,
be glad there Chick that it’s no Auld Nick
Ye might yet laun below”
An as they must his een adjust tae reveal a ghaistly sight
“It’s ma pal Tam the bar-room bam!”
He shouts in earthly fright.
“But you’re deed! A saw ye bleed! The bar-room flair wis soakin
But ye went in style, a glaikit smile, DTs an rampant boakin
Aye, that dark night ye lost the fight yer spirit disappeared
We hid yer face, yer lack o grace tae Auld Nick’s place we feared.
But noo A see that’s no tae be, anither chance ye’re given
Tae pit behind the haunts o mind, yer past mistakes forgiven
But help ma boab! That lang night robe fair clashes wi yer ginger
An crivins! Jings! Is that real wings?! Wi them ye’ll dae yer dinger
Chick gets himself sortit oot an sober in the enn, ye’ll be gled tae hear, but no afore he gings through the mangle o alcoholism. It’s no just him that’s affectit, but the faimly, the bairns. Jim’s poem explores that in a gey approachable wey.
Jim reads this poem oot, an it gies the prisoners a wee laugh, brakkin the ice, but also it gies them a foundation tae stert a blether. They micht hae addiction, or violence, or been chucked oot a pub or onythin. Jim’s poem, delivered in a braid Glasgae Scots, is instantly approachable. There’s naethin o the high-falutin academia poet. This is guid humorous laich verse that lets aabdy jine in.
This is a fine wee skelf o an insicht intae the transformative pooer o language an communication, an the chynges that can be wrocht gin ye embrace the Mither Tongue.