The Digital Poverty Alliance were invited to a unique end-of-programme showcase at HMP Brinsford, hosted by programme leaders The Invested Man, EY Outreach and West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit.

As well as operating as an adult prison, HMP Brinsford in Featherstone, Wolverhampton, is a young offender institution for men aged 18 to 21. The complex is divided into five units, the fifth of which is for inmates who have been recognised as reaching an enhanced level of behaviour within the prison and may be coming towards the end of their sentence.

Over the last year, Nathan Shillingford and his team have been working with Governor Amanda Hughes and her prison officers within Residential Unit 5 (Res 5) to pilot a new personal development programme with a small number of inmates. This pilot combined holistic wellbeing support, peer mentorship and creative media production, with “the sole purpose of investing and supporting the lives of young men to navigate the terrain of identity through intervention, introspection and mindset education to enable them to rehabilitate their lives and find their purpose within society” (The Invested Man website 2023).

During the showcase, an audience made up of families, friends and supporting organisations were shown an exclusive screening of a 40 minute film the young men had scripted, shot and soundtracked from within the prison walls in just a few days earlier this year. The short featured a large cast, with almost every member of the group playing a role either on-screen or post-production. The story of a fictional male protagonist, the events that led up to his incarceration and challenges he faced once inside was clearly drawn from multiple experiences the young men had had themselves in recent years, and wanted to show from their perspective through this new art form.

The quality of the film was remarkable! The overarching themes of desperation, confrontation, and inspiration even more impacting given the one-off nature of the project and the presence of the young men in the room as we watched – they had never seen the full film before the showcase either!
Aside from the screening, most of the showcase centred around allowing the young men to present to the room, speak about their personal histories and share their hopes for the future upon release. We learnt about their children, their hometowns, schools, friends who had passed away and parents taken too soon. These histories also provided motivation for their new and developing business ideas, ideas that for some who only had a few months left of their sentence were clearly a focus for them after leaving Brinsford, and for others a way of coping and thriving whilst still inside.

The showcase was unlike any presentation I had seen before, and it struck me how important digital access, digital skills and digital equipment is for these men if they wanted to realise their plans to start new businesses and new lives once they had served their prison terms. The film could never have happened without the right equipment and support, and neither could the slidedecks showing their business plans, communications with those who might hire or invest in them nor even the emails that organised the showcase. Self-expression and creativity should not be limited to those who have the resources!

The showcase was a powerful reminder of the untapped potential within individuals who face systemic barriers. Through the combination of personal development programs, creative expression, and digital empowerment, these young men redefined their narratives and inspired everyone present. Their journey serves as a clarion call for society to ensure that digital resources are accessible to all, regardless of their circumstances. By bridging the digital divide, we can unlock the transformative power of self-expression and creativity, making a positive impact on the lives of those who need it the most.

Let us strive to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and realise their full potential.

Author: Kate Towey, National Partnerships Lead at the Digital Poverty Alliance