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Behind Bars: How Lady Unchained’s poetry became her lifeline

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Extracted from her new poetry collection, Lady Unchained’s poems let us know there is life after prison.

09 Jul

At the age of 21, Lady Unchained served an 11-month prison sentence for getting into a fight protecting her sister. Through her time imprisoned, writing poetry became a lifeline to battle loneliness and fears of being deported. Her book ‘Behind Bars’ is a collection of her poems written before, during and after her time in prison, and gal-dem are showcasing three of them. 

Road to Victory

I await sentencing, scared and confused, but there’s no praying
If God loved me then I wouldn’t be in this mess, that’s all I’m saying.
You’re a female with no previous, you’ll get off. You’ve got this, so stop fretting,
      I hear my friends say.
Yet my solicitor’s voice rings loud, you’re looking at three to five, there’s no doubt
So just make sure you pack a bag each time you take that stand.
And still, I just can’t quite understand.
But the judge soon makes it clear: he screams two and a half! Take her away!
Take me where?
I scream too, but there’s no sound.
The waterfalls from my eyes kiss my cheeks. Farewell to me trying to look
      hard.
The life I once knew
Was no more.
Shattered dreams of future plans taken in a flash
Dark shadows and angry voices in my head telling me this is the end.
This is the end
So, just end it. 

I left a piece of me on that stand.
I felt her walk away as I began to walk down them steps. 
I swear I never even looked back.
See, I had to free her from this life that we were about to take.
Because she was the me with the dreams and ambitions
She was the me who still had faith in the so-called justice system
She was the me who prayed
She was the 11-year-old me who sang in Sunday choir
She was the me who wrote songs for Sunday school
She was the me who still cared about life.
All she was gonna do now was hold me back, with her dreams of the life that 
      she once had.
Dreams were a thing of the past
Because where I was going, dreams are for the weak.
Forget love
I need respect
Because I ain’t trying to be no-one’s chick. 
My beautiful future – no more.  

And so, I began my life behind bars, broken and defeated.
Days were long, nights were longer, weekend bang-ups a lifetime.
Pain and tears were only to be felt at night.

Eleven-year-old me, where are you, I need you, where are you?
She returned to me in the form of a prayer:
Not long now girl, just stay strong. Pray to God and I promise you a better day.

All of a sudden, it just made sense.
This is the journey that was written for me to take
So I can teach my fellow brothers and sisters that 
It’s not about anger; it’s about peace.
It’s not about power; it’s about grace.
It’s not about hatred; it’s about love.
These are the lessons I learnt while in prison, so you don’t have to go there 
      to learn the same lessons. 
The choice is yours,
I choose to be Unchained.

Sentencing

The judge found me guilty
This much I know.
I’m walked down to the cells out of the courtroom.
The cold hits me like a slap in the face.
My tears have frozen
My escort speaks but the sound is blurred.
I’m still trying to understand if this is real
If the judge made a mistake.
I see my escort open the cell door.
Finally, her words become clear:
You’re here, I’m putting you on your own, okay
      love?
My tears melt – that’s how I say thank you now.
I walk in.
My cell has bars not a metal door.
I can see others pass before they’re placed behind
      the door
Where they can be heard but not seen.
I must be lucky.
I see my solicitor approach.
I hope she’s here to tell me the judge made
      a mistake.
But her face tells a different story.
She hands me a piece of paper
A note with all the names, numbers addresses
      of the people I would now have to write
      letters to.
No more £5 T-Mobile vouchers.
No more texting.
No more Facebook posts.
Holloway would be my new address.

The Women

I look at these women
young
old 
grandmothers
mothers
daughters
children
Black
white
Asian
educated
uneducated
labelled
numbered
tainted
tortured.
They all look like me.
I see the same sad look in their eyes.
powerless.
Less than those we left outside.
Learning to live behind a fake smile is the first
      Thing we teach each other
as we watch the sun rise and set through bars.
Watch the world change around us through a
      screen.
We are the women who see too much
Who hear cries at night
but no one hears or sees us.

Behind Bars is available from Hachette here.