Calls of ‘movement’ echo down the corridor and students start filing into class. I try to see if I can understand where each student is today. Lack of sleep, poorly treated mental health problems and general turbulence mean attitudes change day to day, minute to minute sometimes. And over time you get a sense of what lies beneath that - appeals and medical appointments that never seem to come, transfers nearer family that are promised, postponed and then taken away entirely. You hear about tragedy after tragedy and fight not to become immune to them. Women come in with bags under their eyes and tell you that they haven’t slept in days, that the person in the cell next to them plays music all night.
The challenge of writing Inside, a larp about women’s education in prison, is the challenge of telling a story that I stumbled into and which is only partially mine. I wrote Inside in response to what I heard and experienced. The character creation process is player led, both because of the delicate topics involved and because all the options which allow players to build a character, a life, are unexaggerated.
Whatever your view of prison, it is probably unlike what you expect. It certainly wasn’t like I’d imagined. What became obvious, again and again was how little power the women had over their own lives. They could earn privileges which would grant them the option to wear their own clothes and have TVs in their rooms. They were allowed to work (and get paid something around 30p an hour). They could go to classes, and classes like the GCSE English equivalent that I taught is mandatory for anyone who hadn’t completed it. (In some cases this was people who grew up in non-English speaking countries, in some cases it was women who had fallen through the gaps in the system, and in some cases it was women who clearly had achieved far beyond this level but hadn’t been able to get their certificates transferred, leading to very mixed classes). But every moment of their lives was controlled. Underlying it all the claustrophobia must have been unbearable, but for many women the outside wasn’t much better. A lot of the women had faced or were facing abuse and neglect and were coming from situations which had left them powerless and afraid.
Inside isn’t a fun larp. It isn’t shouting, it isn’t drama and it isn’t escape. It’s one day in a hundred days of a group of people who have ended up in a situation that they need to get through.
Inside will premiere at The Smoke 2018: London’s International Larp Festival. After that it will be available on a pay what you want basis on Drivethrurpg. Any money received will be donated to Clean Break .