Past Times: Exploring the history of prison food and mental health

Dr Margaret Charleroy

We are delighted to announce an arts participation project exploring food and mental health in prison through a series of workshops delivered with Saul Hewish of Rideout to prisoners at HMP Hewell. The project, Past Time, uses two of our research themes: mental health (Professor Hilary Marland and Associate Professor Catherine Cox) and nutrition and health (Dr Margaret Charleroy), and juxtaposes them against prisoners’ current experiences.

We will be working with adult men who are assessed as being at risk of self-harm and/or suicide and will be working in partnership with the prison’s Healthy Living lead, Safer Custody team, and education department to facilitate the project.

The men will use theatrical and other techniques to become creative researchers investigating how approaches to mental health and food in prison have changed over the last 160 years. The focus will be on prison memoirs and historical documentation that illuminate issues of mental health and nutrition, including daily menus, prisoner writing and memoirs, and recipes.

The men will also explore the past experiences of prisoners using contemporary constructs. This will include recreating prison food from the past, exploring its nutritional value and testing this against modern prison food. Intertwined amongst this will be activities enabling the men to attain accredited food hygiene and nutrition qualifications. The residency will culminate with a devised theatrical performance which will incorporate the food experiments so the audience will get a chance to ‘taste the prison of the past’.

The whole process will be documented by a professional food photographer, which will allow exploration of concepts like deceit / deception / face value and, to some extent, provide an allegory for life. The workshops will generate a series of creative outputs including live and/or recorded performance, imagery and text, and qualifications for the men.

The project has been generously supported not only by the Wellcome Trust but also the University of Warwick’s Food and Connecting Cultures Global Research Priorities, its Department of History, and their Centre for the History of Medicine.

PHOTO CREDIT: © Copyright Chris Allen at http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3817611 Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.
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