Lucy from Documental Theatre talks to us about where the idea for Pulling Out came from. Find out more below, and catch Pulling Out at CPT between 14-15 Sep.
In 2011 I started an Art department at HMP Kingston, a male lifers’ prison in Portsmouth. Over the watercolour painting, the men in the class, who were serving sentences for murder, manslaughter and GBH, talked about their families and children. Their actions had obviously played a major part in the breakdown of their families, but they talked about the “soft power” of their ex-partners and how, having been repeatedly pushed out of their kids’ lives, it became less painful just to let go.
Meanwhile, in the education department, there were posters for “Storybook Dads”, a charity which enables prisoners to make video bedtime stories for their children. Doing this has become a scene in the play. The rates of recidivism for prisoners who maintain family relationships are massively lower. Some prisons are trialling homework clubs where kids are allowed inside to do homework with their dads in an informal environment, and this precious contact time has a huge impact on the fathers’ attitudes towards crime. In such units, the posters say “Children want to you to spend time not money”. But if, as a young man, you “spend time” with a child and take them to your job centre appointment, you can be fined twelve weeks’ benefits for unprofessionalism. There is not much space to be a caring carer.
A longitudinal study by Leeds University followed 30 plus teen dads from the point where they heard of the conception through to their child being three or four years old. The study found that roughly 90% of the young fathers wanted to be parents in a full sense, even if their relationship with their ex was dead in the water. But they felt uncomfortable at antenatal and children’s centres and faced many problems, not least where to live and the pressure to bread-win when they were too young or impoverished to do so.
It seems as though early fatherhood is a hand grenade – it can force a young man with negative tendencies to clean up his act, but equally it can push a very low-level offender into the major league of drug trafficking or worse. A nurse in a secure training centre, who helped with the research on Pulling Out, said often it is only after the second custodial sentence that young dads are able to extricate themselves from crime and find an identity as a dad which everyone around them will accept.
I started this theatre project because I was interested in the conflicting expectations we have of fathers of all ages. These expectations are what the character Leo grapples with. Guys are supposed to bring home money, be hands on, but also be secondary and back off. My other half is in the military and surrounded by assumptions that he will be under-involved or peripheral as a parent.
“Did he burn the house down?”, my neighbours used to ask when he “babysat” the kids. In twenty first century Britain, a man doesn’t have to be a convicted murderer or lifer to find himself in a situation where it is “easier to let go”. What’s that about?