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"My Voice Rises on the Mic": a New Artographic Spoken Word Poetry Programme Portraying Two Young Offenders' Artistic Ways of Being in a Macedonian Prison



Change log


Nikolova, Afrodita 


A vibrant live performance, spoken word poetry has enhanced people’s lives worldwide. Yet, it continues to be underrepresented among arts programmes in prison. Research interest in the arts resurfaced with the narrative and desistance criminological turn to study how the stories offenders tell about their lives can support a crime-free life, through subjective, social and judicial rehabilitation. In this context, I inquired into the potential contributions of a new spoken word poetry programme in offenders’ lives in a Macedonian prison. Particularly, I investigated the programme development and its perceived impact. The former focused on the artistic responses and life experiences elicited for the duration of the programme, while the latter examined the meanings they held in two young offenders’ lives.

The artographic design of the three-month programme, which was developed and implemented together with artists, young offenders and prison staff, enabled me to conduct arts-based multi-method data collection throughout three stages. The data included 18 life story interviews with six young offenders with a visual elicitation tool; 23 participant observations of workshops and rehearsals including arts-based evaluative tools; and, participants’ 32 self-authored poems. The programme’s final performance event in the prison, with an audience of over 40 people, connected prison residents, artists, criminal justice and local NGO representatives. The study reports findings from the programme’s contributions in two Albanian young offenders’ lives based on 8 individual life story interviews with 2 visual river journeys and 1 painting, 23 participant observations, and 7 participant poems. The analysis with artographic portraiture integrated poetic and visual inquiry with the five key tenets of the method of portraiture: voice, relationship, themes, place, and aesthetic whole of narrative. Artographic collaboration with a child psychotherapeutic counsellor enabled to me to cultivate embodied reflexive empathy in the analysis of sensitive data.

The study found the programme has the potential to support young offenders’ artistic ways of being. Specifically, the programme’s sites of artistic practice, emergent pedagogy, and the performance community made possible for young offenders to 1) empower themselves through poetic voice as creative agency in resistance to social exclusion 2) develop ways of being alternative to their history of trauma and perceived criminal immutability 3) have their artistic way of being validated by artists, educators, the prison staff.

I concluded that young offenders’ artistic way of being through the artographic programme could potentially inform their rehabilitation within the interdependent subjective and social dimensions, relevant to Macedonian national resocialisation policy. This means that arts researchers, arts and prison practitioners should centre arts in prison work on the creative practices. To do so, there is a need to: 1) develop an evidence-base and theorisation of the nature of artists’ creative practices, which would account for the legitimacy of arts-based methodologies in prison; and, 2) to frame contributions of the arts to the criminal justice system in a language meaningful to all stakeholders.





Burnard, Pamela


spoken word, spoken word poetry, spoken word poetry movement, youth poetry slam, poetry slam, spoken word poetry programme, youth spoken word, arts practice, arts in prison, young offender, imprisoned young men, criminal justice system, prison research, arts-based research, artography, performing, A/R/Tography, a/r/tography, arts-based research methods, arts-based elicitation tools, arts-based evaluative methods, creative workshop, practice as research, practice-based research, spoken word poets, artists, arts pedagogy, creative pedagogy, feminist poetc inquiry, narrative inquiry, visual inquiry, found data poetry, artographic portraiture, portraiture, case study, rehabilitation, desistance, restorative approaches, creativity, artist pedagogies, poetry community, poetic voice, creative agency, artistic being, alternaive being, empowerment, narrative criminology, artistic experience, aesthetic space, relational research


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge