Poetry competition: Pupils challenged to produce poems without pen and paper

Nationwide competition asks UK’s schoolChildren's rights to imagine life as a detainee

Amnesty International today launched a poetry competition for secondary schools across the UK, but with a twist. Students are being asked to imagine how it feels to be imprisoned without access to a fair trial and then express their feelings in the form of a poem without the use of pen or paper.

The competition called You Can’t Jail Minds is inspired by the experiences of Irina Ratushinhskaya in the former Soviet Union, Jack Mapanje in Malawia, and a number of detainees at the infamous American-run prison camp Guantánamo Bay – all of whom produced moving poetry, despite being banned from using pen and paper. Instead they used everyday objects such as toilet paper or disposable cups from their dinner trays to etch their words.

To reflect this, pupils are being asked to compose their poems on 'unusual' objects such as paper plates, toilet paper and clothes.

Moazzam Begg, a British national who spent two years in Guantánamo Bay, said:

“My experience of Guantánamo Bay will haunt me for the rest of my life.

“I turned to poetry to keep my hopes alive and to ensure that my experiences there would not be forgotten. I had access to pen and paper, but so many others at the camp didn’t. They had to resort to using toothpaste and pebbles to record their emotions.

“While there, I was subject to a range of human rights violations, and I am deeply touched that pupils in Britain are taking the issues of fair trials and freedom of expression so seriously.

“Hopefully this competition will open their eyes to some of the atrocities that are happening across the world today.”

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, added:

“The amazing efforts that some people went to in producing poems is an inspiration to us all. Despite having their basic human rights denied, they managed to restore some of their dignity and humanity.

“Amnesty International hopes that by asking pupils here in the UK to try and replicate the efforts that went in to producing the poems, it will encourage them to take a closer interest in human rights and question their own values and attitudes.

“We also look forward to receiving some wonderful and thought-provoking entries".

  • find out more about the competition

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