Ex-con returns to Old Bailey having Create-d new path

Erwin James

An convicted murderer who spent 20 years behind bars has returned to the same Old Bailey witness stand that sent him down to speak at an exclusive fundraiser for arts organisation Create.

Erwin James, prisoner turned author, journalist and patron of City-based charity Create – which runs creative programmes for disadvantaged and vulnerable people nationwide – told those lucky enough to grab a £150 ticket to the event how the power of creativity and arts in prison changed his life.

“When I was sentenced and taken down to the cells below the court I was pretty sure my life was at an end,” said Mr James, who was jailed more than three decades ago for the murders of theatrical agent Greville Hallam and solicitor Angus Cochran in 1982.

“I certainly never imagined that one day I might be back in the same witness stand sharing the journey and explaining how I managed to salvage some good from the wreckage that had been my life before prison.

“I’m not proud of much in my life, but I’ve witnessed the work of Create in prisons and in the community, and I’m proud and honoured to be a supporter.

“Experiencing creativity and the arts in prison helped me to find some value in my life and gave me the confidence to try to find a better way to live.”

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Erwin James in the Old Bailey witness stand. Image by Julia Quenzler. Lead image by Tracey Fahy

The fundraiser was in aid of the organisation’s award-winning Inside Stories programme, where fathers in prison are given the chance to work with writers, artists and musicians to create their own stories for their children.

The project also includes a family performance in the prison when kids receive a storybook, CD and personal message from their incarcerated parent in a move to strengthen family relationships between offenders. The ultimate aim is to drive down reoffending rates.

In Create’s 14-year history it has delivered nearly 10,000 hours of Inside Stories workshops, working with 872 people.

Judge Topolski QC, the evening’s host on 22 June alongside City of London sheriff Peter Estlin, said: “Strong family ties are a key element in reducing reoffending, and maintaining these while in prison is fraught with challenges.

“Create’s Inside Stories programme expertly utilises the arts to strengthen communication between fathers and their children while in prison, enabling them to create a unique, personalised storybook that demonstrates their commitment to making a change to their lives.

“The impact this has on reducing recidivism should not be underestimated.”

Guests at the event also heard some offenders’ stories read aloud by Carol Topolski – one of the writers who worked with Create’s clients – and were given a tour around the history-laden Old Bailey.