On Wednesday 14th December 2016, to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Prison Radio Association, Letters Live presented LETTERS FROM THE INSIDE at Her Majesty’s Prison, Brixton. Letters Live director Jamie Byng introduced the show as follows.

Ladies and Gentlemen – whether you’re listening live on National Prison Radio, or are here in this historic chapel inside Brixton prison – I would like to welcome you to this unique performance of Letters Live.

The first Letters Live took place on December 10th 2013 in Notting Hill Gate’s The Tabernacle, another historic place of worship built in Victorian times. Little did any of us know that three years later we would be producing our 30th Letters Live show here in the chapel at Brixton Prison.

When Phil Maguire at National Prison Radio approached us about putting on a Letters Live in this the station’s 10th anniversary year, we knew immediately that this was something we had to do. When we came back from our first meeting here with Phil, Vicky and the Governor, we knew that this was going to be one of the most important and powerful shows we had ever produced. Knowing that people who are locked up in prisons across the country are able to listen to this show means a huge amount to me, my colleagues at Letters Live and all the performers you’ll be hearing tonight. It’s the reason we are here.

Some people say that the art of letter writing is dying. But if you’re in prison, you’ll know that this is far from the truth.

If you’re in prison, you’re locked away from the people you love, and the people who love you. It isn’t easy to make phone contact. There’s no internet access. You can’t send emails or texts.

Putting pen to paper remains an essential way for people behind bars to keep in touch with the outside world.

Even if you’ve never been to prison, you’ll recognize that special feeling you get when you receive a letter. It’s not just words on a screen. It’s a piece of paper that’s been touched by the person who sent it. It’s personal, it’s intimate – or as Katherine Mansfield once said, “This is not a letter but my arms around you for a brief moment.” When you’re in prison, that warm embrace is nourishment and sustenance and connection. And we all need connection as much as plants need water.

National Prison Radio thrives on the letters it receives and the connections it makes. Hundreds and hundreds of letters every single month, written by its loyal listeners. In fact close on 30,000 letters have been sent to National Prison Radio since it began broadcasting ten years ago. When I first heard this statistic, it underlined to me the importance of the work National Prison Radio is doing, the invaluable service it is providing 24/7.

We’ve spent a fair bit of time reading through some of these letters, and they’ve filled us with a huge variety of emotions. They’re often written by people on the edge of something – sometimes the edge of a new start, sometimes the edge of a life falling apart. Some have made us laugh out loud, others have had us in tears or fuming with anger.

But writing a letter is a therapeutic act. It’s a way of making sense of the world around you, and of the universe inside you. The act of writing can help to place confusion and chaos into some sort of order.

Letters Live is a celebration of the letter and its alchemical power. Over the next seventy five minutes, you’re going to hear some memorable letters brought to life by some magnificent performers. Some of the letters have been written to National Prison Radio over the last decade. Others have come to us from across the waters and across the centuries.

If you’re listening to Letters Live in your cell, let me set the scene.

We are in a packed prison chapel – it’s a 200 year old building, the ceilings are high, the walls are cold. But the room is lit with hundreds of candles. And the hearts of the 200 people in the audience are warm, and they are all passing their very best wishes on to you. We all hope you’re able to find your way through these difficult times and will come out stronger, welcomed back to the outside world with a positive outlook and remembering that the future is unwritten. You are one of its authors.

We’re all rooting for you. Like I said before, it’s the reason we are here.

Thank you for listening and happy Christmas.