Source: The Guardian

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Covert cooking: how to bake a pie in prison

When May Eaton was a writer in residence at a men’s jail, she found the inmates’ real creativity lay in the cakes and curries they made in their cells.

I was in my 20s when I got a job working behind bars, a writer in a men’s prison, with the loose remit of fostering creativity. On my first morning I hitched a stiff leather belt around my jeans and was issued my own set of keys. The biggest, draconian looking, was for entry into the prison itself, accompanied by a cluster of smaller keys for the library and my tiny office. As I walked across the prison yard the chain jingled. I felt absurd, like a cat with a bell.

Training for the job had felt shockingly short. A single blurred week of briefings with my fellow writers, each of us having been assigned our own prison. Dress code (comfortable but non provocative), hostage situations (don’t fight back), manipulation and psychological grooming (don’t give away details of your personal life, never traffic any item, not even a Mother’s Day card, in or out of the facility for a prisoner). We were guided through the activities we’d be expected to instigate – plays, prison newspapers, writing workshops. I had zero experience of teaching. Not a natural disciplinarian, my voice when it rose above a certain level grew reedy and thin. How did I expect to hold the attention of a classroom of prisoners? What if a fight broke out?

As it turned out, my students never gave me much hassle. This was a resettlement prison offering sought-after training in construction, and a painting and decorating course. Prisoners often requested a transfer specifically so they could pick up a trade. For the most part, the men I worked with were diligent when it came to writing assignments, eager to impress, attentive. My troubles came in an unforeseeable shape and size. An egg.

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