But here’s the thing: after watching N.O.N.C.E., I’m no longer sure. Suddenly, these people become more human. When someone says that all they have known since childhood is crime, you begin to think they might deserve a break. And, even if they don’t, the rest of society does, and the only successful way of reducing crime is to rehabilitate the offender. That’s where HMP Grendon steps in. It is the United Kingdom's only therapeutic prison community for the treatment of serious sex offenders and violent offenders. Inmates volunteer to go there and they can be voted out at any time by their peers. It is no coincidence that it has the lowest recidivism rate in the country.
Larkin opens his one-man show with some background information; he was there because he needed the money, the Arts Council would fund the course if he could recruit enough takers. He struggled to drum up interest and it seemed his efforts were in vain, but at the eleventh hour the men signed up and he got the green light.
On the first day prisoners were asked to name their artistic heroes then adopt their names as their own. Consequently, he found himself in a room full of the good and the great: Lennon, Mozart and Dali were there. So was Paul Weller, he turned out to be a great poet; Michelangelo was something of a philosopher. Larkin threw female students into the mix, it seemed to up the ante; the testosterone levels must have been off the scale. At the end of the year, all the “artists” put on a public performance. One of them described it as the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life, adding “…and I’ve killed people.”
Steve Larkin will always be Oxford’s Professor of Poetry in my mind. The man is a genius, master of the spoken word, a great performer, hugely talented. There was never a dull moment. The North Wall audience was captivated and the hour just flew by.