Frank Turner and Fine Cell Work

‘If anybody ever asks us, let’s just tell them we met in Jail‘ – ‘Recovery’, Frank Turner

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If you’re lost at sea, close your eyes and catch a tide my dear, and only think of me‘ – FT

Let me tell you a story about a couple I know, musician Frank Turner, a hand-embroidered cushion and hope.

The above photo shows a one-of-a-kind hand embroidered cushion, made by my friend for his partner and inspired by the lyrics of Frank Turner’s song ‘Recovery‘. As an embroidered piece of art it’s amazing, but then also consider the unique conditions it was constructed under – from inside prison, made by someone with no previous stitching experience. This exemplary piece of embroidery is truly representative of recovery: of perseverance, of passion and of pain transformed into something spectacular. And the unknowing influence of Frank Turner’s masterful lyrics, sneaked into prison under the watchful eye of  my dartboard’s target Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, were to be the catalyst to a project as compassionate as it was creative.

I stand as witness and scribe to this story, and for the sake of maintaining anonymity, here I am with Frank Turner himself…

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Let Mr. Bridger tell you his own story.

I wish I could claim to be a good person. I wish I could claim to be the person my dog thinks I am. But I’m not. My life took me down a bad road, and somewhere along the way I took a wrong turn. Inevitably, my world collapsed, and I had to atone for my sins. I had to go to prison. I was guilty, no excuses. But it was my partner I was worried about, being left alone in the outside world while I was taken away from her. 

I’d never been to prison before, and I won’t pretend that I wasn’t scared. My first night was a long one. I wrote my first letter to my partner, telling her that I’d understand if she wanted to leave, and not suffer this with me. And I wouldn’t have thought any less of her if she had. But she stayed. What we had was so special that we wanted to fight through this time together. Writing became the basis of our relationship. Our Royal Mail Romance.

I stayed at the local prison for a few weeks before being shipped out to another site, many miles away. It meant visits were difficult. But they had better facilities there, and it just so happened that one of the Fine Cell Work workshops operated here, so I applied straight away and in no time I had a job. Fine Cell Work are an external charity who hand-make cushions, bags, purses etc. to provide meaningful occupation for prisoners. Kits are sent out for prisoners to make up in their cells before being sent to the workshop to be turned into the finished product. They sell for premium money, so quality has to be good. I enjoyed the work and it kept me busy, and my partner was proud of me for the work I was doing and the new skills I was learning. 

I still had a great pain inside me, for what I had done to her. Every day it haunted me, clawing away at my dreams, my nightmares, every night. One day, she managed to get me in two CDs, one of which was Frank Turner’s ‘Tape Deck Heart’. I’d never heard his  music before, but instantly liked it. His lyrics were so meaningful, like a poet of the modern world. Almost every song has something we could relate to our situation, and there wasn’t a day went by that I didn’t listen to it. I’m not ashamed to say that it often got quite emotional, as the words being sung to me hit home, and the desperation of where I was overwhelmed me. 

I needed an outlet for all the emotional turmoil I was going through – something to focus on, something to distract me. So I decided that I would embroider something. I’d never been shown how, as our workshop only did machine stitching, so I asked asked my partner to teach me via post. As our workshop made up the kits, there was always plenty of spare DMC embroidery thread, so I managed to scrounge / borrow / steal (yes, this place was full of criminals – sorry Fine Cell!) what I needed. I was inspired by some of Frank’s lyrics we both felt a strong connection with: ‘You once sent me a letter that said if you’re lost at sea, close your eyes and catch a tide my dear and only think of me.’

We both felt very lost at sea, and we were sinking on our own. The Tape Deck Heart album has some amazing artwork, including a sailing ship. I liked the idea that I was on a voyage, and when I was halfway through my time, my ship had reached it’s destination and was on its way home. So I drew the design. And I started stitching. Every evening I would make a cup of tea, put Frank Turner on, and spend the time stitching. Phone calls were limited to ten minutes at a time, and it cost 20p/minute, but it brought us comfort to know we were both going to put Frank on and sew. Stitching ourselves back together again.

For eight months, I stitched my heart and soul into it. All of my emotions, my sorrow, my pain, my apology, poured into that embroidery. There were days when I felt really good about what I had done. There were also days when I just wanted to curl up into a little ball and hide under it. It was my therapy. It was something I could do to start to make up for what I’d done. 

The technical bits! The sails and hull are all two-stranded DMC satin stitch, with split stitch between each row to add texture. The deck is rows of split stitch, to give the impression of the linear planks of wood. The clouds are grey back stitch, but of course, with a silver lining. The flags are all single strand long and short stitch. The day came when it was finished, and it was a strange feeling, having had it be such a big part of my life for so long.

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When times were difficult I decided I must get the cushion out to my partner. Easier said than done…. but the story doesn’t end there! We both agreed to go and see Frank live, when we could. We also emailed him and much to our amazement, he replied and asked us to come and say hello after the show (Hay festival, at the end of May). He is a very down-to-earth person, and I was so pleased to see how approachable he was. He instantly recognised the cushion from the email story (although not that he gets presented with many cushions!?). He said it was a very inspiring story, and hugs were exchanged. People say you should never meet your heroes, but I feel very humbled and honoured to have met Frank. He is a genuinely nice guy; and his words, combined with a love of embroidery, helped us get through some very tough times. And tea. Tea makes everything better.

That wasn’t the last of my cushions. I did many more, some needlepoint, some applique, some embroidered. But the Ship will always be the most special. It will always mean the most, especially now its homeward bound journey is complete and Frank has left his mark. 

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My thanks to Mr. Bridger for his candid account of something truly touching, and of course Frank Turner without whose unknowing influence none of this could have happened. Thankyou, Mr Frank Turner!

And on the first night we met you said “Well darling, let’s make a deal.
If anybody ever asks us, let’s just tell them that we met in jail.”
And that’s the story that I’m sticking to like a stony-faced accomplice
But tonight I need to hear some truth if I’m ever getting through this.
Yeah you once sent me a letter that said “If you’re lost at sea,
Close your eyes and catch the tide my dear and only think of me.”
Well darling now I’m sinking and I’m as lost as lost can be
And I was hoping you could drag me up from down here towards my recovery.

3 comments

  1. That is one of the most uplifting things I’ve read recently. Thank you. AND the cushion is gorgeous.

  2. A lovely story of hope, and a beautiful piece of stitchery. Can we assume that Mr Bridger is no longer lost at sea and has found land once more?

  3. Brilliant and inspiring story. Well done to this stitcher, Frank Turner & the team at FCW. I work for Corrections here in NZ and am aware of an Art project they run, as well as other work skills offered, am now wondering if I could get something like this off the ground here. Thank you.

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