W T Stead, by Natalie Scott

Editor of Pall Mall Gazette and campaigner for equality
Guilty of abduction – sentenced to two months, 1885

Our laws state that a girl of thirteen
is at the age of consent, and yet she is
not old enough to give witness in court.
My crime? Caring too much. I wanted
exposure, so I bought a girl and sold her.
Her parents accepted a slim price
and the brothel madam paid a slim price.
Deal done. Evidence acquired.

Our current laws don’t protect those
who make it their calling to pull back
the stained bed-covers of crime.
I was charged with abduction because
her parents could not fathom
how they could have done such a thing,
so pretended they hadn’t. Deny
all knowledge. Safest bet.

Our laws gave me time in Holloway. Not
so much a punishment as a treat. A
pleasant holiday in an enchanted castle. I
had a gas stove and kettle. Hot meals from
the tavern. I was in a state of journalistic
leisure with my books, paper, ideas. I
composed articles behind bars and passed
them for print. Luxury of time and space.

Our current laws allow such a waste
of resources. And the little girl is back with
parents who may sell her again if they
so choose because her voice is too young
to have a say, though her body is old enough
to have a child of her own. So she may
give birth at fourteen. And her life
will be over before it’s begun.

Barbara Roads, by Natalie Scott

Guilty of conscientious objection
– sentenced to one month, 1943

You ask me why I choose
to do this, choose
to refuse my war duties
by not signing up with the warden,
choose to challenge the system,
choose to be pregnant in prison?

You think it’s easy enough
to sign up for something
you don’t believe in
just because it’s the done thing.
Scratch you name on
someone else’s skin.

Do these women choose
to be pregnant in prison?
Choose to eat for two
on extra milk and bread?
Choose solitary confinement
until the baby’s due
because the hospital’s full?
Choose a cell bell that’s dull
or no one’s there to hear it,
or no one who hears it cares
enough, and no one comes?
Choose to give birth alone?
Does any woman choose that?
Can’t you see she was at the
crippled ends of her wits?

I choose to refuse because
they asked me to do it.
And you can only refuse
what you are asked to do.
Ask me to join the army
and I’ll refuse that too.

Prison is a choice for me.
I can handle a month and make
my point. In utero, my baby
won’t know anything. No harm
done. Being behind bars
is a chance for freedom.
Choosing to refuse
wins choice. Choice
for a future
where you
can say no and not
be sent to prison.

Ruth Borchard, by Natalie Scott

Refugee of Nazi oppression, detained
for 6 weeks as an ‘enemy alien’, 1940

Alien: noun: a foreigner – synonyms:
non-native, immigrant, emigrant,
emigre, incomer, outsider, stranger,
newcomer, visitor.
I like visitor.
Yes. I could be your guest. I have
travelled here to escape.
The journey was long and tiring.
I won’t be in your way forever
but while I am you could help.
It won’t cost you much to do so.
Be the gentile, genial host.
Go on, invite me to tea if you dare.
I’m a newcomer, show me the ropes.

Get to know me
and I’m no longer a stranger.
Welcome me
and I’m no longer a foreigner.

Enemy: noun: actively opposed
or hostile to someone or something.
A thing that harms or weakens
something else.
I am the antonym.
Co-operative in all this chaos.
Calmly waiting in my cell.
Waiting for the real enemies
to destroy my clothes, to wave
a lit cigarette in my face, to say
I’m polluted for marrying a Jew.
For you to say we’re all the same.
All suspects. Bloody foreigners.
Yet I have committed no crime,
caused no harm. Weakened no one.

Speak to me and you’ll find out. Find
your own way of defining me
other than categorisation. A. B. C.

I may never see my daughter again.
Define my feelings for that if you can.


Natalie Scott is a Teesside-based poet and educator with a PhD in Creative Writing. She has collections published by Indigo Dreams, Bradshaw Books and Mudfog, as well as many appearances in literary journals including Ambit, Agenda and Orbis. Her collection Berth – Voices of the Titanic was awarded runner-up for the Cork Literary Review Manuscript Competition, 2011. Her latest project Rare Birds – Voices of Holloway Prison was awarded funding from the Arts Council of England.