A unique creative writing prison program at Junee Correction Centre (JCC) in New South Wales is helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men strengthen their connection to culture.

Established in 2011, the ‘Dreaming Inside: Voices from the Junee Correctional Centre Prisoner Writing Program’ is the only prison creative writing program that specifically targets Indigenous inmates.

Griffith Law School academic Professor Elena Marchetti, who is evaluating the program as part of an Australian Research Council grant, said it provided the men with an opportunity to use creative writing as a form of expression and exercise a form of agency by publishing their poems and stories in books without censorship.

“It also enables them to engage with Elders and other community members, fostering a connection with culture,’’ Professor Marchetti said.

Each year, the latest volume is launched at an event hosted by the Wollongong Art Gallery as part of the Sydney Writers Festival and at the JCC with men who are present at the May workshop.

The books have grown from 38 pages in 2013 to 252 pages in the latest volume with contributions from 59 men. Five men contributed to the first volume.

The contributions speak about childhood memories and experiences, hardships and discrimination, government intervention in the personal lives of the men in prison, how and why the men became caught up in the criminal justice system and views about how the devastating legacy of colonisation has impacted on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The program was conceived in 2010 by Aboriginal Elder Aunty Barbara Nicholson who said being in the captive space allowed for a strengthening of culture.

“The only requirement for participation in the program is that the men be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and have no active association alerts or restrictive protection status,’’ Professor Marchetti said.

“Its longevity is because it’s community driven and involves Elders who are respected by the men in prison.”

The project forms part of a larger ARC Future Fellowship project evaluating Indigenous-focused criminal justice programs in ways that acknowledge and privilege the position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

The Dreaming Inside books can be purchased from the South Coast Writers Centre.