'Why I write 40 letters a week to prisoners'

Why I write 40 letters a week to prisoners

Why I write 40 letters a week to prisoners

Why I write 40 letters a week to prisoners

First published in News
Last updated
Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by , Senior Features Writer

EVA Hogendoorn excitedly greets the postman every day.

That’s because she receives up to EIGHT letters from some of her 3,000 pen pals who are among the country’s most dangerous prisoners.

But inside the envelopes isn’t what may be expected from the likes of murderers, rapists and notorious gangsters.

Instead of a grim insight of life in jail, the inmates send her hundreds of pictures of everything from fairies and cute fluffy cats to picturesque landscapes and famous faces they have created behind bars.

“People often wonder what I get through the post and expect it to be really dark and depressive – but it’s not the case at all.

“I get about 3,000 letters and pictures a year and I never throw any of them away.

“I get all sorts pouring in. You’d be amazed how the most hardened criminal can send the most beautiful picture of a fairy.

“The raw talent is amazing. I get letters telling me art helps them escape.”

For nine years Eva is the woman who has unlocked the creative talent of criminals in the hope it will give them hope there is life outside the cells.

A qualified art teacher and psychotherapist, she has toured the country teaching the most notorious offenders that there are no bars to the imagination.

Daily Echo:

“Art has huge healing power among the prisoners.

It’s an amazing tool. It’s like a switch that makes them change.

“It makes them realise they have a worth, a value.

“I’ve had notorious gangsters come to a class who may have never even picked up a pencil before and say they don’t want to do it. But before long they are drawing and it keeps getting better and better and better.

“There was one tall, lanky London gangster who wasn’t interested in drawing at all but during the class, I caught him so completely concentrated on his canvas that my heart melted.

“At the end he had a big smile on his face and his hands were behind his back. He asked if I could put his creation away safe in a portfolio for him. There on the paper was a large circle with two dots and the most childish face of a tiger but there he was, he was so proud and he said he couldn’t wait for the next session.

"These hardened criminals who are master manipulators soon realise art gives them kudos in prison, and a bargaining tool say if somebody wants a card made for his girlfriend."

Today, Eva no longer teaches art in prison due to funding cuts.

However she singlehandedly runs the Prison Art Project for the Burnbake Trust, a charity formed in 1975 to aid the rehabilitation of offenders through art.

The charity based in Wilton, Salisbury, supplies prisoners with art materials worth £50.

In return, they send Eva their artwork to display and sell in exhibitions she hosts. The Trust keeps 30 per cent to put back into the service while the prisoners get 70 per cent so they can fund their craft.

Daily Echo:

Eva, explains: “This step we feel is crucial in building confidence and developing a sense of self worth, which are important steps in the artist’s eventual rehabilitation.

“The Trust provides a channel for their artistic talents and for them to explore sides of themselves that they never knew existed or had previously been unable to reach.

“A lot of people expect to see grim people hanging behind bars but why would people want that on the wall. I tell them they have to look forward and learn to paint to earn a living, not look back. Psychedelic stuff just doesn’t cut it commercially,” she laughs.

That’s just one of the many snippets of advice that Eva shares when she writes to all the prisoners, which is for her a vital part of her job.

Though the art enthusiast, who is currently being nominated for a Queen’s award by one of the inmates, says: “I now have hundreds of pen pals in prison and they all write their fears to me.

“As soon as I get letters I answer them. Out of respect I hand write the letters back because computers can be very cold and it’s not about that.

Daily Echo:

It’s about being on the same level as them. I relate to each person as an individual.

“I always try to go just that little bit further if there is any way I feel I can help someone.

“The replies come very naturally and I try to give as much advice as I can.

“It’s not just a job for me – quite a few on the books have become friends.”

“Once I had a voicemail from a man in the office who said ‘Eva I can’t cope with this anymore. You’re the only friend I’ve ever had. He said he was on hunger strike and not taking any liquids and he wanted me to have all his paintings and pencils.

“I phoned the chaplaincy and they went round to talk to him. I got the most beautiful tiger card through with wonderful calligraphy to say thank you.

“To me, that means the world.”

Daily Echo:

However despite the relationship she forms with the convicts, Eva says she keeps all correspondence on a professional level and has to keep elements of her identity secret for her safety such as her age, marital status and where she lives.

“For a lot of male prisoners, I may be the only woman they have contact with so it’s always totally professional.”

That professionalism, she says, must also exist if she discovers what crimes her pen pals have committed.

“I don’t feel I need or want to know what they are inside for but when you do hear, it does play on your mind a little but I have to switch off.

“From murderers, molesters, wife beaters and drink drivers to druggies, I have seen it all but the past is not something I am interested in.

“Of course, at the exhibitions I host you get the odd person who says ‘prisoners shouldn’t be allowed to be artists, you should throw away the key’, but to me that’s someone who has not had their eyes opened to the backgrounds of a lot of these people.

“Regardless of what they have done, anyone is capable of bettering themselves and then helping other people.

Many do go on to help other people and they are often the best role models because they have been there and done it. I’ve heard from ex-offenders who have gone on to university and others who leave prison making a career of their art.”

Eva will represent the prisoners when she brings 200 works of art priced from £5 to £250 to Romsey this Friday and Saturday. An exhibition of the work takes place at Romsey Abbey from 10am until 5pm.

Eva, adds: “Buying a painting, can change someone’s life. It’s as simple as that.”

For more information about the charity or the exhibition email art@burnbaketrust.co.uk or go to burnbaketrust.co.uk.

Comments (14)

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12:42pm Tue 26 Aug 14

forest hump says...

What a complete and utter waste of effort. Please do the same for underprivileged kids. Do not waste it on these despicable people who deserve zero sympathy. I can only assume there is some kind of dark affinity for criminals?
What a complete and utter waste of effort. Please do the same for underprivileged kids. Do not waste it on these despicable people who deserve zero sympathy. I can only assume there is some kind of dark affinity for criminals? forest hump
  • Score: -8

1:21pm Tue 26 Aug 14

sarfhamton says...

If this helps to reduce the misery of crime then it is worth the effort.
If this helps to reduce the misery of crime then it is worth the effort. sarfhamton
  • Score: 6

1:22pm Tue 26 Aug 14

sparkster says...

I agree im damned if i'd waste ink postage etc for people who are in prison because of rape and murder, they dont have to be in prison they broke the law. I agree with forest hump there are plenty of underprivileged kids and people with disabilities where time would be better spent, prisoners wouldnt be in prison if they didnt commit such despicable crimes
I agree im damned if i'd waste ink postage etc for people who are in prison because of rape and murder, they dont have to be in prison they broke the law. I agree with forest hump there are plenty of underprivileged kids and people with disabilities where time would be better spent, prisoners wouldnt be in prison if they didnt commit such despicable crimes sparkster
  • Score: 0

1:45pm Tue 26 Aug 14

huckit P says...

forest hump wrote:
What a complete and utter waste of effort. Please do the same for underprivileged kids. Do not waste it on these despicable people who deserve zero sympathy. I can only assume there is some kind of dark affinity for criminals?
Quite agree. Criminals are in prison because of a conscious choice they made. Their time in prison must be a punishment, not the free-loading easy-going life they appear to enjoy.
[quote][p][bold]forest hump[/bold] wrote: What a complete and utter waste of effort. Please do the same for underprivileged kids. Do not waste it on these despicable people who deserve zero sympathy. I can only assume there is some kind of dark affinity for criminals?[/p][/quote]Quite agree. Criminals are in prison because of a conscious choice they made. Their time in prison must be a punishment, not the free-loading easy-going life they appear to enjoy. huckit P
  • Score: -1

2:02pm Tue 26 Aug 14

riverbanks says...

What a stupid cow, she could be writing to kids in hospital, or helping charities.
Theyre in prison for a reason and shouldnt get these luxuries.

Prison, and the justice system in this country make a law abiding citizen like myself sometimes crimes are worth it for the pathetic punishment you get. Hardly a detterent.
What a stupid cow, she could be writing to kids in hospital, or helping charities. Theyre in prison for a reason and shouldnt get these luxuries. Prison, and the justice system in this country make a law abiding citizen like myself sometimes crimes are worth it for the pathetic punishment you get. Hardly a detterent. riverbanks
  • Score: -2

3:01pm Tue 26 Aug 14

sparkster says...

well said riverbanks and what about the victims of the crimes of these oiks and their families
well said riverbanks and what about the victims of the crimes of these oiks and their families sparkster
  • Score: -2

3:32pm Tue 26 Aug 14

ADSL89 says...

What, so you lot would rather people come out of prison the same way they go in, and just continue the cycle of crime?.

If prison is meant to be a punishment, surely when they come out of prison, they should have a chance at making a life for themselves, and stay out of trouble. Therefore, prison should be a productive time, aimed at cutting the rate of re-offending. This sort of thing can aid rehabilitation, hence it's a good thing.

People prioritize the victims, and that is a valid stance, but from a practical standpoint, you have to look at both sides, otherwise the cycle continues.
What, so you lot would rather people come out of prison the same way they go in, and just continue the cycle of crime?. If prison is meant to be a punishment, surely when they come out of prison, they should have a chance at making a life for themselves, and stay out of trouble. Therefore, prison should be a productive time, aimed at cutting the rate of re-offending. This sort of thing can aid rehabilitation, hence it's a good thing. People prioritize the victims, and that is a valid stance, but from a practical standpoint, you have to look at both sides, otherwise the cycle continues. ADSL89
  • Score: 10

3:53pm Tue 26 Aug 14

Kirsty666 says...

Just to join the band wagon but that's why our justice system don't work because some old cow thinks criminals should be rewarded rather than punished
Just to join the band wagon but that's why our justice system don't work because some old cow thinks criminals should be rewarded rather than punished Kirsty666
  • Score: -4

3:59pm Tue 26 Aug 14

Heinz Kiosk says...

ADSL89 wrote:
What, so you lot would rather people come out of prison the same way they go in, and just continue the cycle of crime?.

If prison is meant to be a punishment, surely when they come out of prison, they should have a chance at making a life for themselves, and stay out of trouble. Therefore, prison should be a productive time, aimed at cutting the rate of re-offending. This sort of thing can aid rehabilitation, hence it's a good thing.

People prioritize the victims, and that is a valid stance, but from a practical standpoint, you have to look at both sides, otherwise the cycle continues.
People usually return to the same social & family circle that they left. This is the most important determinant of their future behaviour.
Some of you may recognise me as an escapee from the "Way of the World" I believe I recognise this lady as Dr F. Gestaltvogel , another escapee. We're all over the place...
[quote][p][bold]ADSL89[/bold] wrote: What, so you lot would rather people come out of prison the same way they go in, and just continue the cycle of crime?. If prison is meant to be a punishment, surely when they come out of prison, they should have a chance at making a life for themselves, and stay out of trouble. Therefore, prison should be a productive time, aimed at cutting the rate of re-offending. This sort of thing can aid rehabilitation, hence it's a good thing. People prioritize the victims, and that is a valid stance, but from a practical standpoint, you have to look at both sides, otherwise the cycle continues.[/p][/quote]People usually return to the same social & family circle that they left. This is the most important determinant of their future behaviour. Some of you may recognise me as an escapee from the "Way of the World" I believe I recognise this lady as Dr F. Gestaltvogel , another escapee. We're all over the place... Heinz Kiosk
  • Score: 2

4:21pm Tue 26 Aug 14

Huey says...

I'm sure Rolf Harris would just love to get involved.
I'm sure Rolf Harris would just love to get involved. Huey
  • Score: -1

5:41pm Tue 26 Aug 14

Kirsty666 says...

Huey wrote:
I'm sure Rolf Harris would just love to get involved.
Can you tell what it is yet?
[quote][p][bold]Huey[/bold] wrote: I'm sure Rolf Harris would just love to get involved.[/p][/quote]Can you tell what it is yet? Kirsty666
  • Score: -3

7:20pm Tue 26 Aug 14

OddlyPat says...

Its a shame she doesn't put her time into helping the victims instead, they are the ones that have to live locked in the psychological cells their perpetrators put them in.
Its a shame she doesn't put her time into helping the victims instead, they are the ones that have to live locked in the psychological cells their perpetrators put them in. OddlyPat
  • Score: -1

7:55pm Tue 26 Aug 14

Zexagon says...

ADSL89 wrote:
What, so you lot would rather people come out of prison the same way they go in, and just continue the cycle of crime?.

If prison is meant to be a punishment, surely when they come out of prison, they should have a chance at making a life for themselves, and stay out of trouble. Therefore, prison should be a productive time, aimed at cutting the rate of re-offending. This sort of thing can aid rehabilitation, hence it's a good thing.

People prioritize the victims, and that is a valid stance, but from a practical standpoint, you have to look at both sides, otherwise the cycle continues.
Can't see many of them coming out and turning to a life of art to make a living
[quote][p][bold]ADSL89[/bold] wrote: What, so you lot would rather people come out of prison the same way they go in, and just continue the cycle of crime?. If prison is meant to be a punishment, surely when they come out of prison, they should have a chance at making a life for themselves, and stay out of trouble. Therefore, prison should be a productive time, aimed at cutting the rate of re-offending. This sort of thing can aid rehabilitation, hence it's a good thing. People prioritize the victims, and that is a valid stance, but from a practical standpoint, you have to look at both sides, otherwise the cycle continues.[/p][/quote]Can't see many of them coming out and turning to a life of art to make a living Zexagon
  • Score: 1

9:02am Wed 27 Aug 14

Kirsty666 says...

ADSL89 wrote:
What, so you lot would rather people come out of prison the same way they go in, and just continue the cycle of crime?.

If prison is meant to be a punishment, surely when they come out of prison, they should have a chance at making a life for themselves, and stay out of trouble. Therefore, prison should be a productive time, aimed at cutting the rate of re-offending. This sort of thing can aid rehabilitation, hence it's a good thing.

People prioritize the victims, and that is a valid stance, but from a practical standpoint, you have to look at both sides, otherwise the cycle continues.
Simple solution kill the criminals send them off to the wars in Iraq and gaza make them do national service
[quote][p][bold]ADSL89[/bold] wrote: What, so you lot would rather people come out of prison the same way they go in, and just continue the cycle of crime?. If prison is meant to be a punishment, surely when they come out of prison, they should have a chance at making a life for themselves, and stay out of trouble. Therefore, prison should be a productive time, aimed at cutting the rate of re-offending. This sort of thing can aid rehabilitation, hence it's a good thing. People prioritize the victims, and that is a valid stance, but from a practical standpoint, you have to look at both sides, otherwise the cycle continues.[/p][/quote]Simple solution kill the criminals send them off to the wars in Iraq and gaza make them do national service Kirsty666
  • Score: -2

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