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Conviction led to poetry prize

The Brighton based artist said he wrote the work during his time on probation for “a minor shoplifting offence”

    A convicted shoplifter who won an award for poetry has said that it has inspired him to turn his life around.

    Geoffrey Austin, who is serving a 14-month suspended sentence for theft, won a Koestler Award — an annual celebration of art produced by prisoners and offenders — for a series of poems about Israel and Tel Aviv.

    The Brighton based artist said he wrote the work during his time on probation for “a minor shoplifting offence” and it has turned a negative experience into something positive.

    “I’ve never won anything before, so to have my work recognised gives me the confidence I can do something good with it,” he added.

    Mr Austin,31, told the JC that he had fallen on hard times, leading him to steal a bag of food.

    He said: “I had never been in trouble before. I had just gone through a tough time because I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome quite late in life which was a shock.

    “I was finding things hard. I use poetry as a way of expressing myself.”

    He entered the competition after his probation officer told him about it. He said: “I didn’t think anything of it when I sent my work in, but then I found out I had won out of 7,000 entries.”

    Mr Austin, whose family are members of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue, said his poems were about the culture and atmosphere of Tel Aviv, having lived there for three years.

    He said: “My family are very pleased for me and I am glad I have been able to turn this experience around.”

    Some winners will be included in an exhibition of art by offenders, curated by Antony Gormley, at the Royal Festival Hall until November 15. Mr Gormley said: “I want to celebrate this great resource: the imaginations of the 85,000 prisoners currently in UK prisons and those in secure establishments.

    “Art is a place in which you can do what you like. It need not be for or about anyone else but the artist.”

     

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