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Lady Martha Bruce to open art exhibition about healing the damage to mental wellbeing after prison

Posted on 19, November 2015

Eve McDougall with one of her paintings

Eve McDougall with one of her paintings

Former prison governor, Lady Martha Bruce, is to open an art exhibition highlighting the journey of one woman who used art as a tool to heal the damage to her mental wellbeing and rebuild her life after prison.

The exhibition, entitled Breakthrough and hosted by Together for Mental Wellbeing, will feature over 100 pieces of artwork created by Eve McDougall, an artist, poet, public speaker, author and tutor.

Compiled over the course of 30 years, the artwork tracks Eve’s journey which started when she was sent to an adult Victorian prison for breaking a baker’s window to steal some bread for her and her hungry siblings, when she was just 15 years old. This was where Eve met Lady Martha Bruce, the Governor of Gateside Prison, which was Scotland’s only prison for women at the time.

The exhibition explores Eve’s struggles upon leaving prison and how she has since rebuilt her life, including by teaching creative writing, poetry and art to other women who have experienced incarceration.

Eve’s experiences of the prison system are not uncommon. 51% of women in prison have a severe and enduring mental illness1 and around 80% are incarcerated for petty, non-violent offences2. The circumstances and needs of these women are frequently overlooked and unaddressed.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Together is launching an updated edition of its guide offering professionals the tools to recognise and respond to the health and wellbeing needs of those in contact with the criminal justice system. The guide gives practical guidance on spotting potential issues, as well as the tools to refer individuals to specialist community-based support services that can improve their wellbeing and tackle their offending. A common sense approach to working with defendants and offenders with mental health and wellbeing needs will be available to download from Thursday 26th November via this link.

Eve McDougall said: “Art offered me the freedom for my mind to recover and learn how to cope with the damage that had been done. It has been a great escape and taught me structure; a beginning, a middle and an end – I was so happy to get to the end of a piece and now I can’t believe I am preparing for my first ever solo exhibition and sharing a collection of my work with you the public.

30 years ago I was in prison, now I’m an artist, poet and creative writing tutor, supporting other women in contact with the criminal justice system. I hope my journey will inspire everyone, from professionals to those in contact with the criminal justice system, that they can also have a positive future.”

Lady Martha Bruce said: “I am honoured to be opening Eve’s first solo art exhibition. Eve has displayed determination, despite enormous difficulties and setbacks, and has now developed a wonderful collection of art work and so much more. I am proud to open this exhibition up to you all to see her journey through her eyes and hope that in some way it can offer a glimpse of hope to others.”

Linda Bryant, Director of Criminal Justice Services at Together said: “Eve’s journey from prison to holding a solo art exhibition is profoundly inspiring. Thanks to Eve’s sheer drive, her creative spirit and the friendships she has made and sustained over many years, Eve has made a better life for herself. But for many, many vulnerable people in contact with the criminal justice system their needs often go unidentified. Our updated guide will give professionals the tools they need to ensure that people get the right support to lead a fulfilling life away from crime.”


Another of Eve's paintings that will be on display

Another of Eve’s paintings that will be on display

The exhibition will run from Friday 27th November until Tuesday 26th January and is open Monday to Friday, 9.00am – 5pm at the offices of Together for Mental Wellbeing, 12 Old Street, London, EC1V 9BE. Admission is free. Nearest tube is Barbican.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact the Communications Team on 0207 7807 316.

With special thanks to Geraldine Artuso who helped curate the exhibition