The act of putting pen to paper has faded, as modern life and technology has pushed it to the sidelines.
But there are places where the age-old art of letter writing is still strong. Where time to reflect on life, or to reach out to loved ones, on paper still exists.
Prison is one of those places.
The world of this dying art is explored in the spoken word performance, Letters From the Inside, where the thoughts of prisoners from the Loddon Prison Precinct and and Tarrengower Women’s Prison central Victoria are examined.
The letters come from a prisoners’ creative writing program co-ordinated by Lisa D’Onofrio.
She has been running the program for almost four years after expanding it from work she was already doing with the prisons.
“I have done programs where guys read stories for their children and I record them onto CD to send to their families, which was very popular” she said.
“From that we developed other programs including creative writing.”
I was thinking of ways to showcase their work in a unique way. You can always do an anthology but I thought a performance would more accessible.Lisa D'Onofrio
Letters featured came from prisoners writing to their past or future selves.
“It's about using the letter as a format to showcase their writing,” she said.
“Most of us don’t write letters these days but letters are quite important when you're in prison.
“There aren't many ways to communicate to the outside and letter writing one of the things still happens in prison, it's important to them.”
Ms D’Onofrio looked at various forms of creative writing in her prison program including poetry and short stories.
“The letter itself is an interesting form. It has a (clear) beginning middle and end which can be helpful to people who might be new to creative writing,” she said.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to express themselves and have the opportunity to improve their literacy.”
From working with prisoners in the creative writing project, Ms D’Onfrio saw the classes helping prisoners.
“I haven't seen anything but positive results,” she said.
“It is a chance for them to respect themselves, work on their writing skills and take time to reflect on things and write something with a purpose.
“It's quite exciting for them to share (their work) his with loved ones. They have done something productive that they're please with.”
A number of prisoners took the chance to pen something to themselves.
“Quite a lot of inmates wrote to their past self or were looking to future and what they hoped to happen.
“We did a bit about darkness and silence as a theme. They go together and it’s interesting because it’s hard to get time in a prison when you’re not surrounded by other people.
“How the themes are interpreted is up to prisoners. Some were general some more visual. It was good experience regardless of someone’s capacity (to write).”
The capacity to write is something that prisoners have relied on for centuries.
Ms D’Onofrio said a number of writers who have been imprisoned were known for their letters from the inside.
“Martin Luther King wrote a lot of letters in prison, so did Oscar Wilde. It is surprising how many writers have been imprisoned,” she said.
“The Jerilderie Letter was dictated by Ned Kelly, who was illiterate, showed that even people who were illiterate had a voice.”
When Ms D’Onofrio saw some of the writings being created by central Victoria inmates, she wanted to showcase the work in a unique way.
“I knew they had something to say, they were enthusiastic about attending classes,” she said.
“So I was thinking of ways to showcase their work in a unique way. You can always do an anthology but I thought a performance would more accessible and a different way of presenting it.”
Local theatre director Kate Stones and actors Stephen Mitchell, Donna Steven and Hector MacKenzie spent the week immersing themselves in selected works from Ms D’Onofrio’s writing project.
They performed them on Friday, July 6, in Castlemaine and Saturday afternoon (July 7) in Maryborough.
The cast had a condensed rehearsal schedule of one week where they became absorbed in the works.
“The content is really strong and great to work with,” Ms Stones said. “It's not literary in same way a professional writer would write. It's very real and heartfelt.
Actors read the letters together and wrote responses for themselves as a way to connect with the text.
“One question for actors is ‘how do we represent someone who can effectively not speak for themselves’ and ask what it means to represent someone who is incarcerated,” Ms Stones said.
“It’s real people talking about their real lives. That’s quite a responsibility that I know the actors felt.”
Ms Stones said something that shone through was the humanity of the people who authored the letters.
“One four page letter is really a chronicle of one person’s life,” she said. “It is written to their younger self and it looks in great detail at what led them to being where they are today.
“You get that these people are human beings and that they've had challenging circumstances in their lives that led them into a difficult place.”