Paperchains Live

Published by Sam Ruddock on

‘Articulated the thoughts, feelings and traumas of my lockdown experience. I’m eternally grateful’.

Inmate at HMP Leyhill

Stories of lockdown from people with experience of prison, homelessness, addiction, and families of people in the armed forces.

These are stories from inside the Covid-19 storm. Powerful, often irreverent, heartfelt: words that history cannot forget. Through live performance, animation, film, and voice-over, Story Machine presents an anthology of lives that will step off the page to hold hands with you.

Paperchains Live is co-developed with The Outsiders Project and funded by Arts Council England through the National Lottery Project Grants programme.



The Tour

Paperchains Live toured prisons, community spaces, and festivals in spring 2022 to rapturous praise.

‘Inspiring and absolutely amazing. This has meant so much to me.’

Inmate at Eastwood Park

‘Nearly brought me to tears. It has been a long time since I’ve been inspired.’

Inmate at HMP Portland

Watch Paperchains Live


Show Credits

Directed by Jo Billingham
Performed by Gary Lee
Tech designed by Geoff Stevens and operated by Jo Billingham and Geoff Stevens
Voice-overs by Mark Gee, Daniel Lear, and Bianca Rose
Sound design by John Ravenov
Script by Gary Lee, Nell Leyshon and Sam Ruddock, along with all the authors of individual pieces.

Produced in association with


About Paperchains

Paperchains was created by Penned-Up co-founder David Kendall and writer and prison librarian Alan Smith. They wanted to ensure that the history of the Covid-19 lockdowns includes voices that can so often be marginalised – those with experience of prison, of homelessness, of addiction.

Paperchains received entries from across the UK. In words and visual art they share the experiences of prisoners spending 23 hours each day locked in a cell, inhaling and exhaling, over and over again, the same recycled air. For months on end. With no visitors. They tell of addicts who were just starting to recover and rebuild, only to find themselves back on the precipice. They tell of the person down your street whose house was never really a home.

These are voices from inside the storm. From people whose stories are rarely heard. Powerful, often irreverent, heartfelt: experiences that history should not forget.

Paperchains has featured in The Big Issue, The Bookseller, and Inside Time.

Buy the Paperchains anthology