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Talented host hopes exhibition breaks the stigma

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Newcastle’s Damien Linnane is always ready to take on anything thrown his way. 

That couldn’t have been clearer than in 2015 when he was handed a prison sentence for a series of crimes that were described as “vigilante justice.”

“I was in there for 10 months and it was the most constructive period of my life,” he said.

“I spent five months writing a novel and then I spent the other five months teaching myself how to draw. 

A lot of people spend their time being angry at their situation but I thought there is no point being angry because it won’t change anything.

“I decided to instead view prison as a once in a lifetime opportunity rather than a punishment.”

Fast forward six years and Linnane has well and truly turned his life around.

He’s released a novel, written a memoir, continued to work on and display his art and has just completed a major illustrating contract with publisher Penguin Random House. 

His newest project involves an art exhibition and a podcast on the prison system. 

Called Broken Chains: Prisoners Unlocking Potential, Linnane has created artworks of people who turned their lives around in prison. 

“I’ve got 10 portraits in it of people who I find motivating or inspirational,” he said. 

“I want to change the stereotype because there are a lot of good people who end up in prison as the result of being put in a position that could have happened to anyone. 

“There are also people who have accepted their mistakes and are trying hard to make amends.

“It’s all about your attitude. 

“The best and the worst people I have met in my life were in prison.”

Linnane worked on the exhibition for about three months, he slowly created the artworks as he navigated through the rest of his commitments. 

The exhibition opened last week and will run for 16 weeks until Sunday 7 November at Wallsend Public Library (30 Bunn Street). 

To coincide with the display Newcastle Library also commissioned Linnane to create a podcast on the prison system. 

He hopes it’ll further help change public perception. 

“They said to me: ‘we want this to be bigger than an art exhibition’,” he said. 

“They wanted me to make a podcast series on the prison system at the same time to help shine a light on what goes on.

“People are really uninformed about the prison system and how chaotic and poorly managed things can be in there, and how few resources they have for rehabilitation and education.

“So we’re trying to show what it’s like and break the stigma a bit.”

With three episodes in the first season, the podcast explores topics like prison labour, mental health and trying to find meaningful employment after being released.

“We brainstormed ideas and I decided that in each episode I would interview a former prisoner but focus on one specific issue,” he said.

With four episodes in the first season, the podcast explores topics like prison labour, mental health, trying to find meaningful employment after being released and becoming an artist in prison.

“We’ve recorded the episodes for the first season and we’re going to see how well it goes and do a second season if it takes off,” Linnane said.

“We want to humanise prisoners and bring awareness to what’s going on in there. 

 “I just want to open people’s eyes a bit because there are a lot of misconceptions.”

The first episode of the podcast will be released on Monday 9 August with another episode to be released each week the following three weeks.

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