This week’s amazing guest is the inspirational Brenda Birungi, aka Lady Unchained. Lady Unchained is a Poet and founder of Unchained Poetry, a platform for artists with experience of the criminal justice system.
In 2008, 20-year-old Brenda got into a fight in a club whilst trying to protect her sister from being attacked. Serving 11 months of her prison sentence—her life changed completely. Whilst her experience was shocking Brenda looks back on and forward to a bright future with a mission to prove there is life after prison. Through poetry she tells her own personal story and the story of those with similar lived experience, that as she says are often left untold due to shame, stigma, and negative labels.
Lady Unchained has worked with several charities, hosted inspirational story telling nights, though poetry and music performed by artists who have experienced the justice system first-hand. She also co hosts for National Prison Radio’s show We are Straightline, a show about getting out and staying out of prison.
Brenda’s life has been anything other than linear, but she is most definitely on the way up and making a positive impact. This is Your London Legacy.
“A key is a symbol of freedom—so to give somebody a key, for me, only made me feel like they were mocking me.”
Brenda moved out at 17, a young age no doubt, with plenty to learn about herself and the world. She did have a dependable personality, as she was always being called upon to help people out with this that or the other, but this made it hard for her to reach out and ask for help herself. Perhaps this dovetailed one fateful night at a party, where her sister was attacked, and through her intervention—ended up taking a year-long probation that placed her in prison.
“Everything in jail that you say, do—has an effect on when you get out. What privileges you have. Everything.”
Strangely enough, it was the poor treatment she received in jail that led her to start writing poetry. Writing notes and journaling about the different injustices she faced on a daily basis there—including not being accepted as “British”, which led to her hunger striking and eventually being transferred to another prison. But she studied English and got her A levels while in jail and continued to write upon her eventual release—a whole other adventure in itself where she had to rediscover who Brenda was through volunteering and art.
Brenda came across National Prison Radio, and after her first performance on We Are Straightline, knew she had gone to jail for a reason and wanted to dedicate herself to “Lady Unchained” her moniker for her post jail self and the art she creates.
While Covid in itself has brought about triggering memories just with the term “lockdown”—you can still come across her work online until venues reopen up. Brenda is a lovely soul and overly talented poet, and you’d be doing a disservice to yourself to not seek out her works and even TEDx talk online.