Out of the Shadows: the untold story of people with autism or learning disabilities

Polly Braden

Sally and I spent 2017 driving between Bristol, London and West Bromwich to visit the ten people that share their stories with us through this book. Sometimes we would arrive to find Rodney didn’t feel like seeing us, or Harry had got into trouble and was back in prison. On other occasions we would be happy to see Lindsey preparing for her first day of volunteer work after a life spent in and out of prison. This journey, at times sad and frustrating could also be inspiring and uplifting.

Polly Braden.


Following the award-winning book and national exhibition Great Interactions, which captured images and stories of the every day lives of people with learning disabilities and autism in educational and care settings, photographer Polly Braden wanted to explore what would happen if individuals did not receive the right support. This led to a new collaboration with Sandwell based arts organisation, Multistory in July 2016 culminating in a new publication, Out of the Shadows that is being presented as a photo and text exhibition at Midland Arts Centre.

The prevalence of people with learning disabilities and with autism who are in the criminal justice system is often measured in figures: they are seven times more likely to come into contact with the police than the general population; they account for just under a third of young people in custody; and when it comes to incarceration, around 10% of adults locked up in our prisons have a learning disability.

Out of the Shadows offers a very different view on the human cost of locking up people with learning disabilities and/or autism. The book, which will be published by Dewi Lewis in partnership with Multistory, contains intimate and powerful photographs by Polly Braden, seven in-depth stories by Journalist Sally Williams and three first-hand accounts. Together, they offer a valuable insight into how they ended up in prison and what happened to them.

The project launch on 7 September at MAC was close to the ten-year anniversary of Jenny Talbot’s Prison Reform Trust report ‘No One Knows’, published in 2008,  and acted as an important platform for taking the temperature of justice and the experience of people with a learning disability.

The exhibition was commissioned by Multistory and produced in partnership with Midlands Art Centre, and was exhibited at MAC (Midlands Art Centre) between 8 September to 11 November, 2018.

Copies of the book available now from Dewi Lewis Publishing and the formal publication date is 1 October 2018.