They look on, these women,
the poor in headscarves while the well-to-do
display Easter bonnets; bright colours against the dirt
and decay of prison walls, their menfolk,
fathers and husbands in country tweeds,
offered the titillation of gawking as semi-clad women,
safe in the guise of merciful benefactors.
Newgate children, incarcerated with mothers
and sisters because their father's can't cope
or were hanged for the theft of a loaf
white the merchants and bankers pocket hundreds
and fire those too wracked with hunger to work.
She works alone, this gentle lady,
driven to teach by the light of a candle
and the thin grimy air from tiny windows
high out of reach and yellow with smog and birdshit.
Children learn to write their names,
women to read the Gospels
and one day, if they survive, the hope of salvation
in a five-pound note.
© Rachel Green 2016