If you think you know my story think again.

It’s not like anything I’ve ever written. It is based on The Files.  My search for the files is documented in a BBC radio 4 doc I made in 2010 called  Child of The State.  At the end of the documentary I was told ‘the files have not been found’.   Five years later on July 2015 I received a letter from The Authority  “we have found your files. We would like to send them to you”. 

With  evidence of the first eighteen years of my life laid out in the files  I sued The Authority with solicitor David Greenwood.  As part of the legal process I had to undergo a detailed psychological  analysis which was formulated into a report.  I chose to hear The Report for the first time in front of a live audience on stage at The Royal Court Theatre. I did this for very clear reasons. This was not the files.

In April 2018,  three years after  contacting David Greenwood of  Switalskis Solicitors  , forty years after my first written enquiry to see the files and almost a year since The Report made national news, The Authority finally settled.

This photograph was taken in Chambers after an eight hour mediation meeting with The Authority. On my left is lawyer David greenwood. On my right is barrister William Chapman.

Once all this was done I could do what I was born to do. Write. I returned to the original files. My Name is Why will be published in twenty three days. If you think you know my story think again. This story has never been told.  My Name is why can be pre-ordered from your local bookshop or online.

56 thoughts on “If you think you know my story think again.

  1. It was an uncomfortable privilege to be present at the Report. Now I’m looking forward to hearing more of your story at Home in Manchester very soon.

  2. Copy pre-ordered. To say I can’t wait to read it doesn’t feel right. I am sure it will be inspiring and disturbing, will provoke outrage and tears. As part of a survivor-led organisation, your strength and eloquence in speaking truth to power keeps us going. Thank you.

  3. I will certainly be buying your book. I met you once when I knew nothing of your story and the thing I noticed most was your beautiful bright, love filled eyes.
    I can’t begin to imagine where you’ve been and what you’ve experienced, but I thank you for the guts you’ve shown to see this through.
    Not many people can be named legend in their lifetime but you are Lemn! and I feel privileged to have been in your presence that one time
    Big love

  4. Hello
    I knew you from school
    You always had a beautiful smile! But little did we know?
    I will definitely buy your book/story

    Good luck with your future. You definitely need a break!!

  5. I first heard you Lemn on Desert Island Discs. Your voice and your story grabbed my attention and spoke to me. Since then I’ve followed your story and taken hope from your morning tweets. I have just preordered your book on Audible so that I can have the pleasure of listening to you. Although I’m sure it won’t be an easy listen, it’s a story that needs to be told. Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. I strongly believe that your book should become compulsory reading on every social work course. This would surely enable everyone who goes on to work in the care system, to have a much better understanding of the responsibility they have, not just while a child is in care, but also the part they play in shaping the future of every child and young person they share the responsibility for. ‘Lessons must be learned from this,’ is a phrase that is frequently spouted following an inquiry into the abuse of a child or young person and, if ever there was a situation that demonstrates just how many lessons can and MUST be learned it is your story Lemn.

    • When it comes out and people see it and most importantly ‘feel’ what happened to me then I hope it does become required reading. Thankyou

      • Your book was delivered yesterday Lemn, and I spent the afternoon reading it. Nobody could fail to feel what happened to you. One thing that shocked me was not only were you given the wrong name, but sometimes they even failed to use that, referring to you as ‘The child.’ ‘THE CHILD,’ what does that say about how they viewed you when they couldn’t even say your name. Thankfully, you had one amazing social worker who really did care about you, and it’s great to see you are still in contact with Norman Mills. I wish you good luck with your book, and am sure it will be a best seller.

  7. Just read your poem ‘let there be peace,’ after hearing two people on radio 2 talk briefly about it saying good things. I’m going to get your Pbook today if I can – I just read a brief history of you & it makes me feel so ungrateful for all the things I moan or unsatisfied about. You seem a truly lovely courageous person. Wish you a fulfilled happy life Lemmy from a woman who’s 71 and so grateful there are people like you in this world xx

  8. So powerful. I was also at the Royal Court and spent most of the evening in tears. Cannot wait to read your memoir. You know how important this is for you personally and for the care experienced community who won’t get to read their files, or feel so alone or unwell and read for comfort and for those whose silence cannot be unbroken. I am as always in awe of your journey and the path you have created for those that will follow in your footsteps. Much love.

  9. I first became aware of Lemn Sissay on Desert Island Discs, and have followed your work and story since then. Your daily tweets helped me through a sad time. I have pre-ordered the book on Audible so that I can have the pleasure of hearing you read your extraordinary story out loud.
    Thank you.

  10. As you passed through our year at high school,
    I always felt you you had 2 wonderful qualities…
    An artistic and witty intelligence, shielded by a force field of super tough resilience.
    Well done on all your achievements.
    Your poetry is incredible and I’m looking forward to reading your book, perhaps as I sit on the new bench on top of the ‘Green Hill’.
    A good spot to reminisce.
    All the best.

  11. Hi Lemn. Let me introduce myself. I am a White guy slightly older than yourself, living in Longsight, Manchester. From my southern English accent and the benefit of a good secondary school, you might think of me as middle class, although my background is modest.

    I have never had a career as such, but for many years have been involved in supporting homeless asylum seekers and refugees. I have learnt much about the world from living with them, especially about Ethiopia.

    Once upon a time, as you identified, I liked to think of myself as a hero, working outside the corrupt system, self-funded through low wage employment. It was very clearly an expression of my own sense of failure. But I’m past all that now.

    Do I think I’m better than those I help? I am full of admiration and respect for them. Are asylum seekers morally corrupt? The truth is, we are all morally corrupted by living in a corrupt system.

    I’m not better, but luckier: privileged if you will. And I use whatever privilege I have to do what I can.

    And by the way, when you turned on me for my suggestion of how to help Ezana’s case, that I should do the work, it came to my mind that, whatever your background, in many ways you are now the privileged one: you’re the Chancellor for God’s sake, you have thousands of followers and influential contacts, my letters or other efforts end up filed in the bin. And I know you do use your privileged position to good effect.

    It feels odd to me and unfair to be condemned by a public figure: all the more so as your responses to others are so different. It doesn’t matter, but it feels unjust. I’ve always tried to be supportive of you.

    Anyway, I’m sorry I made you angry. I quite understand if you don’t care to reply or decide to block me, it’s fine. If you wish to respond privately, I’m on jimquk@gmail.com. or you can get me on Messenger.

    Good luck with all your work


    • Hi,

      Thanks for your message Jim.

      Good luck with your work and thankyou for wishing good luck on mine.

      Best Wishes


  12. I heard you talking this morning to Sam Leith on the Spectator BOOKS podcast. I wake up early everyday here in Melbourne, Australia as I am a researcher/writer and like to start writing early. I know that accent….I think to myself— I am originally from Wigan, so I listened all the more intently to every word of your story.
    It is all the more poignant for me as I am researching contemporary views of charity with respect to children with disabilities, and I have looked in depth at the workhouse system, institutions and children’s homes and focused on Lancashire. Never for a minute did I imagine that children in these places did not have parents/families, nor even less likely, that their internment was an action based on a whim of parents.
    I look forward to reading your book.
    Congratulations and many best wishes for your future endeavors.

    Alison Marchbank

    • Yes Alison. Ou attitudes to children are connected to the charity that started withthepoor laws and poor houses. Dickens saw it all!

  13. Morning Lemn – a week to go before I see you at Home in Mcr and I’m looking forward to it. Meanwhile, I’ve been listening to the Radio 4 episodes and yesterday my son and his friend are in the next room (they are both 11) Friends son says “who is that talking on your mums phone” . My son: “oh that’s Lemn. My mum likes him. He writes poems and stuff. Loads of bad things happened to him when he was our age though”. Friend : “like what?” My son : bad stuff, like his mum and dad not wanting him and kicking him out. He only took a biscuit”. Friend: “ I take biscuits”. My son: “so do I”. Friend – “….hmmm… have you got his address? Shall we send him some biscuits of his own”. My son: “ don’t be stupid. He’s grown up now. He can buy his own biscuits”….. friend: “oh ok… hope he’s ok though”. We hope you’re ok Lemn x

  14. The people who did this to you should be prosecuted. They should be locked up. They should be beaten. Their crimes are as bad as any paedophile’s. They are paedophobes. That they should ever have had any say over children is a crime as great as those of the 19th and early 20th centuries by “childrens’ institutions” which are now acknowledged.

    These people are still alive, and should be prosecuted with the full force of the law.

    • That I didn’t disappear and have become visible and reclaimed my memory is enough. I only did what any child should – I remembered. That is enough.
      revenge is not what I want. The government has paid its dues to me. The institution is ultimtely responsible for what happened.

      • I’m sorry to have to post this here but I’ve tried every other way, including sending you a Twitter direct message.

        I want to *unsubscribe*! The links in the e-mail *do not work*!

        I posted one comment, read your answer and thanks for that, but I don’t want to follow all the comments now.

        Please unsubscribe me!

        After unsubscribing me, please feel free to remove this comment as of course it’s off-topic.

        Thank you!

        • Honestly I am absolutely trying to unsubscribe you. I PROMISE. I just need to work out how. I am SERIOUSLY sorry for the inconvenience caused.

        • Please help me here. I have now found the list of subscribers. What is the email you have registered with because I can not find this one!! pol@ I am sorry if this is frustrating you.

  15. Lemn you were on fire with enthusiasm tonight at The Royal Court for your reading of My Name is Why. As a fellow Leigh CE High School pupil in the 1980s, brought up on the Hag Fold Estate with family on Milton Close at the time you lived there, I was not surprised how much your story resonates. That you speak with humour helps to make the damaged feel closer to being whole and closer to being fully human. To have lived with, through and beyond cruelty and rejection as you have done and to be bold and brave enough to tell the story and yet kind enough to do so with fun as well as with passion is beyond generosity.
    The Leigh CE pupils of the 1980s will identify with the diminutive deputy head with the trouser suit, Ken Dodd teeth and the smoke-filled office…that she handed you a book of well-thumbed poetry was such a contrast to the misuse of authority so prevalent in The Authority.
    I read my copy of your book from beginning to end on Thursday afternoon when it dropped through my letterbox and wept that none of us could see what was in front of our eyes. I was even more shocked to find that when my wife got home she had been a regular visitor to Wood End in her teens, visiting monthly as part of a church group in the mid to late eighties. She described the eerie silence as the boys moved, filed in, sat, listened and left. Years later during her training as a doctor, she treated some of the most challenging prisoners at Parkhurst when it was a Category A prison with an unenviable reputation, but she still maintains that nothing felt as sinister as Wood End.
    There is infinite power in your story, in your success, in your poetry and in your heart. Perhaps you teach us that those who look happy on the outside aren’t always happy on the inside. Maybe silence is not always golden either…from the silence in the absence of your mother’s voice in reports of you as a baby to the silence of Wood End masking its horrors. Your book will sustain and enrich many of those who may be silent on the outside but are screaming on the inside.
    I was proud to shake your hand tonight. Thank you…from the inside.

    • Thanks man. Thankyou for your message. YES that underlying sinister vibratiob was in everything at Wood End. It is incredible that otehrs saw it. I wrote a blog about it. And yo should see the responses they are all here

  16. I wrote a blog reply yesterday, returning from the wonderful spectacle of The Royal Court. I wanted to say thank you Lemn for your book and its bravery. May I ask you not to publish it. It contains too much personal information. Thank you

  17. Dear Lemn, I think and write about love all the time, though mainly through the lens of relationships woven through all life (ecological). Reading My Name is Why has brought me so much more ~ always asking for more. The most loving as a book can ever be.
    Love and light, Ginny. x

  18. I just finished your book, thank you for writing it i hope you are at peace now. Do you have any more autobiographical work, is it nosey to ask have you met your mother?

    I wrote my story 20 years ago and it follows me around in a notebook, yet to be published my therapist says it’s funny and written like a child would write…

    My two brothers and I were left in two children’s from ages 11, 3 and 2 suffered abuse sexual and emotional neglect with 20 other kids in one of the homes and different foster homes. I left the final one at 16 after being told I would have to pay 40 pounds in 1986 to stay living there. It never occurred to me to ask for a flat, so I got a job in a hotel.., one of my brothers had committed suicide by then.

    When my brother and I requested to see my files at 25
    we were given one flow chart of information which I still have. I was told we couldn’t have the files as there was too much information about other people.. we did find out we had a sister who had been adopted! She found us on Twitter.! There’s still always trauma and triggers and wondering… for the 3 of us we have never found our parents..

    When I asked my final social worker who went through the file with us? why they just left us there and didn’t get us adopted or fostered, he said “you seemed OK and never said you weren’t” ….

    Thanks Lemn you have pathed the way for many more of us to be brave


    sending you so much love xx

  19. When I first read your poetry, I couldn’t relate. I admired the craft and the beauty of the poetry but felt alienated by the content. Having now read ‘My Name Is Why’, I have a new-found appreciation for your work as I now understand the anger and the bitterness. I am an adoptive mother of three siblings (adopted in 2011 and 2018) and am relieved that the fostering and adoption system is so different to your experience. Even though I am younger than you, I felt a sense of guilt at the discrimination you felt and was horrified at the treatment you received. I have never before felt moved enough by a book to contact the author or contribute to a forum but I felt compelled to reach out and express my sympathy for your treatment.

    • There was a time that I was angry. As my life has been spent on stage the anger has been misdirected at times to audience.
      I have lerned that life is not so binary, that our stories are nuanced. But it remains true that if a care system is good
      for 99 young people and terrible for one I should not stand around the one and say 99 are doing well.

  20. Thank you Lemn for writing your book!!! It really moved me to the core. It took me a while to finish reading… after so many tears… but I am so glad it was recommended by another author who worked in care.

    God bless you.

  21. Dear Lemn,

    May I share this short video with you? I heard you say you love hearing adoption stories.

    Lee was my college-mate’s boss and I read her beautifully written book titled “The Missing Piece” back in the nineties. Just remembered it recently. It is an awesome testament that there is a Balm in Gilead.

    Thank you again for your openness; you have helped many by just writing your story. I believe God has put prayers on my heart, praise be to Him alone.

    Your sis,

  22. Lemn
    I first met you upstairs at Contact Theatre, now you fill Home Manchester! Living in Rusholme I am surrounded by your poems on Hardy’s Well and Oxford Road. We shared a stage at the opening of MIF 2017……you in the Chancellor robes, me on my bike.
    Just read My Name is Why. Shocking to reflect that the events described occurred in my lifetime – less than 40 years ago. I embarked on a nursing career in 1979 working at Stanley Royd Psychiatric Hospital Wakefield (formerly known as The West Riding Lunatic Asylum). Over time the name may have changed but sadly behaviour of “carers” had not. You rightly comment that the staff were the institutionalised ones. Although I did not witness physical abuse attitudes were often appalling and many of my colleagues should have been working somewhere else. I raised my concerns as best I could and moved on to train as a general nurse in Sheffield.
    In (much!) later life I have become an adoptive parent of now 16 year old twin girls at Trinity High School Hulme. It is very challenging at times but we have appreciated help from the community of adopters, the Adoption Support Fund……..and your poetry.
    Thank you

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