Music in Prisons
An effective formula
Music in Prisons has sculpted an effective project formula based upon five days of intensive creative music making. The aim of each project is to support a group of prisoners, who rarely get the chance to engage in the arts, to form a band and generate their own original and innovative music. The music is also professionally recorded and copies of the CD are sent to the participants and their families, a tangible outcome that creates a lasting sense of achievement for all.
There is always, however, flexibility in our approach. Each new group brings with them a different set of experiences, abilities and needs, and the project’s structure is often re-designed to accommodate these issues; for example, by trying out new ways to effectively engage with younger age groups or very vulnerable adults. We also grab each and every opportunity to shake things up creatively – further enhancing the experience for everyone involved – with occasional special collaborative cross-arts projects.
We are now also running key Musician in Residence placements to complement and extend the impact of our intensive projects.
“I consider it a privilege to be involved in work that allows me to witness people changing as they discover the wealth of resources that they have inside them, possibly ones that they had no idea they could access.” Rex Horan, Project Leader
Should prisoners be having fun?
If you think this all sounds like a lot of fun, in some ways you would be right: Music in Prisons projects can be full of laughter and energy, lifting the mood of all those taking part and making their presence felt throughout the prison community. But make no mistake – projects are not an easy option or a leisurely way to pass a week in prison. Projects are always a challenge; requiring participants to step right outside their comfort zones and demonstrate dedication, bravery, empathy and respect for each other’s ideas in order to successfully create, rehearse and perform their new music.
“It never ceases to amaze me how people can find within themselves the capacity to grapple with something so new and totally alien to anything they might have experienced up to that point. There are highs and there are lows. It’s a real journey for all of us.” Charles Stuart, Project Leader
It’s a sad reality that the lives of the majority of the prison population have been blighted by disadvantage of one form or another; a lack of educational opportunity, poverty and poor mental health are sadly common themes. Also indisputable is the knowledge we all share; that somehow, music reaches us on a deeply emotional level. Through the powerful medium of music, Music in Prisons is enabled to create positive learning experiences that can help to raise the self-confidence and aspirations of men, women and young people in prisons, open doors to other forms of education and learning, and contribute to a reduction in re-offending rates.
“The sheer joy of being able to create music was incredibly validating. Regardless of what else happens to me whilst in prison, this is something that has enriched me and […] has helped me re-evaluate a lot of things about me.” Participant, HMP Whatton
The genres of music created are always directed by the participants. In doing so, they are able to share their own musical and cultural influences, experiment with music that interests and excites them, and make their voices heard in an environment which does not generally value individualism. It is our privilege to encourage this access to music; for the pure joy of it and for the humanity that it brings to the prison regime. The benefits of Music in Prisons projects are also experienced not only by the individual participants, but by their families, the prison environment as a whole, and the wider community.
Working with prisons
While projects deliver many positive results, the complex security issues around taking three musicians and a van full of musical instruments and recording equipment into a prison can sometimes cause difficulties. Tenacity, therefore, is a necessary staff trait that has been, and will continue to be, relied upon in a climate of funding cuts and staff shortages which see prison staff stretched further than ever before. A continued emphasis on developing strong and positive partnerships with prisons is crucial; the backing and co-operation of prison staff from the inside has been the key to our on-going success and has enabled us to carry on and access prisons during some tough times. Prison staff are often prepared to add to their workloads, in the knowledge that we are ultimately working towards the same goals.
“On paper this project would not have happened, but a partnership approach and the inspirational drive of the staff from Music in Prisons made it work. To be able to hear men sing and play instruments in an environment that restricts this creativity is a very emotional experience. We cannot fully measure the impact on the learner, but we can see the journey they go on. The skills that they develop; the challenges of working together to produce an album in a week; and the determination and guts that are required to perform in front of an audience will remain with them all their future lives.”
Learning & Skills Manager, HMP Risley
Read about the impacts our projects have on participants: