This week is Prison Music Week!
Introducing the Jan Jail Jam: a national celebration of the power of music in prison!
From 23rd - 30th January, prison music charities are getting together to put on music events in prisons up and down the country. Beating Time, Sing Inside, Changing Tunes, Music in the Ville, Finding Rhythms, Prison Choir Project, The Irene Taylor Trust, and more, will be showcasing the huge variety and quality of music being made in our prisons.
Music is a life line for many inside. It takes all forms: choirs, bands, instrumentalists, song-writing, to name a few. Much of it gets recorded or performed for other people serving sentences, their families and support networks.
Music brings people together. It enables us to express deep, shared emotions. When we perform for others we prove to ourselves and to them that we have something to give and we have worth. Music also improves mental health and creates a strong sense of social inclusion.
Some of us go in every week, year-round, to build musical communities in prison. We become assets the prison can use. We sing and play at everything – from celebrations to funerals. Some of us do short intensive ambitious projects, perform original songs, write and record albums, put on operas and musical theatre productions. Whatever the medium, music has the power to transport, sooth, heal and hold us.
Why Prison Music Week?
Covid silenced all music in our prisons for over two years. Many of us provided in-cell activities remotely but this was not the same. What was missing was the connection between people making music together, the palpable energy in a room and watching people’s confidence and spirits lift week by week.
We want 2023 to be a celebration of community music - a reminder that the arts and creativity hold great value not just to individuals, but wider prison life. From the wealth of academic evidence, to prime time television shows on choirs, we all know group music-making reduces stress, builds positive relationships and improves mental health. This is more important than ever in prisons - over 50% of the population are reported to have mental health issues.
So why now? Because at last we can! We want to support the people who live and work in prisons. The mental health crisis affects all of us, not just those in their charge. And we want to remind others – loudly – that in a climate where budget cuts and staff shortages mean huge pressures on resources, that the arts, and in particular making music together, matters. We must continue to make creative activities accessible in prison for the wellbeing of people serving sentences and the prison community as a whole. We all have the experience and evidence to show that music helps to reduce stress, violence and self-harm in prison, while also creating aspiration and hope.
What are we doing?
As small organisations, we are banding together to support each other and raise awareness of all the music projects happening across the prisons we work in. All week our music directors and musicians in residence will be delivering choir sessions, instrument lessons, song-writing workshops, collaborative performances, and more! We will be sharing our events across social media, in print and on radio stations in prison and out.
We want this to be the first of many annual Prison Music Weeks. And we hope this will continue a much needed conversation to amplify the importance of music and creativity in our prisons. Please support us!