It has been a busy few weeks for the Prison Choir Project - a recent launch at the China Exchange has raised over £16,000; I listened in awe to an inmate play and sing Stevie Wonder on the piano at HMP Pentonville and I'm heading to the all female HMP Drake Hall for a meeting this Thursday to discuss the possibility of putting on Britten's Ceremony of Carols. We remain committed to staging Bizet’s Carmen in Dartmoor Prison, likely to take place in July this year, and couple that with opening a merchandise store and meetings with the National Criminal Arts Association, BNP Paribas and GlaxoSmithKlein, it feels like we have a bit of momentum behind us.
So who are we? The Prison Choir Project is a charity that hopes to rehabilitate prisoners, ex‐offenders and those experiencing mental disorders through participation in and performance of music, in particular song. We run workshops in Prisons getting inmates singing alongside professionals, working towards concerts and performance opportunities.
Why? We face a crisis in Prison and barely a week goes by without another headline grabbing story - riots, drugs and drones, overcrowding and staff shortages. The stats are pretty frightening: half (51%) of people entering prison were assessed as having literacy skills expected of an 11 year old; there were 32,313 self-harm incidents in 2015—a nearly 40% rise in just two years; reoffending by all recent ex-prisoners costs the economy between £9.5 and £13 billion annually. A recent interview with an ex-prison officer on LBC radio revealed just how terrifying radicalisation in prison has become. Khalid Masood had spent three years in a jail before the recent atrocities in Westminster.
How are we going to make a difference? singing opera and choral music at inmates and half reoffending rates? I doubt it, but there are many benefits to singing - physical and mental well-being, a boost to self-confidence, a sense of achievement, collaboration, pulling together to create something unique - a shared experience - cooperation, negotiation, relating to others. Confidence in one’s own abilities, in one’s self. This is the human capital in which we wish to invest. And it is this that contributes to the development of social capital - opportunities, connections, new horizons - and from my experience working with people in Prison it is worth every penny. Let's not forget that with current staff shortages many prisoners face 23 hours a day locked in their cells. If nothing else we can give them something to do.
Our great ambition - to set up prison choirs in prisons across the UK, prisoners coming together with a common aim, competing in a national prison Choir of the Year competition; a Christmas number 1; centres for arts for those recently released from Prison; a mentoring system involving local business, giving those that have committed to and benefited from our projects the chance to start again.
We hope to provide a pathway towards establishing a reduction in reoffending, building self‐esteem, improving self‐confidence and employability skills for all those involved. Let's keep hold of that key for now.
Founder - the Prison Choir Project
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