Changes made to Incentives and Earned Privileges for prisoners has sparked a huge response from artists, writers, charities, academics, ex prisoners and many many others over the last week.
One implication of these changes is that prisoners can no longer be given books or art materials from outside prison, unless they earn or are given the money to buy them. On all sides of this debate there is agreement that books and basic art materials, such as paper and pencil, are essential for all prisoners – not least because they support safe imprisonment and effective rehabilitation. Koestler Trust statement
Feelings run high around these issues, so I can only speak from the perspective of one individual who set up a Social Enterprise four years ago with one main aim – to develop and manage creative projects with social benefits.
Over the four years I’ve worked with a wide range of individuals, groups and organisations all in need of some inspiration, motivation and support to get their message out there or just to improve their own private wellbeing.
In 2012 we partnered on the My Living Voice: Project which aimed to highlight the lived experience of the judicial system by ex- offenders, using arts workshops, materials and art work to raise awareness of issues and barriers faced with resettlement. The project culminated in a very professional exhibition containing some incredible artwork. Yes, this was a community based arts project, but all our participants were self taught in prison and in many cases it was art that gave them the strength to make changes and get through.
Now, each to their own, but I’d like to share a little bit of the feedback from that project and I hope my standpoint on this news issue is clear.
“Prior to prison I had little if no experience of art in the practical sense, and never really contemplated that it would form such a major part of my life. I have received no professional guidance and am completely self taught. I only wish that I had found art earlier in my life. The feeling of tranquillity that I experience when absorbed in this form of expression is to me unique it’s as though I have been granted a new sense of life. I am constantly learning and very much at the commencement of my journey. Through the “My Living Voice” art group I have been able to expand my comfort zone and have been able to push my boundaries into new materials, methods and disciplines. I have so many new avenues to explore.” A – member of the Art Group
Outcome: Increased confidence and well being in participants. Increased skills development in participants.
“The project has given me a focus – something to achieve and helped me get back into something I haven’t done for a while. It has given me a chance to look back at my life and get things in perspective. Also it ties in with the fact that I am going into rehab quite soon. I do have a chance to change things and this project has helped me to see that. It has given a focus and purpose back into my life.” J – member of the Art Group
Outcome: Reduced likelihood of misuse of substances/deterioration of health/mental wellbeing.
The Exhibition – An exhibition of the work produced by the Art Group took place in December 2012 at St Nicholas Church in Leicester. The poster for the exhibition and its title, “The Man Inside”, were ideas and designs from group members. Over 200 people came to the exhibition. The art work was available for sale with profits partly going to the artists and partly to fund a continuation of the art beyond the Innovation Challenge Programme. A number of exhibits were chosen to go on display at New Walk Art Gallery, Leicester.
Outcomes: Public awareness raised of personal experiences of judicial system and barriers to resettlement of ex-offenders via a number of open events.
“My Living Voice gave residents the opportunity to channel their feelings and thoughts, of their experiences of the Criminal Justice System, into paintings, sculptures, installations and scripts. It has also given them the opportunity to develop their confidence and attain new skills. The supportive environment within which the programme was delivered allowed residents to not only be within a learning environment but also to build positive peer relations. “ Viv Michell, Regional Manager Adullam