I had the great privilege and pleasure along with two of our choir members to go into the all women’s prison – Eastwood Park – the other week to see a Changing Tunes performance. After supporting Changing Tunes through Out There Music Bristol for over four years now and having helped raise thousands of pounds for them in that time, it was fantastic to finally be able to go into an actual prison and see firsthand the amazing work that Changing Tunes are doing. I’ve been to the shows on the ‘outside’ that they put on with ex-prisoners and they are inspirational but this was something quite different. To actually be inside a prison and see the effect that music is having on some of those prisoners was something totally new to me.
The concert was about an hour long and within that time we heard from about twelve performers, ably assisted by Changing Tunes musicians Rob, Clive and most of all Fran who works with the women in Eastwood Park every week. You could really see the bond she had built with the performers and consequently, that was reflected in the trust they invested in her, something very important when you are performing with other people. In that hour, we heard a range of music, mostly contemporary songs but also a bit of classical. Most of the ladies sung, both solo and in groups but some of them also played the piano, drums and bass guitar. As they performed, the positivity that music was bringing to them was all too apparent.
As well as Dave, Avril and myself from OTMB watching, there were also several other Changing Tunes supporters, friends and family, prison staff and the Prison Governor herself. But primarily, the audience was made up of the other prisoners. This made for an absolutely electric atmosphere but also one that was incredibly supportive. Performing to other people is never an easy thing to do and performing to your peers is generally even more difficult. So for some of those women, given the situation that they are in, to have the courage to do that was not only testament to them personally, but also to the great work that Fran and everyone else from CT is doing, day in, day out.
Some people may not have as much time for this charity as I do and I respect everyone’s right to their own opinion. But the reality is that a lot of us are very lucky, born into supportive, loving and often fairly affluent families which makes life a whole lot easier, especially when you are growing up. If you are not born with those in-built life chances and lack that basic support early on, then make a few wrong choices and before you know it, you could find yourself in the position that those ladies I saw last Friday are in. And then what? Lock them up, throw away the key and forget all about them until they are due for release? Punish them unconditionally? They will all have to be released at some point as the prisoners that Changing Tunes work with are not high security prisoners with life-long sentences but more often than not, lower risk with shorter sentences and quite often in prison because of problems with drug addictions. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for a minute suggesting that prison shouldn’t be a punishment because clearly it should be. And from what I saw, it is. It certainly didn’t tally with some of those media stories you read about prison being a holiday camp. What I saw did was a pretty grim environment in which to spend some time, let alone a lot of time. But prison should I think (as do many others) be about more than just punishment. If you can rehabilitate some of these prisoners then when they come out, it’s better for them and better for me and you, better for all of society. And this is where the work that Changing Tunes does is so utterly commendable. Their stats on the re-offending rate of prisoners who they have worked with are actually what first drew me to their work;
“Ex-prisoners who actively participate in our programme have a re-offending rate of less than 15%, compared to a national average of 61%. The very high national average for re-offending clearly demonstrates the need for our work; just preventing 4.5 people re-offending per year would pay for our entire current programme!”
Less crime, better lives, cheaper for the tax payer. It’s a no-brainer when you put it like that, right? Or at least it is for me. It left me wondering – as with so many other things – why it’s left to a charity to do this work and fill in the gaps left by the state. The benefits that music brings are often (although not always as demonstrated by CT’s stats and lots of other studies) intangible and I think quite often that is why – along with other creative pursuits – government for example doesn’t see the value in the arts in the same way as more ‘academic’ subjects. But quite apart from knowing what music has brought me in my life, I have seen firsthand the benefits that music brings to the prisoners and ex-prisoners who Changing Tunes work with;
- How to work and build relationships with others.
- How to co-operate better with others.
- Learning to trust others.
- The potential to inspire you, both musically but also more widely in other areas of your life, feeding your soul, making you feel more uplifted.
- Giving you a more positive outlook on life and quite often, a sense of purpose.
- The value of hard work and the reward of success that it brings – you get out what you put in.
- How to use your mind creatively and the value of creativity.
- Bravery and courage – performing in front of others, putting yourself out there.
- Self belief and self-empowerment.
These are all things that are important for anybody, let alone someone struggling in their life, battling with drug addiction or in prison and trying to get back on track. This is why I am really proud to continue working with and fundraising for Changing Tunes, why I’m excited about potential ideas we have going forward, why I wish them all the best for the future and why I’m already looking forward to going back into a prison soon, hopefully next time to actually work with some of the prisoners. And when I do, I’ll let you know! Until then…
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