Today we launch a new video, created by the members of KIN – an arts collective of 16-24 year olds with experience of familial imprisonment, facilitated in partnership with Families Outside.
Click here to read about and watch the video.
Here’s a guest blog post from Mindy Soriti from Sydney, on visiting Unbound – our weekly music making group…
I sat in a small rehearsal studio with some of the loveliest people in Glasgow last week.
Possibly some of the loveliest people in the world.
We played some tunes together. Talked about songs and structure. Cracked jokes about nuts key changes. All the things.
One guy had started playing bass only a few weeks earlier.
Others were working musicians.
But everybody brought something.
Alongside the noise of voices and instruments.
The act of singing together, of playing music in a room, and of writing together can be wildly connecting.
Not just in a therapeutic, hearts bouncing off the walls type way (although oy vey it can be ALL of that) but in terms of community.
And if into that space of making music, you invite people from a whole bunch of different backgrounds, including people who have spent time in prison, and people whose professional work is somehow prison related, and you ask that group to make something together, the impact can be profound. For everybody.
I guess I fell a bit in love with Glasgow.
Over the last five weeks, as I have sunk deeper into the question of ‘what to do’ about post-release, and recidivism I have found myself drifting off into territory that is situated somewhere kinda down the road, and round the corner a bit from where I thought I was heading.
The whole point of my Churchill research project is to try and unpack what ‘best practice’ in post-release looks like. And although after all of these weeks of traveling, much of what I have grown to understand about the need for adequate resourcing and funding of basic transitional and reintegration services still holds, I guess what has become apparent is that it is not nearly enough to frame this conversation in terms of best practice inservice provision.
So often – too often, services that provide support to people on release from custody are funded to fix people. To address offending behaviour. To rehabilitate. Every funding submission I have ever written for my organisation (and that’s about a trillion over the years) has in one way or another suggested that this underlies what it is that we want to do.
The individual rehabilitation of people on release from prison has become the template around which consensus between the funded community sector and government now exists. It is easy. It is the template that philanthropists understand. It is the template for every media story on post-release. It is the quick explanation at the pub. But it is too often a lazy explanation. And even when it’s not lazy, it is not nearly enough.
Because once again it situates offending at the centre of the conversation; as if understanding criminality and risk are the only explanatory tools we require to ease the grip of imprisonment on those groups who are relentlessly locked up.
There are structural and cultural threads that connect incarcerated people globally. There are threads of poverty, and disconnection and and colonisation and racism. The demographics of who goes to prison are not contested by anybody. Yet when people are released we tend to ignore those threads. We adopt instead an individualised approach. We ask people to take full personal responsibility for their crime and for their imprisonment. If they’re lucky we might offer some service that is funded to assist them take this responsibility. And if they’re especially lucky, the services that are progressive might wrap concrete support around this process; housing, employment and education assistance.
And all of this is vital. People should take responsibility for their crimes. Services should be funded to assist this process. But at some point, we need to call bullshit on this being enough. We need to stop turning our backs on our structural understandings of imprisonment. And we need to start thinking carefully about what can happen at the level of community and culture to shift this. So that the process of reintegration stops justbeing an individual struggle and starts being something that all of us are part of.
Because if you stop framing the conversation in terms of curing and fixing and start thinking about it in terms of building community, you find yourself on very different ground. The kind of ground occupied by Vox Liminis the small but vital group of folk in Glasgow who are sitting in rooms in and out of prisons writing tunes together.
And I know, I KNOW, writing songs isn’t everyone’s bag (WEIRDOS). And playing music in a room isn’t going to solve the affordable housing crisis in Sydney, or resolve discriminatory employment practices. And there are frequently limits in terms of the scalability of grass roots community building projects. But these small projects are becoming for me, more and more significant in the landscape of reintegration services and practices.
Because of what we can learn from them about approach, social movement, and about building connection and community. There is something radical and deeply pragmatic in terms of reintegration about finding ways to create spaces so that the common ground that exists between people (Social workers! Formerly incarcerated people! Academics! Musicians!..) can expand into something larger than all we might imagine divides. (And beautiful! The tunes are freakin’ beautiful…check their work out here).
Mindy Sotiri is currently travelling on a Churchill Fellowship, exploring things of reintegration after prison and community, blogging about it here
On 18th and 19th February 2016 we ran a Vox Session in Glasgow in The Old Hairdressers with a group of 18 people, half who had experience of being under supervision in the community, a social worker who delivers community supervision, a couple of criminologists, a visual artist, a radio producer and 3 musicians – Louis Abbott, Tim Davidson & Rollo Strickland.
Starting with the stimulus of 12 photographs taken by people exploring what supervision means, we wrote and recorded demos of 12 songs. The project is part of the Offender Supervision in Europe COST Action (this additional project funded by an IAA ESRC grant from the University of Glasgow) and some of the songs written are today being performed at the Offender Supervision in Europe conference in Brussels.
It’s pretty amazing to see and hear what can be made, in music and in community, by such a diverse group of people in two days! Enjoy the demos above.
Richard Bull made a brilliant short audio documentary during the project. It’s best told in the voices of all involved:
Have you ever wondered what goes on in a Vox Session? What the stories might be behind the writing of the songs… and what the process means to those involved?
Monica Brown created a brilliant wee feature for Radio Scotland, coming into a Vox Session in Castle Huntly and chatting with some of those involved.
Have a wee listen to the 7 minute insight below:
You can listen, download, or physically get your own copy of our beautiful new EP of songs written in Distant Voices Vox Sessions in prison. The recorded tracks have been performed by a number of musicians involved in Vox Liminis, including Louis Abbott, Jo Mango, Emma Pollock, Donna Maciocia and others.
The tracks are beautifully clad in artwork responding to each of the 5 songs, by Gabi Froden.
It’s on Bandcamp here: www.voxliminis.bandcamp.com/
And it’s also to be found on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and all sorts of other places we’d never heard of before.
Out Distant Voices project in partnership with SCCJR (with funding from SPS and University of Glasgow) has become a festival, in Glasgow’s CCA on 5th – 9th November. There’s more information on the Distant Voices page, or directly from CCA.
Here’s a wee video made by the lovely Ben from Wake Up Advice that explains what it’s all about:
At the end of June we hosted the next in The Vox Sessions series in HMP Castle Huntly, bringing together prisoners, former prisoners, SPS staff and criminologists to song-write with musicians Donna Maciocia, Findlay Napier and Louis Abbott (with additional appearances from Emma Pollock and Sandy Bulter). Over three days we wrote and recorded 22 songs ?! Most of which are utterly brilliant, and will make their way out into the world in due course.
But for now, here’s a blog post from Sarah Anderson, reflecting on her experience in participating:
Have you ever looked at what we do in The Vox Sessions in prison and wish you could take part?? Well, you can! We’re doing a very special version of The Vox Sessions at Solas Festival as part of Distant Voices – come and work with Andrew Howie and Louis Abbott (of Admiral Fallow) over Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st June to write songs…
We’ll start by listening to songs written by people in Scottish prisons and then respond by writing songs inspired by them – creating a conversation through song! You can work in groups or individually, with help on hand from Andrew and Louis throughout. No musical experience at all is required – this really is for anyone. Songs created will become part of the Distant Voices – Conversation Through Song, performed at the festival on the Sunday.
If you’re interested in taking part, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to get some material in advance to get you thinking. And have a look at the rest of the Solas Festival programme here.
For now, here’s a song called Breathe Life, written in a prison workshop, that we might write in response to:
Today you can view our first ever Annual Report online! It is a massive milestone for us to have a printed document that captures much of what happened in our first 14 months. It’s full of quotes and stories from such a diversity of people. You can download it here:
There’s more about Vox Monthly (in a finance donation way) over here: http://www.voxliminis.co.uk/donate/ – this kind of support is hugely important to keep evolving all that’s happening – get involved!
We hosted a Vox Session, as part of the Distant Voices project in HMP Castle Huntly a few weeks ago. It was quite an incredibly project, with so many people pulling together to create some great songs. 11 songs in 2 days?!
But it’s better described by Richard, one of the participants, who wrote this article for the Open Times, a publication of Fife College and HMP Castle Huntly… and one of the songs created, posted below:
Here’s a song from the project, written by Pedro Peacemaker performed live and produced by Louis Abbott: