When a parent is sent to prison, it can throw family life upside down. It is often said that ‘the family serves a sentence of their own’. Young children are told stories about why they have to go on a road trip to see their mum/dad; older children face stigma and prejudice if they talk about it; one parent is left shouldering the burden of parenthood alone, and the other is separated from their loved ones.
With In Tune we work to create a space (in a prison setting) where parents can be parents and children can be children, despite this huge disruption to family life. In Tune has been running since 2014, perhaps more in the background than some of our other projects like KIN and Distant Voices. Thanks to funding from Children In Need and Cattanach Trust we’ve been able to develop the In Tune model this year, working in more prisons and in more diverse ways than ever.
What does In Tune look like?
Good question! The short answer is ‘that depends’…
In our Family Music Making Sessions we bring together multiple families at the same time. We try to strike the right balance, giving folks the time to catch up and enjoy being around each other, before leading a wide range of music and rhythm based games and activities. Parents are encouraged to help their children engage, families take the lead in activities and most of all, we try to make it easy for everyone to enjoy themselves!
We’ve recently run our first Early Years Family sessions. This is a new twist on In Tune, for families with children under 3. In one week we might make bug shakers, or family trees and do group sing-alongs, before families split off to write nursery rhymes of their own.
And finally, we work with imprisoned parents to write songs, nursery rhymes and lullabies with their children in mind. This follows a similar format to a Vox Session, but with a real focus on the family. This has yielded some beautiful and important songs for our participants.
“I think it’s really meaningful, it’s nice for your children because obviously when they’re older they can say “Ma Da actually made an effort, he went out his way and worked with people to make a song for me”. Hopefully it’ll make your kid feel loved.” Dad
What do people get out of it?
With parenting, it’s often the little things that can feel the most important. In one session, it could be the joy that dad feels to sing along with his daughter, or laugh with her as she plays the glockenspiel. It could be taking time out to read a book together, in a laid back environment. It might be Gran getting a break, having been the primary caregiver, and letting mum take over. Repeatedly we see parents grow in confidence and consideration, as they get to help their children out with wee tasks, and get the chance to do things together.
The balance of having space to do your own thing, but also activities to join in with works well. One family drove all the a long way from home to prison every time In Tune was on. Mum said:
‘It’s all been really great! I think there should definitely be stuff like this more often. I enjoyed doing something with him that’s a bit more hands on. When you’re in here you feel like you’ve not really got anything, but it brings you closer together. We’re all bonded more than usual.’
A number of families grouped together to write us a thank you card recently. One of the messages said:
Thankyou so much for pulling us closer as a family we’ve loved every minute of and it and sorry to see you go. Hopefully we get to do something with yous again soon.
In Tune continues to be an important focus of our work, underpinned by an understanding that positive and strong relationships are critical for families when mum or dad comes home from prison. It’s a great privilege for us to play a small role in that, by making space for families to make music and memories together.