Category Archives: Behind The Doors


dv2-june-15-s-butler-13Mark is a prison officer, who has been very supportive of Vox Liminis.  He did what we ask of all participants to do in a Vox Session – come into a new group, and try something you might never have done before. These ways of relating, thinking about our lives and the power of making ‘new things’ together cross (and often break down) all sorts of barriers and boundaries.

“I signed up for the Vox Liminis Distant Voices workshop at Castle Huntly in February 2016. I had never written any music before or indeed produced anything creative, but because they asked us to invite a family member to take part with us, I wanted to give it a go to spend some quality time with my teenage son, Michael. From the get go, the workshop was lighthearted and relaxed, Andrew inspired, nurtured and encouraged me throughout the first day and into the next, when the challenge “Write a song using no more than 30 words” was introduced.  We were encouraged to “take inspiration from a book title from the library in the Link Centre, and you’ve got 30 minutes in which to do it.” . This 30 minute song writing exercise produced a short memory laden tune that fills me with pride every time I hear it, whether that’s in the car on my commute or down visiting my mum. It reminds me of my son growing up and the times we spent together along the way. It reminds me of the precious time we have together and that we should make the most of it.”

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Reflections Of A Female Prisoner

dv2-june-15-s-butler-12Some heartfelt thoughts from a (very) recent Vox Sessions participant…

“Sometimes I’m not so good at vocalising things so I wrote something down that I wanted to read to you all.  Last night, I was thinking about how it’s important to me when people take the time and make an effort to spend time helping other people.  I’ve looked back and in the past when opportunities have been offered to me I haven’t taken the time to at least try and express my gratitude and appreciation.  But I was trying to write you all a letter that sort of says thank you but I couldn’t really get it out last night and then at lunchtime there I got some words down.

So, I’ve been wondering a lot recently, and in particular the past few days, why it’s important for individuals to touch another person’s life… is it to pass something on, to leave a legacy, an imprint, a history, or a memory.  What motivates people?  Why are people so important to other people?  Is it just a human condition, a need… because people can help other people to pull things out of each other and help them discover, or rediscover, and reignite things that were there all along but that were deeply suppressed and buried.

I’m not sure what, or if there any answers to these questions… maybe it just is as it is but I know it feels absolutely fantastic.  When you make a memory, however small or insignificant the experience may seem to other people, that amazing memory will live with you forever.  And that’s what this felt like for me.

I’ve been deeply touched by all of you in some way over the last few days. When you’re not consumed by substances you can realise a life beyond your wildest dreams and in the most unlikely of places, like in prison when you’re stripped back and laid bare, as my song says, when paths cross for whatever reason, you can find true contentment and happiness where dreams are limitless.  Thank you so much for opening my mind.”


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img_3907I distinctly remember once being challenged by a wise friend that I couldn’t ‘sit on the doorstep forever’, that I needed to be in or out. In that situation he was right to push me – the tension of being on that threshold was untenable.

But I wonder if sitting in that doorway taught me more than I could have known at the time. Now, I seem most at home in the in-between lands, finding ways to connect, translate and forge new forms of communication between different (on the surface anyway) people, groups and organisations.

The liminal space in which Vox sits feels anything but untenable.

People just seem to want to connect, to communicate in fresh ways, to make things together – new and beautiful things. And to lead and support this, I only need to hold the space and join the dots.

Sure, the holding is at times really hard. But the life I get from being able to participate in such creativity, the learning that is non-stop, and the insights and challenge that every new connection brings, all of these things are more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined.

To be one of these ‘voices from the threshold’ (Vox Liminis) feels like coming home.

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(illustration below by Gabi Froden, from Distant Voices project)


Kev Snr & Kev Jnr

kevsKev Snr was a participant on our first ‘outside’ Vox Session, held at The Briggait in summer 2015. Through Kev Snr we met Kev Jnr who is a member of KIN. They share a love of music, and have both connected with Vox in different ways. It’s been really amazing for Vox to engage with families like this. Here’s a piece they’ve written together for this campaign:


Inside Out 

Laying inside this prison wall, I need to make a call to my boy.

This place is incredible! So much to see, so much to do! The laughter and noise is heartwarming!


As he starts his Secondary School, I am on a prison rule.

The sun is shining and all my friends are here, what a wonderful day this is going to be.


I need to get this call to my boy, I don’t feel like a father at all.

I can’t wait to get home and tell my Mum and Dad about the days events! Wow, this burger is great!


How will he feel? What will he think? His super hero locked in the clink.

The sun is going down. It’ll be time to go home soon. that my phone? Who could that be?


As each full moon passes behind this wall, all I can do is think of my boy.

“His battalion’s doing well!” I’ll tell them. They can’t know the reality. I will walk this wall alone.


Thirty-six moons have come and passed, I’m in his kitchen, waiting to grasp.

“Mum, I’m home! Where are you? Is there someone else here?”

Hiya Son…

Hiya Dad…

It’s good to be Outside In…

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jo_edit2smallI have been involved in many, many community songwriting sessions over the past 10 years or so, but never one like this. Locked in a room, locked within a larger room, locked within a system of gates we sat down, the ten of us – complete strangers – and started to write. We spoke about loss and regret, we spoke about the nature of freedom, we spoke about home, and about the flickering images of lives we would like to have. And then we made something together that couldn’t be contained.

Last year I was invited to be involved as a songwriter in a Vox Session in Cornton Vale Prison working with a group of 10 or so ladies.  As people, the 10 of us were probably about as varied a group as you could imagine being brought together. But there was something very special that happened as we placed ourselves in a space that was about music and imagining (rather than doors and keys and differences) that allowed us to understand each other and work together.

We thought about the moment in prison, when one person gets to go home and another is left behind. It’s a moment that brings so many things in to focus. As we reflected on that, brave sharings began to emerge… One writer spoke about realising that she couldn’t remember what home was like any more. Because she’d been in prison since she was a child. Another spoke about her life seeming like the menu screen on a DVD – the same scene that goes round and round, monotonously repeating itself between inside and outside, and how much, in that moment, she yearned to pause it. Yet another, described the only times she got to see a glimpse of home – when she was taken outside the prison in a security van. If she strained very hard, she could see pixelated images of the streets outside flashing past the tiny high up windows. And she held on to those tiny images very dearly, to help her to hope that one day she would be there too.

Pixelated Pictures is the song we wrote together about all these feelings. And I was extremely proud to be involved.

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Dean & Angela

dv2-nov-16-a-downie-3Dean & Angela were part of In Tune earlier in the year. They came with their two children, one only 6 months old at the time of the project starting, the other the oldest in the group.  As with most sessions of In Tune, it’s amazing to watch as people get their heads round the project, what it is, what might be expected of them, and what they can get from it.

“I wasn’t too sure really. I hoped it’d kinda be a good visit and get to see the kids really.  It’s been excellent, it’s been superb. At first the boys didn’t really know much about it but it really is superb.” Dean

The family recognized that through the project both their sons were getting loads from being involved.

“The wee one’s started clapping as well for his first time because of one of the songs.              The third session he started to clap his hands and has came on so much. Our older son has football training and he usually trains twice a week and one is a Wednesday night, so we asked him what he wanted to do and he chose In Tune; he’s loved it!” Dean

“I thought he’d have chosen the football, and I did say to him it was fine if he chose the football, but he definitely wanted the music class!” Angela

“I’d never done singing and clapping with my sons before. It’s just the wee things; it’s been priceless to see him crawling about and clapping and stuff.  It’s great for me and them for the bond.” Dean

You can hear Dean & Angela chatting to Bryan Burnett on BBC Radio Scotland here:

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In 2007, I walked through the door to HMP Bullingdon. Despite coming through the ‘right door’ – the visitor’s entrance – I was nervous. Fresh out of university, I was going for my first job interview. Over the next year, I walked through that same door every weekday. It became normal to me. I spent my days asking prisoners deeply personal questions, ‘assessing’ them. And over time I thought I knew what prison was like.

Eventually I returned to university (to gain more ‘knowledge’ of what prison was like). Then in 2015 I got invited to a song-writing workshop at HMP Castle Huntly. Once again I was nervous walking in to a prison. Although I write every day – emails, reports, articles – the idea of song-writing filled me with horror. Very little creativity is required to empty an inbox.

Some of the men from Castle Huntly played guitar or had attended Vox sessions before or had already written beautiful songs. They were in familiar territory while I was stepping into the unknown. But two days spent brain-storming metaphors and rhymes and we started to get somewhere. Then, on the last morning I wrote a song I had never intended to write, about one night the week before my Dad died. In the midst of a prison with near strangers, I unexpectedly felt connected enough to share something deeply personal. The song has been played since at Vox gigs. I am proud, but I am also uncomfortable each time that song is played. Something private, something that makes me vulnerable, has become public property. Perhaps I am a tiny bit closer to knowing what prison is like after all.

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kirsty-photoI have chosen this door as a fond memory I have of my dad – I used to believe in fairies when I was a little girl and he allowed this magical belief and thus my imagination to come to life in many ways. I can’t wait to share this experience with my own children. This ties in perfectly with the work that In Tune have been doing at Polmont (creating lasting memories for children and their dads)

I have worked with Vox Liminis three times now at Polmont, this involved working with young fathers to write songs for their children – composing, performing and recording these to give as a gift. The dads learned song writing skills and new ways to communicate with their families. Family music sessions were then run after the songwriting project, teaching the new songs as well as playing familiar songs with their children. Families had the opportunity to bond, connect, develop relationships and create positive memories, using new ways of communicating, with their confidence growing throughout the workshops.

All three workshops have been the young dads’ first experiences of taking part in a song writing group. Initially they were wary (a lot of this was to do having no skills in the area – or so they thought – and the culture/age and stage of our population and associated bravado), but they were surprised and proud to complete the task of writing a song with ease. They fully embraced the idea of taking part in the group and were enthusiastic throughout.

The project was a fantastic way to enable the dads to show soft and sincere emotion and express their very personal experiences about being a dad, which they can sometimes find difficult. Although the young men in our care have made bad choices/decisions in their lives, and suffer from many factors which have led to offending (such as mental health problems, homelessness, addiction, abuse, trauma, learning difficulties), they still love and care for and want the best for their children, and we support them to be part of their children’s lives in the best ways they can.

I loved every part of the group, it was very emotional to be part of, I am very proud of the young dads’ achievements. I play the CDs whenever I can to share the positive work that In Tune has done with the Polmont dads. I hope we run many more workshops here at Polmont to enable future dads to make such a special, original gift for their child to treasure forever.

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Richard B

img_3820In February I attended a Vox Session in my capacity as a radio producer. It was a songwriting workshop on the subject of supervision, and I was to record interviews with the participants and create some kind of podcast. It was an opportunity that I was thrilled to have: to see people who had been subject to supervision in the criminal justice system working with respected songwriters. How would it work? And what would the participants get out of it? I planned to observe from the sidelines, but I immediately realised that wasn’t an option. I was going to have to write a song too. Something I’ve never done. How on earth would I?

We looked at a display of photographs. We brainstormed words and phrases that the photographs suggested. Then from these images and words I pieced a song together. And while I had no experience of the criminal justice system, I did have feelings about the supervisory nature of parenthood, so I worked a kind of message to my daughter into the song. Louis Abbott was brilliant at guiding me. Then he put music to my words.

Which is where it turned into magic. I don’t think the songwriters involved in Vox can really appreciate this. They’re used to their songs going out into the world. But for the rest of us, those of us participating in the workshops, it’s a revelation and an astonishing achievement. That feelings you wouldn’t usually share can be crafted into a song, a work of art that exists in the world, that’s yours forever. It really is incredible what you can do with the right help.”

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