Category Archives: Blog

Spotlight on In Tune

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

Family Trees

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.

 

UNBOUND: Where the Wild Things Are

For those of you who don’t know, UNBOUND is our Tuesday night creative community, made up of people who we’ve worked with either inside or outside of prison, from a range of different backgrounds, or folks from the local area who are just curious about what we do. Every week we get together, share a meal and then make some art or music. Or just play table tennis!

Now that we’re happily settled into our new home in the Barras, we thought we’d share a few photos and a song with you, to give you a sense of what we’ve been up to over the last few weeks! jumping off from the theme of ‘Wild Lives’, we’ve worked together to make some inspiring new things.

Sandy cooking up a storm!

‘Island of Dreams’ was a collaboration between Graeme Strachan, Fergus McNeill, Heather Irvine and Hannah Graham.

Of the writing process, Fergus said:

‘Graeme wrote all the words: I just helped shape the metre to work with the tune. In terms of the music, we talked about a few styles and Graeme settled on folk — hence the DADGAD tuning — not quite sure where the tune came from, except that it was inspired by the determination and dignity represented in the words, which gives it the slightly anthemic feel (I think). Initially, we worked on the tune together — and once I had worked it up a bit — we asked the others for help with the arrangement.

Listen in below:

 

Unbound has often been a space for making art and other bits and pieces as well as music. Recently, we teamed up with Charlotte Duffy from the wonderful ‘Waste of Paint’ productions.

Equipped with cardboard, glue guns and a fresh sense of what is possible with Amazon packaging, we created a world stuffed full of trees, eagles, highland cows and guitars. If you’re in the neighbourhood, pop in and see them for yourself!

We’re dead chuffed about how Unbound fits so well in our new home, and we’re excited about the opportunities for development that exist there – a huge thank you again to those of you who helped make the move happen through the Open Doors campaign. Watch this space for more updates over the next few months. . . .

From Benefits to Poverty to Crime: Time for a new approach

A guest blog post by Graeme Strachan, a member of our Tuesday night ‘Unbound’ group.

A still from Ken Loach's 'I, Daniel Blake', an uncompromising examination of the current benefits system and it's impact on people's lives

Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’ takes an uncompromising look of the injustices of the current benefits system

Visiting the job centre has become an unpleasant parody of community service. This is a by-product of our benefits system that was set up to look after those in need but has been utilised by the government to penalise and criminalise the weakest in society. This article will discuss how this works and what we can do to change it for the better.

Our current benefits system is based around “conditionality”. Conditionality is where you are required to do exactly what the government or advisor tell you or you will lose your benefit. This is where sanctions come in to play. Sanctions are used to psychologically and socially criminalise the poor, sick and unemployed. Incredible amounts of unreasonable pressure and stress are placed upon those who are already the weakest in society.

Sanctions can hold more financial weight than that placed by a criminal court for example. They are imposed by people with no duty of care or legal standing. They leave claimants with no option but to use food banks and in many cases criminalise themselves to find money to simply live on. These circumstances are fertilised by conditionality, which in itself breaches the UN convention on human rights, some argue. Sanctions do not work. They take people further away from work and into poverty, leaving them with no choice but to find other ways to survive.

This clearly hits one parent families the hardest. Looking after a child or children while being forced to undertake conditionality to survive is bordering on medieval. OPF have other priorities; in this case conditionality interferes with their duty of care for their children, another factor contravening the UN charter. This clearly leaves an unregulated system with unqualified personnel making decisions that leave families and children living in poverty due to sanctions.

Advisors hold the lives of people in their hands and are not scrutinised in any legal capacity. Some for example will be happy to work round parent’s commitments to their children; others will not, leaving parents suffering sanctions for not turning up for appointments. The other option is where parents have been forced frequently to leave young children standing at the job centre door or on the street. This is quite simply unacceptable. Refusing to work for free, disagreeing with advisors, homelessness issues, and being a few minutes late for appointments are just a few commonplace examples of other situations that can leave OPF facing sanctions.

We can change this – there are other alternatives. Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Finland and Denmark for example have higher benefit rates and a lower crime rates. The one common theme that keeps occurring is to implement a Universal Basic Income. Scotland is now looking at bold decisions by those in government to address this situation.

An income that every citizen would receive – no matter what their employment status – would guarantee them a means to live. This is in contrast to the current system, in which individuals and families, stripped of their confidence and dignity, struggle simply to survive. If we wish to eradicate poverty and lower crime rates, we must not push the weakest in society into poverty through conditionality and sanctions for simply being poor, unemployed, sick and trying to survive. We must look to build confidence and instil a desire to succeed rather than fear of losing everything, which understandably drives people to survive by any means.


For more on Universal Basic Income, see this recent TED talk by Jamie Cooke, head of RSA Scotland. 

Opening the Door to our new home

You may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet here at Vox HQ. Change has been coming thick and fast, with a new office, two new members of the staff team and a new website in the pipeline.  Thanks to our generous supporters during the ‘Open Doors’ campaign we’ve been able to move from our old home in the Briggait to shiny new digs in Glasgow Collective, just across the road from the mighty Barrowlands Ballroom. (Two musical powerhouses, so close together!)

The Main Space (Shutter Up)

(The Upstairs Space, with the shutters up)

We’ve got two floors in our new space, aptly named The Music Shop in honour of it’s former life. At street level we have a flexible and spacious open-plan office and a basement that lends itself to a myriad of uses, from a rehearsal room to workshop or meeting space; there’s plenty of space for Unbound and other projects or events. It’s an exciting prospect and has really exceeded our expectations of where we might land! Thanks for making this a reality.

The Basement

While the finishing touches are being made to The Music Shop, we’ve been camping temporarily in the Collective’s main space. This has been a blessing in disguise, giving us more time to get to know our neighbours, but it’s meant we’ve held back from celebrating the move until we can show you around properly.

During the ‘Open Doors’ campaign we pledged to incorporate the names of campaign supporters into an artwork in the new space. We’ve been in touch with the wonderful Gabi Froden, who some of you might remember did the artwork for our ‘Silent Seconds’ EP, who has been tasked with working everyone’s name into a piece. We can’t wait to see what the final piece looks like.

Soon, we’ll be opening the door of our new space, with a free concert (to be live streamed for those who can’t make it) and an opening party for our supporters. Watch this space for invites and updates!

Thanks again to all of you for your support through this exciting time for Vox!

Nice NeighboursNice new neighbours!

KIN – Still Breaking Ground

It’s now 5 months since the KIN folk brought ‘Breaking Ground’ to MANY Studios on a freezing cold day in January 2017. Whether walking round the Barras with the ‘Golden Thread’, or making their own postcard responses to ‘The Thing’, around 300 people joined us for the day. Check out KIN on Twitter to see how the postcards continued breaking ground and challenging stigmas after the event.

Next week KIN will be presenting to both the National Prisons Visitors’ Centres conference and the National Youth Justice conference. They will also present to the cross party group for families of prisoners at the Scottish Parliament.

Massive congratulations to the crew for everything they’ve achieved, we can’t wait to see what they come out with next. Video courtesy of our friend Sandy Butler.

Things Left Unsaid – EP Launch & Event – 23 / 05 / 17

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Photo: Andrew Downie
This week sees the release of our new EP ‘Things Left Unsaid’, at an event in St George’s Tron Church, Buchanan St, Glasgow, on 23rd May 2017, 6pm – 8pm.

‘Things Left Unsaid’ is the result of six-months of workshops exploring community justice and what it means for women in Scotland. We were lucky enough to bring together a remarkable cross-section of women, from prison governors and retired judges to service managers and women who’ve been sentenced. These women then joined forces with some of Scotland’s best songwriters to see how making music could help them tell their stories.

Musicians on the project have included Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow), Donna Maciocia, Lucy Cathcart Frödén and Ross Clark (Three Blind Wolves), all of whom will be performing at the event on 23rd.

There are big changes taking place in the way that community and custodial sentences are being handled for women in Scotland. This project gave women who have experienced that system a chance to tell their stories.

We are inviting anyone who comes to the EP launch to add their voice to the discussion of community justice in Scotland, by responding creatively to the songs that are performed. There will be a series of interactive art installations based on songs, lyrics and ideas developed within the workshops.

Award winning radio producer Steve Urquhart has also produced a podcast based on the project, which you can listen to below:

Things Left Unsaid was commissioned by Glasgow Community Justice Authority, in collaboration with the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, the Scottish Prison Service, and Creative Scotland. It is also part of our wider project, ‘Distant Voices’, which you can learn more about HERE.

This event is free. If you’re interested, please sign up HERE

Facebook event HERE

From 23/05/17 the ‘Things Left Unsaid’ EP will be available HERE

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Photo: Andrew Downie

All who attended the event have been sent a password to download the EP songs. Please click here to download your songs:

 

In Tune and BBC Children in Need

In Tune is our family music making project with families with a Dad in prison.

in-tune-photo-2To coincide with the 2016 BBC Children In Need campaign, BBC Radio Scotland have been playing a short piece fronted by Bryan Burnett recorded in the project, highlighting the importance of In Tune to prisoners and their families, particularly their children. You can hear the piece streaming here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04gfcxs

The Evening Times have also picked up on the story and run a short piece here: http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/14908597.Prison_dads_writing_songs_for_their_children_with_Glasgow_music_project/

In Tune is currently funded by Children In Need to run in two Scottish Prisons – HMP Barlinnie and HMYOI Polmont. It is a joy of a project to be involved in – being part of a project with families making music together, having fun and making positive memories together is so life-giving. And hearing the songs that imprisoned dads have written for their children is pretty special too. You can read some more detail about the project and hear some of these songs on our In Tune page here: www.voxliminis.co.uk/in-tune

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-17-25-36BBC Children in Need have also been involved in making a documentary called Prison, My Parent & Me which was broadcast on Tuesday night on BBC1. It is a brilliant piece, highlighting the challenges of the unknowns the prison system throughs a child into, the realities of visiting, the stigma a child of a prisoner might face, and the losses they encounter. It’s well worth a watch to understand the whole issue more : http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0834tmt/prison-my-parents-me

Talking about In Tune, Children In Need National Head Dr Mary Duffy said:

“The children of prisoners can be affected in deep and long term ways by the imprisonment of a parent, and are often also dealing with many other challenges in their family circumstances. This is a hard area of work but the right support can be transformational. We are delighted to fund Vox Liminis in its work pushing boundaries and stretching aspirations for some of these most disadvantaged of Scotland’s children.”

KIN-Zine

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KIN spent the weekend at Shielbrae House near Stirling, weaving together their work into a zine with a print-maker and photographer, developing plans for release for all their work to date, and writing the KIN Manifesto.

“Working in collaboration you get to see all the different things people put into it and all the approaches to it. I love working collaboratively cause it just completely changes the way you think about your work. ” -Dylan

“I’ve had a really brilliant weekend. I’ve tried things I wouldn’t have tried before. It’s nice to have a year on from when the project started, a nice wee reflection to see how much we’ve come on over the past year and then I’m really excited for the event and to get everything out there.” -Morven

Watch this space. KIN is a call that demands a response.

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SINGING

Here’s a guest blog post from Mindy Soriti from Sydney, on visiting Unbound – our weekly music making group…
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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.
Oh man.
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