What we do – Prison
The overall aim of Liberty Choirs is to provide for excluded and isolated people (for example, those in secure psychiatric settings or people who are serving custodial sentences) a ‘through the gate’ programme of high-quality singing and social development. It is designed to help develop skills and self-confidence, open up the world of arts through singing and provide access to new social networks as the participants re-enter the wider community.
We are in touch with more than 50 ex-offenders some of whom sing with MJ’s community choirs, other perform with us at festivals, and others just phone or message us to let us know they are OK.
“ These are all good people and it gives me hope, hope that life can be different. I am a recovering addict. I can’t expect anything from my children but they show me love; they see a change in me. “
How we do this
The crux of the programme is that volunteers from MJ’s four community choirs come into HMP Wandsworth, HMP High Down and HMP Downview and commit to an eight-week programme, singing alongside the prison inmates – and this combination of singers is what is called the Liberty Choir. The intention is that the singing is a continuous programme throughout the year, as this yields the most beneficial results.
The Liberty Choir has performed at concerts within the prisons with every programme. This is crucial to build the confidence and growth of the prisoners but also shows the prison staff the importance of what is being accomplished. The most powerful concerts, to date, are the ones where the offenders and volunteers performed for the friends and family members of the inmates; many of whom have never seen their loved ones in this light before.
“The concert at the end of the programme was amazing…It was wonderful to see the pride on the prisoners’ faces and the importance for them to perform to their families. The two former prisoners who now sing in Balham spoke so beautifully, without any scripts and from the heart.”
“My son’s up there [on stage] and it’s great to have something to feel proud of. When he wrote to us about
the choir I couldn’t believe it was him.”
“The fact that prisoners on release were prepared to come back to the prison and stand up in front of a large crowd of prison staff and visitors and talk about their positive experience of the choir was rather amazing and was a reflection of the true impact of the programme.”
Conversations with ex Liberty Choir members, now attending MJ’s community choirs.
“What you and the choir are doing is nothing short of amazing. To have fought the system, the paperwork, the resistance of individuals who don’t understand what this means and to actually do it, is herculean.”
“It can be intimidating to join the community choirs; you feel like the odd one out. These people are busy, they have good jobs, they’ve never seen the other side but you have to break that barrier and seeing the familiar faces of volunteers from inside is a big help. Personally I decided to announce to the group that I had been in Wandsworth. I wanted to be open and honest and people accepted me for it. .”
“I find it uplifting, it makes me energised, I have a smile on my face. I have performed in everything, every concert, I have found my voice again and I’m singing a lot more whereas before I was just producing stuff for other people. ”
The first three eight-week Liberty Choir programmes, starting on April 1st 2014 at Wandsworth Prison, were the subject of an independent evaluation report by Laura Thorne. She attended choir practices in the Trinity Wing and concerts, and interviewed: MJ’s community choir volunteers, the singing prisoners, prison staff and family members and friends of the prisoners.
The Liberty Choir programmes will continue to have on-going independent evaluation. Below are some powerful quotations from her report.
Read full report
“This makes me a bigger person. I have definitely turned the other cheek where before I would have waded in.”
“This could be so exposing but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel energized and closer to the rest of the group. That feeling spills over onto the wing. We are different people because of this experience.”
“It has made me feel like I belong to something refreshing and positive. I have learnt about music, harmony, what happens when you work together. It helps me relax when I’m back on the wing and gives me something to look forward to each week.”
“I’ve never seen this level of focus or enthusiasm before. They are often bored so go along to things because there’s nothing else to do but this is far more than that. They behave accordingly because they don’t want to lose the opportunity.”
“I believe having the choir has helped settle Trinity wing down as a new unit more quickly than otherwise. The guys have developed confidence and have a more positive outlook. They engage with people they wouldn’t otherwise and that has an impact on the wing atmosphere.”
“This has enabled them to find their voice in a non-aggressive way. For some that will be the first time they’ve done that so it’s a big deal.”