17th July 2019

Hope, progression and rehabilitation: the power of music in prisons

By David Foster
Director
Musical notes

It’s not every day you step inside a prison. Aston Lark Executive Director David Foster tells us about his afternoon at HM Prison Warren Hill being entertained by musical and artistic residents as part of the work done to help offenders to rehabilitate by Snape Maltings, the force behind the Aldeburgh Festival.

"Snape Maltings is a valued client of Aston Lark, and we have for a number of years supported the outreach work they do with local schools. For 2019, we decided to do something different and support their work in prisons. HMP Warren Hill has been described as Britain’s best prison and houses prisoners with life or indeterminate sentences for public protection.

Having cleared through the lengthy security process, been sniffed by dogs and frisked, we made our way past rows of neat flower beds, to where we were to meet the residents who, we were told had “also made you lunch”. It was clearly time to leave preconceptions at the door. Before the musical performance we mingled with residents and chatted to them about their artwork. I spoke to Mark, who had spent the last 24 years in prison and produced exquisite carvings out of beech wood and oak, Nathan whose brand of T- shirt designs were the epitome of cool, and another resident who copied art by Matisse, Munch and Van Gogh.

When the musical performance came we were told we had to sing along and participate with some percussion, thus breaking down the barriers between performer and audience. The amazing musical leaders at Snape drew huge amounts of enthusiasm and positivity out of the resident performers, culminating in a song called “Second Chance”, again written by one of the residents. Then there was a performance by Jamie on guitar singing an incredibly moving and intimate song entitled “Damage”. We all left feeling that we had made a connection and rather liked these people. We weren’t told what they the residents had done to be in prison, and bearing in mind the category of prisoners we met, perhaps it was best that we didn’t. However, it is sometimes too easy to judge, and as the song said people deserve a second chance. Music and art was giving these people a second chance to turn their lives around. As one resident said to me, “The art I produce makes me feel free.”

I left feeling very humble and inspired by the work that is being done at Warren Hill, where their motto is “Hope, Progression, Rehabilitation”. It seems fitting."