“Eye-opening, human” – a volunteer’s experience with FR
Lily Morrison-Bell volunteered with Finding Rhythms in both 2014 and 2015. We caught up to find out how things have progressed for her after her time with us and to get an insight into her experiences.
Nadine: It has been a while since you volunteered at Finding Rhythms, how have things progressed for you since then?
Lily: Progress feels like an understatement! I feel like I’ve been put through a time-travelling washing machine. So much has changed both in and around me and I couldn’t be more exited for whats to come. I’m currently counting down to January – I’m going to Berlin by myself for a month to learn German. Or to learn Berlin? Both I think, I haven’t been so exited for something since I got a dog, and that was 18 years in the waiting…
Nadine: What made you want to get involved with FR?
Lily: I’ve tried to write this answer hundreds of times and keep trying to rewrite it! I struggle to find words that reveal how important music is to me – and how it always has been. Even as I write this I’m lost in a hybrid world of German techno and Nordic piano. But sometimes I don’t want people to know just how sacred it is to me, because its something so personal; something that’s narrated my silence, something that’s opened my eyes, something that has without a doubt sculpted part of who I am today. Even my dog is called Sargent Pepper! Music has the power to elevate me to euphoria or to lead me into dark mysterious places, and I love that adventure, that freedom, that knowledge that no one can ever take away my experience. I think what it comes down to is that music makes me feel alive. And, I’ve always had strong opinions on the Justice System – it makes me angry/sad/confused/hopeless/worried…the list goes on. I hate how dehumanising it is, how prescribed – almost robotic – it can be. Following the motions, day in day out, rehabilitated by being defined as a criminal. It doesn’t make sense to me. So when I heard about FR, it was kind of a magnetic attraction, like two pieces of a puzzle finally being put in place.
Nadine: I enjoyed reading your article (‘If music be the food of love, play on’, 2014). What is it that triggered your interest in the Criminal Justice system, and prisoners?
Lily: Thank you! I can’t really pinpoint a moment where I became interested in that area. I’ve always been a really sensitive person, affected by things on a pretty deep level. And I think because of this I’ve always been interested in people’s psychologies, and why we are who we are, why we do what we do etc. And like I said before, I don’t understand the Justice System here, and I think a huge part of that is that I believe prisoners are then defined by that label of “prisoner” or “criminal”, not by who they are as people and the experiences that lead them to do the things they’ve done.
Anyway, a few years ago, I was in California and I took a ferry to San Francisco. As we pulled away from the port, I saw specks of orange ahead; specks that turned into spots that turned into blobs that turned into figures. And as we approached, I realised that I was watching inmates playing basketball on their hour out of their cells. For the rest of the day it was all I could think about, and on my way back I asked my Godfather what prison it was. “San Quentin. It’s the only prison in California that still uses the death penalty.” I can’t explain how I felt when I heard that, but having seen the residents of such a place only a few hours ago made me feel really disturbed. And angry. And since that day I’ve watched more documentaries and read more articles on the Criminal Justice system, and criminals themselves, desperately trying to understand it. That was definitely a key moment for me.
I think a lot about instant gratification – its been a recurring thought for a month or so now at the time of this interview. This modern age is so used to it; you want a take out? Go on Deliveroo. You need a cab? Get an Uber. You need to find something out? Google it. I’m not saying I’m necessarily against these things, but I think this immediate relief for anything and everything has seeped into societal systems and beliefs. I’m sure that’s also been the case in history too…Anyhow, I think the Criminal Justice system here is very much a case of instant gratification – or maybe instant satisfaction is better phrasing – in the sense that if you catch a criminal, you just lock them up. The problem seems to be sorted as one less person is on the streets, but this isn’t long lasting or sustainable. In order to lessen crime, I think proper rehabilitation is needed. Seems like a long winded answer, but I think this is another factor that’s deepened my interest.
Nadine: Did volunteering at FR give you a different perspective on prisoners?
Lily: I think it more strengthened & developed the perspective I already had. But for a lot of it I forgot about my perspectives or ideas was just eager to learn, regardless of any preconceptions I may or may not have had.
Nadine: Was there anything you enjoyed most about working with FR?
Lily: Being able to interview a participant – and getting a response!! Emily had warned me when I wrote the interview, that it may be weeks or months before I got a reply, if I got one at all. So to have received such a moving, raw response within a matter of days was by far the most rewarding experience from my time volunteering with FR.
Nadine: What was it like to be involved in FR’s first Gala fundraising diner in 2014? What was the most memorable aspect?
Lily: I’ve become slightly phobic of using the word “energy”, but to be honest the energy there was infectious. Something about it being a first time for everyone involved… It was this sense of ‘OK I know what I’m meant to do, but at the same time I’m kind of winging it’. This buzzing excitement filled with hope and on some level pride, with a tinge of nervousness. Is that just adrenaline? Maybe. I think when it comes to things like this, I find it hard to pick out the most memorable moments because the whole thing was an experience. That goes for the time volunteering as well. Watching the performances was pretty special though for sure, although the memory is only slightly tainted by the totally burnt tongue I got as I shoved a rather large Caribbean roti down my mouth in my quest to finish food and run upstairs simultaneously so as not to miss the first of the performers…!
Nadine: What were your day-day activities during your volunteering with FR? And what responsibilities did you have at the event?
Lily: I’m sure I did a bit of admin in preparation for the Gala? No, I’m sure I did a little. But mainly I got to write my blog post, write an interview or an inmate, and also got to interview Aaron who was new to Finding Rhythms – a sound engineer if I remember right. I learned a lot about the whys-and-hows behind building a charity. It was like seeing all the cogs that turn to make a watch work, and I admire Emily so much for that! And at the event, there was a LOT of organisation, Hampers to be filled, places to be set, a room full of people to be kept comfortable and entertained! But what was great was that there wasn’t any pressure, it all felt super relaxed which not only had an impact on us as volunteers, but made the Gala as special as it was.
Nadine: In three words, can you describe the experience you had volunteering with Finding Rhythms?
Lily: Eye-opening, Human