Finding Rhythms at HMP Thameside – August 2019
In August 2019, one of our artists – guitarist and musical director Joe Newman worked as a project leader over 6 days of workshops at HMP Thameside prison in South East London. Below he tells us about his experience leading the project and his thoughts on IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection).
This was only my second project with the charity and I was immediately struck by the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the learners. Some of the cohort had been in music studios before or had some prior experience, many had not, but all came prepared with lyrics or song ideas to share. With such a driven and focused group, managing the recording process was a challenge especially given that the learners had so much to say and express. Overall though, the tone of the workshops was overwhelmingly comradely and supportive, and within the 6 days we were able to record and finish 11 original tracks.
A particular highlight for me was when one of the learners came into a morning session having written a song overnight. With no instruments to hand at the time, the learner had finished the song in his head, and then sang or described to us each of the different instrumental parts and melodies. Within only an hour we had programmed and recorded the beat, the chorus melody and a rapped verse. Giving the cohort the time and space to lead the sessions for themselves was such an important part of facilitating a project in a nonformal learning environment such as this.
However, during the project I was exposed to the cruel injustices of IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) sentences, whereby an inmate is detained for a potentially indefinite amount of time (up to 99 years), even after the end of their tariff, if a parole board deems them to pose a risk to the public.
Speaking with the cohort about their experiences inside the prison, it was completely clear that being held indefinitely in this way, in an institution where self-harm is rife and prison conditions are worsening, causes severe distress and has long-term impacts on the well-being of prisoners, as well as the communities that they have been removed from. In fact, IPP inmates have one of the highest rates of self harm and suicide across the prison system. Despite its abolition in 2012 there are still nearly 2,500 prisoners serving IPP sentences.*
The Ministry of Justice may talk about rehabilitation, but this must include reform of this cruel sentence.
Listen to ‘Back To Real’ – the album created during our Thameside project