My good friend Jacqui Norton is one of those special people. She is the person standing next to me grinning in the picture. Previously Jacqui worked in the music industry for many years in Publishing, at Zomba. Since those days she’s become a Senior Lecturer at De Montfort University specialising in the Music Industry, as well as Arts and Festival Management.
However what has really inspired her is taking Music Industry workshops into various prisons in the UK and enthusing people. Her philosophy is that there is undiscovered talent lurking ‘inside’ and that if the prisoners had been lucky enough to discover their interest earlier in their lives perhaps this might have saved them from going to prison in the first place. She has a point.
So when Jacqui asked if I would be part of a two week Arts Festival behind bars called ‘Talent UN-locked’ at HM Prison Leicester I was intrigued and I agreed to run my own workshop on ‘Voiceovers’.
No prison in the UK has held an Arts Festival behind bars before so this really is a groundbreaking initiative. The idea is to ‘use the Arts’ as a stimulus to motivate disaffected men and reduce reoffending. What’s not to like?
As the Governor of HMP Leicester put it.......
“ I have made it a priority for the prison to be seen as an integral part of the community as after all, today’s offenders are tomorrows neighbours”.
I must admit I hadn’t thought of the prison population being considered in that way before but actually it makes a lot of sense.
Anyway, this Wednesday I went ‘inside’ for the first time with Jacqui to meet prisoners and to lead my workshop.
Nothing quite prepares you for the gates slamming shut behind you. Your personal possessions are put in a locker and your identity is scrutinised. Your small change is squirrelled away, cause it’s an offence in itself to carry money into a prison; something I didn’t know.
(I had to write to the prison for permission to bring in a small speaker and a recorder for the workshop)
A prison social worker called Ann led us through several doors locking each one behind us that eventually took us into the heart of the prisoner wing.
My goodness, it was so noisy! Cell doors were being unlocked as we walked through. The men that came out immediately started talking or shouting to their colleagues. A few noted our arrival. Some who weren’t coming out were kicking their doors and creating a real din. You get the general picture; this is an old creaking building that was built in 1828. It could easily be used for a ‘prison film’ set during the period when the men wore those stripe suits.
Happily by contrast, the Governor is a modern thinker who is trying his best to help his long- term ‘guests’ the best way he can.
I would be telling a lie if I said that I hadn’t found this air of frantic activity a little disconcerting.
Were any of these men really going to be interested in talking to me about doing‘ Voice-over ‘ work? We were shown into a small stuffy room that held about ten people.
Jacqui was still looking resolutely cheerful as four men came through the door and we sat round the table and introduced ourselves. There was a buzz of excitement and I started to relax.
What I hadn’t been prepared for was the enthusiasm of the men. They were thirsty to know all about whether their voice might be good enough to do voice work and they launched themselves into the scripts I had brought without any embarrassment. They listened carefully and took direction without taking any offence and they were prepared to go over the scripts again and again to try out different styles. Soft sell, hard sell, comedy, they had a go and we all had a laugh!
To be honest the two hour workshop was over way to soon....and the men thought so too.
I heard from Jacqui, that after our visit one of our ‘participants’ had been heard walking around the prison trying out different voices....
Now, that’s what I call a result!