Its another early start (4:45 am), this time from London. I’m meeting Dr. Jacs at Birmingham New Street station and if all goes to plan a car will drive us the thirteen miles to Swinfen Hall HMP just in time for movement of prisoners at 8:30am.
Happily everything dovetails nicely and soon Jacs and I are speeding along the motorway towards our destination and we arrive just in time.
It’s funny how you get a ‘vibe’ the minute you step through the door of a building. In this instance the entrance to Swinfen Hall felt fresh and new. The staff seemed lively and chatty. I notice a sign asking everyone to carry see through bags, as if you were taking a flight somewhere.
Jacs and I surrender our phones and we walk through security to meet our contact person Tracy who leads us through a series of corridors. Every door is locked behind us. Todays workshop is in the library. Its a well stocked airy room and we spot our ‘tour’ poster on the counter window…result ! We are warmly greeted by Sue, the librarian, who seems really enthusiastic , she’s sure the lads will enjoy working with us. (The majority age group in Swinfen Hall is from eighteen - twenty eight.)
Our participants are being escorted to the workshop by their guards and it’s a staggered arrival. Places around the table are filling up and we need to spread out even more. Wow …it looks like there’s going to be fourteen joining us today. So including the two guards and Sue, the room is full.
My guitar is spotted straight away by Matt who is the resident musician from ‘ Changing Tunes’ ( an organisation who use ‘the power of music to help people lead crime free lives). He nods approval and thinks my choice of Taylor GS Mini an acoustic with an electric pickup is perfect for today. The room is now buzzing. Jacqui is shaking hands with the lads and introducing herself and we can see that everyone seems eager to get started.
Sue confirms with security that all the participants have arrived and Dr. Jacs launches into her welcome speech.
She starts with a big thank you, and a surprise.
‘…The reason I want to thank you all is because, the music tracks and songs recorded by the prisoners at Swinfen Hall were the ones Megg and I used in our new music series The Lyrics, The Music and The Money! It was Stuart Edwards who sent them to us. Possibly some of those songs were written by the people in this very room’
This is news to the prisoners and to Matt (who we learn helped to record them) Immediately our workshop about the relevance of copyright and how the Music Industry operates , takes on a new meaning for everyone.
There’s lots of talk about the future, and what the attendees can do now in prison in terms of their composing and songwriting, to prepare for their release. Jacs and I are whizzing through our workbook and there are lots of questions regarding contracts and collaboration agreements. Really sensible questions. Since lots of the lads have been contributing to each other’s songs we explain about co-writing and how the money is earned and shared out. We show them a ready made contract in the workbook that they can keep and a list of organisations that can offer advice about their music when they get out.
The time races by and all too soon our participants are collected by security to go back to their cells for lunch. One lad hangs back slightly and asks me if this is what our workshop would be like if it was on the ‘outside’…I answer… absolutely. He’s looks reassured and heads off to lunch.
Dr. Jacs and I realise we are pretty hungry too and we are escorted to the staff canteen where we eat our sandwiches. The canteen staff and chefs are all prisoners. Today, on the menu, it’s Dirty rice, but we are sticking to our own packed lunches for now although the homemade cakes do look good.
We hesitate; it’s no use, neither of us can resist having a slice of Victoria Sponge. The lad who baked it comes over to our table and starts chatting. I ask him for his butter icing recipe. He’s happy to tell me. He also says he hasn’t had a visit from his parents in two years.
Their life. Their reality. And our chance to make difference… all in one room.
With even more resolve to do just that, Jacs and I are collected by Security and we head back to the library.
The afternoon is joyous. We hear their songs, their writing, their struggles and their hopes and dreams for the future, all in music and song .We are moved to tears by a melodic rap with a gentle guitar backing from a lad who tells us his story from aged nine to the present time. It is riveting. Its only too clear, when his time behind the wall is up, he won’t be coming back. We all applaud loudly. He’s smiling.
Only too soon the afternoon is up. Certificates are awarded and each participant fills in an evaluation sheet which Jacs and I decide we’ll read on the train home.
A lad shows me a poem that he has torn from a newspaper. He wants me to have it and I accept graciously . He’s got two years left.
Dr. Jacs and I say our goodbyes.
On the journey home Jacs opens the folder and she shares the lads comments. I share the poem. Their words officially confirm that the day is a success.
I leave you with the poem.
P.S. It should be said that the Governor Mark Greenhaf (who has just moved to another job) deserves a special mention for the positive ethos and creative atmosphere we found in Swinfen Hall. The Staff and the Prisoners all benefit!