Thursday, January 21, 2016

Changing Tunes

I was invited to a very moving talk this week.  May I tell you about it?

The two speakers had come to tell us about 'Changing Tunes', a charity which, in its own words, aims to reduce re-offending through music.   And it's been very successful.  Spreading out from its origins in Bristol, it now covers a large part of the country and has attracted many supporters including Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Tim Rice.

To reduce re-offending through music is a remarkable aim . . . but how is it achieved?
They do it, so we were told, through personal contact.

Highly-trained and motivated musicians from 'Changing Tunes', together with volunteers ranging from City lawyers to professional sportsmen, visit UK prisons on a regular basis.
Here they spend time with the prisoners and invite them to participate in making music.

I hope you noticed my choice of the word 'invite'.  In a prison there are no invitations, the pattern of an inmate's life is wholly dictated.  This is the one and only occasion when a prisoner is asked what he would like to contribute . . . by so doing he is, one might say, liberated into the world of music.

It appears that over the past twenty years the prison population of this country has increased by nearly ninety per cent, and is now the highest in Western Europe.  Re-conviction rates are also alarmingly high.   At the same time, those who've benefitted from the visits of 'Changing Tunes', and have had continuing support after their release, have proved dramatically less likely to re-offend.  Some, we were told, have even moved on to establish a career in music.

I recommend that you visit the 'Changing Tunes' website and see for yourself just how they use the universal language of music to convey their message.
You'll marvel, as I did, at the impressive way in which this dedicated charity is reclaiming lost lives.

One of the reasons I attended this talk was because, as a correspondence-course tutor, I've some personal knowledge of working with prisoners.  The American prison system accepts this particular course as being suitable for long-term inmates.  Because of this, I've corresponded on a regular basis with several offenders. For me it's has proved a wholly enriching experience.

I've learned that a prisoner is first and foremost a person, that, like the rest of us, each one is unique, that this person will, in due course, re-enter society, and that any support we can offer supports everyone.

My contribution to the prisoners' lives has been small.  I merely sit at home and write, I don't meet them in person.  But, for all that, I know how much the course can mean in their progress towards rehabilitation.

May I share part of the final letter I received from one of my students.  It was written shortly before his release.  Although he's thinking in terms of his completed course, his words speak for the bigger picture . . . the re-education and rehabilitation of offenders.  Seen in that light, what he writes could easily apply to all those prisoners whose lives have been turned around to such marked benefit by 'Changing Tunes'.

This is what he wrote . . . 

"Many men succumb to the trials of prison life.  Enveloped by the darkness they cast no shadow.  
The pillars of light generated from within the heart of this work allowed me to not only cast a shadow, but to see my reflection.  Knowing that I am made everything possible."