Can music soothe the savage beast inside?
Can art help rehabilitate offenders? I think the answer is yes to both questions.
I always look forward to visiting the Arts by Offenders annual exhibition. You may remember this. This year it’s at the Southbank Centre. I was at the opening day. You should go too. It’s on until 20 November 2011.
Lots of pictures, sculptures, writing and short films.
Matey boy up top caught my eye. It’s a striking portrait that reproduces well on a web page. It’s called Disappoint Man. It’s by an anonymous inamte at Feltham Young Offenders Institution for under 18s. Looks both aggressive and vulnerable, doesn’t it? The artist definitely has something.
There are more subtle works too, like this one by Nigel Beever, who is an inmate at HM Prison Lowdham Grange, Nottingham. It’s called Behind Me (Self Portrait). More clear talent.
Unfortunately I cannot show you my favourite exhibit here, but you can find it if you click on this link. It’s a short film called Going To See Daddy which was made by inmates of HM Prison and Young Offenders Institution Doncaster. It’s just a short film – about four minutes – but it’s very effective – heartrending and informative. And just lovely. Go on, have a look.
It’s not all visual art. Here’s a haiku by an anonymous poet who is an inmate at Ashworth Special Hospital, Merseyside.
from Mundorum Monstra
mole caught in the sun
lost, dazed, needing a tunnel
at the end of the light
Now that’s a different perspective on life and light and the whole light at the end of the tunnel scenario. It speaks of mental and physical confinement and a longing for security.
But does all this art make any difference? Well, it raises some money from the sale of the artwork – generally speaking the prisoners or inmates/patients get half and the balance is split between Victim Support and the Koestler Trust, which runs art rehab in prisons and secure hospitals. The prizes range from £100-£25 – or a certificate.
According to the Koestler Trust, art in prison also boosts self-confidence and channels detainees energies into more positive activity than simply sitting around smoking, doing drugs and watching telly.
On some (probably rare) occasions, an artist can discover him or herself – like my friend Dean Stalham who emerged from prison to found Art Saves Lives and become a playwright and impressario. (Sometimes the drama surrounding his shows is even more shocking outside the theatre.)
So does this count as mollycoddling or rewarding bad behaviour? No, I don’t think so. It might make the difference between an offender becoming a reoffender – or not.