2006, 11am one Friday: a BBC producer phones to say he’s doing this prison radio project, and people at BBC Birmingham keep suggesting he calls me…? 2pm: I find myself leading a session for inmates. The resulting programme was award-nominated and is still available to listen to.
Wow, this one was an eye-opener. You can read a feature and listen to the programme here on the BBC WM website. I directed the entire drama, including guiding the inmates to write passages of their own, script editing those, and then directing them as they performed it. Needless to say we couldn’t bring them out of the prison to studio for it – no, we had to invent the whole radio drama setup for ourselves there in whatever space they had available. Considering all of these limitations, the resulting programme was a powerful listen – so much so that the station put it forward for a Gillard Award.
Turned out it wasn’t just the inmates I was training in the end. The Producer, who had worked on Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show and later went on to found the Prisons Radio Association, hadn’t produced radio drama before, so as well as helping plan the transformation of a bland prison room into a radio drama studio, I ended up training him on multitrack sound editing in Adobe Audition!
The broadcast was powerful, haunting even, alternating between interviews with the featured inmates discussing their crimes, incarceration and its effects on their families, with the drama they co-wrote and appeared in. There was a strong response when it was broadcast, with complaints as well as praise, which came with the territory. A lot of us don’t ever want to think or know about what happens in our prisons. That’s why it’s important that others of us go there sometimes and bring it out into the open. As a result of my work in the prison, I was later commissioned by HMP Hewell Grange to postproduce an audio CD for new inmates’ induction.
One thing I found immediately striking was the extent of the literacy problems of most inmates. I found myself wondering how these people could have ever been expected to find work in the modern economy, which relies on literacy either directly or on computers or in job adverts and applications – does the structure of our economy mean that there’s nowhere else for people like this to end up than in prison?
Another thing that struck me when I found out afterwards, was that the inmates who seemed the most ‘normal’ and well-adjusted for life outside were the ones who turned out to be the sex offenders – rapists and paedophiles among them, I imagine.
Makes you think. Some experiences just live with you.
If you’d like me to deliver projects like this for you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!