Tuesday, 17 May 2022
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Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Changing Tunes: Reflections on my first year working at a prison

Reflections on my first year working at HMP Eastwood Park by Isie

HMP Eastwood Park is a women’s prison in Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire. I
have been working there with Changing Tunes for around a year now, and when I look
back on everything I have learnt, witnessed and experienced since then… well, I feel like
it has impacted me profoundly. When I started I really had no idea what was to come – I
feel that this job, especially at Eastwood Park, is a privilege, a huge responsibility, and
intensely emotional.

It is extremely challenging to put it all into words unless you have all day…! But I hope this provides a tiny bit of my insight into life at EWP…

Covid-19 restrictions have meant that we have only been able to run small groups or one-to-ones, and because each wing is a bubble, we are not allowed to mix wings. Therefore, I’ve been moving around the prison with equipment and instruments, visiting individuals in their cells, sometimes doing a music session on the wing and often having to alter any plans made for that day… flexibility is key!

In large groups, there are often many different personalities – all wanting to do different things, and needing varying amounts of attention and input – it is a lot to manage. So, despite the frustrating Covid-19 rules, one-to-ones and smaller groups have provided the opportunity to really tailor the session to the individual and give much more dedicated attention, which is so desperately needed. Recently I have made some amazing progress with individuals which simply would not have been possible had we been in a large group.

This is mainly where I feel a huge sense of privilege in the work I have been doing
for Changing Tunes. These one-to-one sessions have meant that the women have really
opened up to me – they have entrusted me with their life stories – stories so fragile and
painful, it would be impossible not to be moved. In the process of sharing their stories,
you witness major personal realisations occurring, in front of your eyes in real-time! We
have been putting these realisations into music. And it is a huge privilege for me to be a
part of this – to be invited in and trusted with such vulnerability.

This of course though is a huge responsibility in itself. It is hard to describe the feeling of being surrounded by people who are locked up in EWP, but the one word which goes part of the way to explain it is… sadness. There is a deep sadness that precedes the person’s arrival to prison, but on top of that, the daily act of living in prison adds another layer of trauma. I find it challenging being in this environment, but at least I know that I can go home at the end of the day. So, the responsibility that comes is that people are depending on us: Changing Tunes is so loved by EWP residents – it is an emotional release, an hour or two out of the cell, a chance to socialise or just to be quiet and reflective within a safe space. It provides an opportunity to be expressive without worrying about being judged. It is a moment to be human, a moment to be free.

The amount of times I have heard ‘Changing Tunes is the only thing I have’…’Changing Tunes is the only thing keeping me going’ and even – ‘You guys are lifesavers’… makes you realise how little help and support people are getting. We have a huge waiting list and are doing our best but we will never get through it – there is just too much demand.

I won’t lie, working in prison has provided me with some real highs and lows over the last year – but despite all the darkness, the light definitely shines brightly through. It has affirmed a lot for me personally over the last year – in particular: my capacity to love others, my musical competence, my love of music and also my ability to make others feel good about themselves. It doesn’t matter how bad a day someone can be having – you play some music together and all that melts away.

Music has the incredible ability to hold space for heartbreak, sorrow and grief, but also to uplift and raise spirits – always transcending where words cannot reach.

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