In the prison world where your physical steps today retrace the ones you took yesterday, last week, last month, last year, years previous, the arts takes you to a new world, allows you to take new steps, tentatively at first perhaps then later with much more boldness and precision. You explore new situations, new possibilities, new dimensions – often of yourself – and then you gaze on the ordinary, the commonplace, the everyday, and wonder how did it all once seem so one-dimensional?
When prisoners engage in art, music,drama, poetry and other forms of education they can create works of value in their own right. But these are also ways in which they bring colour and life into the grey, soulless place that is prison. They are ways of being human, keeping healthy,exploring emotions and finding alternative worlds and possibilities amidst the dreariness and monotony of prison life.
Just wanted to take a moment and thank you for bringing art into my life. Never before would I have imagined anything could be achieved from a blank canvas but now I know different. Now I also know I can express my feelings through art instead of harming myself. I don’t claim to be an artist but it has already healed part of the darkness that was binding me.
The Prison Arts Foundation is as important as it is unique. Thanks to its pioneering work with prisoners and ex-offenders, lives are being transformed and patterns of behaviour changed for good. The team of dedicated and experienced professional artists working across the prison network in Northern Ireland is offering many prisoners a life-line, helping to improve their creative and communications skills, which is key to personal and social development, building self-confidence and unlocking people’s potential.
The Arts Council is proud of our 15-year association with PAF; what PAF achieves through the arts, giving individuals the ability to reshape their futures, is a constructive intervention that benefits society as a whole.
What makes the contribution of the arts so vital within the prison system is the ‘added value’ it brings to conventional educational programmes. Basic numeracy and literacy are clearly important, but what drama, creative writing, painting and music can do is to help prisoners imagine a life beyond their own experience. They cannot be expected to break out of a cycle of recidivism without making this crucial extra step. Discovering the capacity to be creative is an essential part of reshaping a life. I have witnessed this in prisoners I have worked with – a reclaiming of autonomy; a resurgence of self-belief.
Helping change the attitudes and behaviour of those serving prison sentences and community sentences is challenging. The Prison Arts Foundation is uniquely knowledgeable and skilled in assisting offenders to use creative ways to express their views and assist them in positively changing to reduce the likelihood of future offending.
The Northern Ireland Prison Service is reforming, reforming its working practices and reforming the manner in which it engages with those entrusted to our custody, to ensure that they are provided with the best opportunity to reintegrate into the community when released. The Prison Arts Foundation’s strategic plan acknowledges this reform process but also acknowledges the role that various art forms has in those individuals own journey of reform. Engaging in those art forms not only helps with improving individuals skills in that area but can begin a process where an individual sees their potential and the opportunities available to them whilst in custody. These are important developments for individuals and I fully appreciate the work that the Prison Arts Foundation undertake in that process
The prison research world is finally recognising the crucial role that the arts can play in enhancing prisoner engagement in and motivation to change, and the highly innovative Prison Arts Foundation work in Northern Ireland is widely seen as an exemplary model of best practice in this regard internationally. The Northern Ireland Prison Service deserves considerable praise and recognition for its commitment to arts based work over the past decade. It is one of our great success stories in Northern Ireland