Artist of the Month – Neil Packham
What is your experience of working in Scottish prisons – past and present?
My initiation into working inside a prison couldn’t have been more challenging and exhilarating. It began in 2010 when the Citizens Theatre took part in the ‘Inspiring Change’ project, with Platform 2:10. This ambitious project was a steep learning curve. I was immensely proud of what we achieved: a cast of 40 men performing live, with a band, on the set of a railway platform, inside a chapel, inside HMP Barlinnie! However, what really overwhelmed me was the impact of taking part in this experience had on the men involved. We followed this with a 3 years a residency in the Barlinnie Learning Centre, in partnership with New College Lanarkshire. During this time we produced 3 full scale productions alongside many more smaller events, the process always being at the heart, be it writing for the stage, acting or music. Being so familiar with the world of Barlinnie it was an interesting change to work with long term prisoners in HMP Low Moss for a brief period on a project related to World War 1. Most recently, in 2017, I was completely absorbed, with my colleague Elly Goodman, in a project called Family Sentence which spoke about the issues that both the men on the ‘inside’ and their families on the ‘outside’ experience during their time of incarceration. Of all the projects this proved particularly powerful, relating an unheard story.
What role do the Arts have to play in the criminal justice sector and with people residing in Prisons?
Within prison most of the time you need to keep up a mask in order to protect yourself, you live in a community that has only negative connotations, it’s difficult to be yourself. Creativity, on the other hand is a challenging but a positive process that provides a sense of achievement, inevitably increasing the persons confidence and self-esteem. This compared to prior experience of not doing well, maybe struggling with formal education and being judged as failure. Being absorbed in a project you can forget your anxieties which in turn can improve your mental health. If family members are given access to the performance, the sense of pride from both sides can be something not normally experienced and potentially have a positive impact. The arts also gives a person the opportunity for informal reflection and the potential to examine their behaviour in a different way.
What impact has your organisation work made whilst working in Prisons either with individuals or a larger group/sector?
So many men who have taken part in our projects on the inside have enquired about what they can do to continue their interest when they leave prison and the Citizens Theatre has been able to provide this opportunity. We have welcomed a number of men through the ‘stage door’ into our Community Collective on a Friday afternoon and been able to offer them and their families tickets to see performances at the theatre. It has been wonderful to see one young man, who’s taken part in so many of our projects on the inside, perform on the main stage of the Citizens Theatre and to witness the pride and sense of achievement it’s given him.