Where’s the Music?

Posted: April 29, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , , ,

musicFamous quotes, university courses, the example of business all tell us that the arts are therapeutic. At the cancer centre that I go to, there’s soft music in the background. A volunteer wanders the various floors with her shih-tzu dog for people to pat and admire. Art made by cancer patients fills every floor, in addition to beautiful and expressive paintings by professional artists.

In prison – nothing. No music in the halls, no music in the elevators (actually, no elevators), no inmate art on the walls, no drama programs, no art classes, no theatre, no band, no woodworking, no pets, no anything. And most of all no music.

Yes we’ve managed to keep a few writing programs going in three federal prisons in our area, but nothing in two of the biggest prisons. And the system does little to help.

Prison officials believe in programs, angry management, substance abuse etc. These programs have value, but they are not the whole picture. The arts are the way into some people’s souls. Programs are forced on the inmates – they do not participate in deciding what programs they need, so from the beginning their attitude is not the best. And there’s some ass-covering going on for the prison system. “Well, right here in the notes on April something, Instructor X told Mr. Y not to commit break and enter, so if he ever does it when he’s released, don’t blame the prison system.”

prisonPut the arts back in prison. I’ve seen men find themselves through writing. Music works, the arts work.

How can we ordinary citizens help?


Images courtesy of:

  • bob-lee.ca
  1. chrisgeraldvogel says:

    No question that creative activities are more theraputic and life-affirming than other ways of spending time. However, learning trades should not be overlooked as another way of enabling the inmate to have something he can do for his immediate material and psychological benefit, both during incarceration and after getting out.
    At least some penitentiaries offer, or used to offer, trades shops (CorCan, usually) in woodwork, metalwork, masonery and (on the Ni-Mikana Healing Range at Stony Mountain Institution, at least) traditional crafts, which provide useful education, a way to pass time productively, and some pathetically small wages to spend on canteen and catalogue purchases, phone calls, sending home, and to have something in your pocket when you get out. The farm at Rockwood, like those in other institutions, has been closed, although it offered useful and potentially remunerative education in producing cheese, among other things. Now, at Stony, some of the shops are being removed to provide room for shoe-horning a Maximum Security Institution literally into the middle of the existing medium-security institution (which has the advantage for the Harper government that they do not have to do any environmental or other assessments or get other permissions).

    As for the other programs, my friend who has taken all of them that they would permit him to have, has lately been advised that “programs don’t work.” Whose fault is that?

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Good addition, Chris — CorCan does exist here in the Fraser Valley, but some skills like welding have been eliminated. A big hole in job training is computer skills. Almost every work place employs computers. But the prison system treats computers like rattlesnakes.

  2. Joanne says:

    Yes, it is very difficult to get other programs into institutions, especially now. In the 90’s there was not only a lot more in the way of trades but there were contracts for art therapy and horticultural therapy, as well as creative writing. There was also access to well-stocked libaries and hobby shops as well as educational opportunities. Almost everything, it seems, has disappeared as budget cuts and a whole new ideology have overtaken the Correctional Service of Canada. I recall reading that as part of the Harper government’s Transformation Agenda there would be more, not less, emphasis on vocational re-training in prisons. Where has this objective gone? Today prisoners are left to languish in their cells most of the day, after having completed their 2-hour work day, assuming they are lucky enough to have one of the few cleaning jobs available.

    As for core programs, they too have been the victims of budget cuts. And the quality of programming and the severely reduced qualifications of those who are hired to deliver the programs are almost certainly responsible for their meager effectiveness.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Right you are, Joanne. You may be familiar with the history of Matsqui Institution here in the Fraser Valley. In the eighties and early nineties, Simon Fraser University had a university program at this institution. I understand it was a great program. I know of a woman inmate who wanted to get her degree. She was the type of person who wouldn’t take no for an answer. She convinced the authorities to let her attend the program. She slept at night in the infirmary and went to university in the daytime.
      I understand that the program was killed from two directions. The public complained in this fashion, “I have to pay thousands to send my kid to university and these dirty cons get a university education for nothing.” Unfortunately the system did nothing to counter this attitude. They could have reminded people that education is the proven way out of crime.
      The other destructive force was the prison administration itself, portrayed by, “What the hell do these guys need with World Literature, Philosophy and Astronomy? They need construction skills and craft skills, like carpentry and plumbing.”

      • Joanne says:

        Yes, I am familiar with the university program. And both reasons for shutting it down were not good ones.

        Many institutions now make it very difficult for prisoners to take courses even if they want to pay for them. There is little access to reference materials and no access to computers that are now necessary to complete distance courses.

        Those in administration who believe that all prisoners are bound for trades tickets are ignorant. Prisoners, like people in the general population, are all individuals and not a homogeneous clump. They all have different interests and abilities. Also, for those Admin, I have this to ask: Where are all the great trades programs they have been promising? All you can get now is a lowly certificate saying that you have gotten a taste of what it is to do cartentry or welding, or painting, etc. You cannot actually get a trades ticket while inside, even though you might spend most of your life inside and would have more than enough time to complete it.

        The system has even done away with awarding GEDs in prison. Instead, prisoners can complete an “equivalent” that means nothing once they get out.

        These are all recent changes brought on by this government. I fear we are headed in a very dangerous direction.

  3. […] Where’s the Music? (prisonuncensored.wordpress.com) […]

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