The harsh reality of being in a gang is being shared through music created by prisoners in Essex.
THE Violence and Vulnerabilities unit in partnership with HMP Chelmsford and the Finding Rhythms charity are working together to break the cycle of men reoffending when they leave prison.
Those completing the six-day music-making course will not only achieve a BTEC qualification, but write, compose and record an album of original music.
The work received £50,000 funding as part of the Violence and Vulnerability Programme established by the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) and partners across Essex. The programme funds projects to reduce the risk of young and vulnerable people being groomed into a life of crime and help those affected by gangs to take the steps to leave.
Thirty men in the prison have worked their way through the course, removing the bravado and barriers which may have prevented them from becoming rehabilitated in the past.
The course was completed before the Coronavirus lockdown and the team hope to deliver some more interventions later in the year.
Kirsty Gibbons, senior probation officer, said: “We are getting those in prison to reflect on their own journeys and pathways through music. It is a more relaxed way of getting them to do that and a challenge they enjoy.
“It is getting them to think about the thoughts they have in their heads and the impact of their behaviour. A lot of the prisoners have spoken about their mental health, the vulnerability that brings and how hard it is as a man to show.
“Through the project, we have found the one thing that has motivated them all is wanting to break down the image of what it is like to be in a gang. They have expressed that when they were younger it was all about the image on social media; how much money they had and the glamorous lifestyle. But, they said the reality is they are locked in a cell with no privacy. They may have been able to get their children the latest clothes previously, but now they can’t read them a bedtime story – it’s realising what is more important.
“So, they have been keen to write their songs as if sharing the message with younger people.”
The course is being completed by those who have been in gangs, are vulnerable or at risk of being involved with gangs in the future.
Miss Gibbons said: “This is about the prisoners understanding their triggers and keeping themselves safe going forward.
“Ultimately, the aim is for them to understand and explore their own identity, what it means to belong and what is their place in society. They are more likely to get involved in gangs if they feel excluded. It’s about social inclusion and giving them a sense of belonging.
“It is really amazing work. It’s going really well.”
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “Tackling serious violence and protecting young and vulnerable people are both key priorities in my Police and Crime Plan. We are working hard in Essex to tackle violence in our communities and are well ahead of other areas of the country. We have already created a Violence and Vulnerability Unit, have invested in a range of activities for young people at risk and strengthened our enforcement activities. We are investing in activities and interventions that stop the vulnerable being drawn into a life of crime and help those already involved to exit gangs safely.”