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New Series Goes Inside Prisons to Teach Songwriting

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Ground-Breaking New Series Goes Inside New Zealand Prisons to Teach Songwriting to Inmates.

In 2011, New Zealand musicians Anika Moa, Warren Maxwell, Maisey Rika and Ruia Aperahama, went into Rimutaka and Arohata correction facilities to teach songwriting to prisoners.

The result is SONGS FROM THE INSIDE, a gritty and thought-provoking series premiering Sunday 18 March at 8.00pm on Maori Television.
The series covers the 10 weeks that the musicians taught 10 prisoners the step-by-step music programme developed by Evan Rhys Davies – a pilot programme he had tutored at Spring Hill Corrections Facility in the Waikato.

Each episode reveals a little more of the human story behind the prison statistic, ending in a thirteenth, hour-long special in which the songs the prisoners wrote, sang and recorded will be revealed.

Director Julian Arahanga (Once Were Warriors’ Nig Heke) says it was crucial that SONGS FROM THE INSIDE was as real as its uncompromising surroundings. Once inside the prisons, the cameras rolled.

“We knew we would face barriers,” he says.

“But none of us could have predicted what would emerge when those walls finally came down.”

Music therapy is used in prisons throughout the world, but SONGS FROM THE INSIDE is the first production to bring in established musicians and record the workshops, challenges and outcomes on film.

Once the Department of Corrections gave the go-ahead for the project, the producers worked with the department on matters of privacy, protocol and safety.

All participating prisoners were minimum or medium security; none were sexual offenders or had committed crimes against people under the age of 18; and none received monetary payment.

The prisoners also had to agree to be identified on camera – their songs and lives exposed to public scrutiny.

Tama, at Rimutaka Prison, says: “I know people will judge me. I was a disgrace, blinded by drugs and stupidity, anger and violence. My fists did my talking. Karma. I deserved what came to me. I deserve it.”

Maisey Rika says she was shaken, inspired and humbled by the experience.

“At the end of the day they are going to be out among us and before that I’d rather they be around something positive rather than negative.

“That’s what we’re giving them – tools in music, tools in writing, tools in therapy. Write it out. Don’t lash out.”

SONGS FROM THE INSIDE screens on Sundays at 8.00pm from 18 March to 10 June, 2012.

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