HMP Thameside, December 2018
On December 19th, 2018 I had the pleasure of going to HM Prison Thameside with a few volunteers from the University of Greenwich choir, here is my perspective on a day that was far more rewarding than I ever thought it could have been.
So, we start our day with rain at 6am, it’s at this point that I start to regret signing up, however I power through with the thought in mind that “This is something special for the inmates”. So, I make the journey, meet up with my fellow choral singers and we head to HMP Thameside. I’ll save you the struggle of getting through security, as it was just that, a struggle. However, when we finally got into the prison we were greeted by friendly staff who guided us to the chapel in which we’d be singing.
I sat nervously, waiting for the inmates to arrive, not sure what type of people they’d be, imagining the worst possible things, yet when they arrived, all nerves washed away. These inmates were kind, polite and invested in the programme. They were there for one thing and that was to have a fun day singing and meeting new people. They all were enthusiastic about singing, none of them backed away from it, some even lead us with a solo while others played drums. You could see how much it meant, us being there. In fact, while on break (in which the inmates supplied us with cake and snowballs) one of the things that stuck with me was when an inmates said, “You either leave here a great pool hustler, or a great poet”, before he recited one of his own poems off the top of his head, I think that speaks volumes, the inmates turn to art as a form of escape, a solace from their surroundings. These workshops and experiences are what we should be striving to offer to inmates who need an escape and something to care about.
When it came time to perform the carol service, something we first did for the prison staff, followed by a performance for the inmates. I was shocked at the attendance, we had a huge amount of people show up, all there to support their fellow inmates as well as listen to the carol service being offered. I think my favourite thing about this was that during the service the reactions to the sopranos singing the descant (the SUPER high parts) was priceless, someone even shouting afterward “Who was that!?”. After the service was done, we greeted all the inmates who came to watch the service, some even saying they wished they’d have signed up.
After our final goodbyes we were escorted from the building and shown toward the exit, with the staff wishing us safe travels as well as hoping we’d return soon, a sentiment the choir shared also.
I powered through my morning to get to Thameside prison by repeating to myself “This is something special for the inmates”, but reflecting, this was just as special for me as I hope it was for them, I got to give my time to people who benefit from these experiences. Seeing the growth and support they showed each other in the few hours we were there, it was something special. I hope we return in the near future, and you can guarantee I’ll be volunteering again.