What happens on a typical visit?
We tend to arrive at the prison to start by about 8am - sometimes later, sometimes earlier, depending on the prison. If all volunteers are coming from one place, we often catch the train or a minibus together; otherwise, volunteers meet at the prison.
After going through security we meet the group of residents and staff, and spend a while chatting to them, as well as all filling in the first side of our feedback forms together. We then have an energetic warm-up session including sections on singing technique. We spend the morning learning the music we plan to perform in the afternoon.
After lunch (either packed lunch, with the staff or with the residents) we have a final rehearsal followed by a presentation of what we have learnt. This could be in a concert format; roaming performances across the prison on wings and workshops; or a short audio recording session. We fill out our final feedback forms and distribute certificates, and usually the day is over by around 4pm, when we travel home.
The short answer is - no! We teach everything by ear, meaning there’s no need to read music or know the songs already. Our groups tend to have a wide range of ability, from absolute beginners to professionals, and we like both prison-based participants and volunteers to feel they can sign up to attend, whatever their musical experience.
You won’t have to lead any songs, or sing on your own - our workshops leaders will run the sessions. The most important thing is an open mind and enthusiasm to give it a go, and use music and singing as a vehicle for building confidence and community, and challenging stereotypes.
Do I need to be a good singer?
How do you keep volunteers safe in the prison environment?
Every prison we work in has its own security procedures, and these can change depending on the security level of the institution, or the residents it holds. Sing Inside conducts thorough briefing sessions the day before every visit, incorporating prison-specific materials into a fuller session on group learning, acceptable social contact, and how to make the environment safe and productive. We will explain the security procedures in terms of ID checks, searches and scanners, and prohibited items. We also make sure you know who to talk to on each individual visit, both at Sing Inside and a key member of prison staff, if you have any concerns. We have full public liability insurance which covers our volunteers in the prison environment. We work closely with prisons to ensure the safety of our volunteers and prison-based participants, and adapt our processes to each institution as necessary.
Sing Inside often receives thank you letters, cards and song suggestions from the people we work with, usually by post. For this kind of communication we have a secure PO Box address.
We are always interested to hear from people who work within the prison system – direct connections to prisons are the most effective way of establishing initial contact with a new prison. If you would like to coordinate a visit to your prison, please email Clover. Outside workshops, the experience and knowledge of those who have worked in the prison system has proved invaluable. In the past, prison officers and governors have offered to give talks to Local Committees, pointed us towards valuable resources, and offered advice in relation to communicating with prisons and residents. If you would like to get in touch, please feel free to email any member of the Central Committee.
I work in the prison service and am interested in Sing Inside’s work. How can I get in contact?
I want to volunteer on a visit but I’m worried about saying the wrong thing. Do you have any communication tips?
We discuss communication within a prison setting more extensively during briefing meetings, but the most important thing, as in any community, is that we communicate respectfully and in ways that do not cause harm. Volunteers and prison-based participants will all have different past experiences so it is important to stay attuned to sensitive relationship building, both in terms of the content of what we say, and the behaviours surrounding it. While personal information is not relevant and should never be shared, we encourage honesty and openness about our personalities as we form a community. Sharing musical tastes and discussing hobbies, for example, can be a positive way to balance engagement as individuals with security requirements. If you feel uncomfortable at any point, you can raise this with your visit lead or a member of prison staff.
Sing Inside is at an exciting point of expansion and is always looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help mobilise their community. If you would like to get involved in organising Sing Inside workshops, email Kate with some information about yourself and why you want to get involved. Useful things for us to know include whether you are connected to an institution (eg. community choir, student society) and whether you have any relevant experience. Kate will then help to organise an information session to start engaging local volunteers. The Executive Committee will guide you through the process of organising a prison visit and lead the first day-long workshop. If the workshop is a success and there is appetite for more, we will work closely with you to form a Local Committee, which will eventually become empowered to organise their own workshops.
I’m interested in organising a prison visit. How do I get started?
What kind of music do you do?
Our workshops are normally structured around a theme - for example, sunshine; bridges; water; flowers. We choose four or five songs and arrange some in two or three part harmony, to ensure we explore various vocal techniques and harmonies. Our arrangements are flexible and we work with prison residents to shape each performance in whatever way suits them - so sometimes our Christmas carols have bongo accompaniment, or our folksongs have a drum beat.
We always ask residents and staff to suggest songs and often they bring along their own poems or songs they have already written. Our workshops can be a great opportunity to add choral backing to their songs, for example, or change the sound of a chorus. We work on all kinds of music, from classical to rock to jazz, and we are always learning about which songs work best.
Yes! We have lots of opportunities available, from fundraising to local events and publicity. Check out our current opportunities page to find out more, or contact your local committee to see what they have on where they might need support. If you have any questions about volunteering on a continued basis, email email@example.com.
I want to volunteer, but I can’t give up a whole day. Are there other ways I can be involved?