Monday 10th June

Christchurch Symphony Orchestra helps prisoners get ready to return to the community

Jonathan Guildford

First published on Stuff on 14 April 2019

Christchurch Men's Prison inmate Denan* never liked being in front of crowds because it made him anxious.

He also never really fancied himself as a musician.

But on Thursday, Denan did something he had never done before and performed for a group of visitors, staff and other inmates at Christchurch Men's Prison alongside members of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO).

Guitars and ukuleles were played, percussion came in the form of drum sticks on buckets and various musical genres from classical music through to Pasifika-inspired drum beats filled the air.

The performance was part of the Navigate Initiative – a partnership model between Corrections, the Pathway Trust and the wider community. Its aim is to provide options for inmates as they prepare for life back in the community.

Inmates have been learning to play instruments alongside CSO members for the last eight weeks.

Denan had never tried to play an instrument before joining the initiative and practicing the ukulele and percussion on buckets for Thursday's performance.

"I started off with feet for hands but now I've got my hands."

He had been "shaking all week" at the thought of having to perform in front of a crowd.

But once the performance ended and applause filled the air, Denan's anxiety had gone and he felt proud he had persevered to learn a new skill and faced his fears.

"I was in real awe. I'm proud actually ... what it's [taught] me is that I can leave here and teach my kids a musical instrument, even if it's basic it's something to give back.

"I can take something good out of this place rather than Dad's been in jail."

CSO chief executive Gretchen La Roche said the orchestra's involvement in the initiative was all about bringing the inmates together and passing on their passion for music.

"We think music can play a part in bringing us together and making connections and this is all a part of that.

"Aside from fostering creativity, it also really helps the men develop collaborative skills of working together, developing trust and confidence and tackling something many of them have not learnt before."

The programme began in South Island schools and was now being used in prison for the second time after being trialled at Christchurch Men's youth unit last year.

Pathway Trust reintegration manager Carey Ewing said he hoped the Navigate Initiative would help the inmates with their reintegration back into the community.

"We're really keen to build passions and build meaning into the lives of the men that we work with. Prison seeks to take a lot out of them [with] anti-social behaviours and traits.

"We think it's really important that if we are going to be successful in that reintegration phase that they have things to live for and that they have things that will give them meaning and aspiration."

Christchurch Men's Prison residential manager Graeme Hunter said he hoped the programme would help the inmates realise their potential and that they could add something to the community when they were released from jail.

"A lot of these guys have really good skills … [which] gives them a good footing for when we release them into the community with the best support around them.

"It's a stepping stone into the community. If we're going to give these guys a chance on the outside then we need to be able to provide that support around them when they are released from the community. It's an ongoing support that starts within the wire and eventually outside the wire," he said.

* Name has been changed to protect the prisoner's identity.