A governor and an officer

Most of the inmates have never stood in front of any group - even to speak - for any reason. The courage and confidence and self-worth the opera gives them to do this is transformative.

From Louise Spencer, No. 1 Governor

Thank you for coming into High Down and seeing for yourself that prisons aren’t just the places of violence and despair that the media will have you believe. Tonight you have seen that they can be places of hope, where men can try different experiences, learn new skills and grow in confidence and self-esteem. The prisoners in this performance have shown what can be achieved with hard work and commitment – in just 4 weeks of rehearsals – and I really hope that they will take those skills back into their communities when they leave prison. I’ve worked with Pimlico Opera before at other prisons, and have seen for myself the life changing impact it can have and I’m very proud of all the efforts that the staff of Pimlico and High Down, alongside the prisoners, have put in to make this performance such a success.

No 2 Governor, High Down Prison

The inmates won’t take part in anything that exposes them to failure  in front of their peers. For this reason classes of thirty to one teacher don’t work, despite the fact that the most typical level of education is of a twelve year old for English and a ten year old for maths. We don’t have the resources for smaller classes and instead we try to sneak and incorporate the lessons into prison experiences in which they don’t realize they are learning, such as putting maths into talking about cooking measurements or darts scores.

The opera provides the only effective one-on-one work and more.
Most inmates have never heard of opera and need to be cajoled to try out. We slip a notice under the cell door and follow up. Those who decide to do it, have chosen a life changing opportunity, working with a professional cast on an entirely on an equal plain.

This inspires and gives the inmates the courage to work, to fail and continue to try until they achieve an important goal. The inmates’ conquering the consuming and destructive fear of failure and shame also shows in that they have to weather the taunts of their peers when they go to rehearsals.

Most of the inmates have never stood in front of any group – even to speak – for any reason. The courage and confidence and self-worth the opera gives them to do this is transformative. The inmates gave them a standing ovation at the prison performance. And it is enormously meaningful to them for their families to see them perform.

I watched an inmate who played the romantic lead opposite Cosette. He was singing with a singer who had beautiful perfect soaring round tones while he was flat as a pancake. He was singing his heart out and she, everyone onstage and in the audience fully and sincerely valued his performance equally with hers.

I am saddened that this work couldn’t be given to more than 15 out of 1200 inmates. However, my disappointment is tempered by my belief that changing even one life has made it all worthwhile – and changing one life can change the world.

From Prison Officer Julie McDevitt

On Tuesday 5th Sept 17 I started with helping to recruit prisoners for Les Miserables at HMP Highdown.

We ended up with 15 very dedicated prisoners.

I watched them from day one, right up to when the show started on Friday 13th .
That afternoon they put a show to some of the other prisoners and it went down brilliantly and I couldn`t stop smiling about how proud they all seem to be.
The evening show was to the public and I can not explain how proud I was of those 15 men; they couldn`t stop smiling, they were so chuffed with themselves and after the show had finished behind the scenes they were buzzing. They couldn`t stop talking and they were telling me how they had never felt so good and they would never of thought for one minute that they would be in a play.
As for me this has to be the best experience I have ever had while working in all the 16 years in HMP Highdown.
This experience will stay with me forever and I thank everyone that let me a part of this whole production.

Prisons aren’t just the places of violence and despair that the media will have you believe. Tonight you have seen that they can be places of hope.