Since 1990 Pimlico Opera has worked in 13 prisons, taken more than 50,000 public into prison. 1,000+ prisoners have participated, 9,000 prisoners have seen a show. It is intense and costly work which is funded by ticket sales, donations from individuals and larger gifts from charitable trusts. Past Prison Projects
The public debate about the purpose of prison and whether it can reduce reoffending is rarely out of the news. A New Philanthropy Capital survey shows re-offending costs the taxpayer approximately £13.5 billion a year and that engaging prisoners actively in arts projects could as much as halve expected reoffending rates.
A truly excellent piece of musical theatre before a paying public with a cast largely made up of prisoners is the heart of the project. Prisoners are rehearsed for six weeks full time and they reassess their abilities and begin to think differently about themselves and their futures; a future which could make a positive contribution to society. Prisoner feedback points to positive outcomes in practical, psychological and social terms. Prisoners see working towards a larger common good is uplifting and that hard work and discipline bring about great rewards. Confidence, energy, teamwork, positive thinking all contribute to rehabilitation and social integration.
The project is a springboard for dialogue between prisoners and the public who are astonished by the talent they see. There is a feeling of optimism. The prisoners transport the audience to think creatively about how prisons might better prepare prisoners for life on the outside.
"Family support in the process of prisoner restoration is essential. Where possible, families of prisoners must be regularly involved in a prisoner's healing process. At the same time, this process will help develop the necessary support structure for the prisoner's return to a functional life upon release."
Being supportive to a loved one in prison is not easy. Many prisoners lose touch with their families when they are inside. The project enables prisoners to get in touch with their brother or mother and say "come and see me do something good". For the family it is an emotional event: seeing their relative as the recipient of praise - audience applause - rather than castigation. In some small way the experience heals broken relationships.
Two performances are seen by other prisoners. Most have never been to a theatre and are staggered by the quality. It is a rare communal experience inside the prison and one which is surprisingly bonding. There is the realisation that 'if they can, I can'.
The project is very disruptive to prison routine yet prisons value what takes place. There is a rise in morale on the wings. Even the prisoners who aren't taking part share the sense of achievement. The endorsement of audience and press is a great boost to staff and inmates.
Pimlico Opera has provided training and paid employment to ex-prisoners in order to increase employability and help break the cycle of offending.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall came to prison in 2012 and stayed behind to talk to each of the prisoners after the show. A group photograph was taken and each prisoner has a copy as a memento.
Sir Stephen Tumim was the Patron of this work until his death. Michael Portillo is now Patron of the prison project.
"Utterly marvellous and inspiring"
Crispin Blunt, Former Prisons Minister
"It has been the most magical of experiences to watch how the lads, under the support and encouragement of the cast of professionals, have blossomed."
Andy Rogers, Governor, HMP Erlestoke
"My job is to try and send people out of prison less likely to offend than when they came in. The effect of programmes like Pimlico Opera's productions is huge"
Ian Mulholland, Governor HMP Wandsworth