Music Behind Bars (Working Title)

An ex-colleague long long ago (we started teaching together) kept a diary when he served some time in prison recently. It’s a fascinating account of life in prison – the characters he met, the people he helped as a teacher of maths, music, reading and chess, and the daily workings of a segregated wing of a prison. He also recorded a CD of his own great songs – he had time to compose behind bars! Now he’s working on turning his wonderful diary into a more readable fictionalised story. Stay tuned!

Extracts from “Music Behind Bars”

Chapter 1: First was a strip search. My clothing was itemised and stored, except for my one pair of underpants, a polyprop thermal singlet, some flash impractical leather shoes and day-old black socks. What money I had was receipted and I also surrendered my gold necklace and gratitude stone – no thanks for that! After some deliberation I was allowed to keep the card containing four hearing aid batteries, which luckily I had in my pocket. I climbed into some rather large overalls and was escorted down the corridor to the next stage, an interview with a young, sympathetic and reassuring Indian doctor who established that I didn’t smoke, had no known allergies, drank “moderately” and “hadn’t had any thoughts of self-harm lately”.

Chapter 24: The choir had survived four weekly sessions. A measure of discipline was essential in any musical group, but if I could make it fun and fulfilling, then hopefully I could insist a little without ruffling feathers. The chance to do something different was a huge carrot, so I carefully solicited original members who I felt would be manageable. But nothing in prison could be done discreetly and I was worried when T, a young Maori, one of my guitar students and a loose cannon, asked if he could join. I had noticed his short attention span in chapel discussions – from a teacher’s point of view, he was a classic attention seeker who could easily be distracted, and when bored he was dangerous. He assured me he would behave, so I relented. The seven noviciates were even more apprehensive than me when we finally made a start. I kept it simple, and the first session was a roaring success. T turned out to be better than his word, singing with commitment. The favourite song was an odd one: “Kumbayah”, sung with religious fervour, to the bemusement of the corrections officers in their tearoom across the corridor. The dining room had great acoustics.

Chapter 30: It had been over a year since all who knew me well had received news of my offending. Many were stunned. For some of them, it was impossible to come to terms with – they couldn’t give me a second chance. I accepted that, feeling deep shame and loss. I had let everyone down, including myself. I was blessed to still have a large group of supportive friends. Their love for me and faith in me were strengthened by my resolve to address my offending and ensure that it could never happen again. Their positive feedback had also strengthened me. Others whose lives I had devastated – the victims, parents, and the community – could not forgive and forget. Some of my close friends felt the same and chose to wash their hands of me.