I got a bit confused this week. Gareth Malone went to Aylesbury young offenders centre to get them to sing and Ross Kemp visited Bellmarsh prison to get them to … well I am not entirely sure. There wasn’t a lot of singing in either programme. The youths in Aylesbury only liked one type of music which was, somewhat appropriately I thought, ‘drill’. Gareth had to abandon his usual approach of getting everyone together in a room to sing in a choiry sort of fashion owing to the likely bloodbath that would ensue. Instead he had solo sessions which each of the reluctant rappers encouraging them to tell their stories and not just repeat those of their idols. Obviously, it was Malone so he smashed it. I say obviously but this was so far from the usual choir story it was barely recognisable as such. He did something these young men appeared to have managed to avoid through their formative years. He gave them the space to tell their stories and he encouraged them and, perhaps most importantly, he didn’t judge them at all.
Kempy, on the other hand, down in Bellmarsh, was indulging in a much less hands-on observance of the containment of some of Britains most notorious and violent offenders. And Tommy Robinson. I was surprisingly impressed by Kempy’s lightness of touch throughout the first part of his new series and during his interview with a tearful, though not noticeably contrite or remorseful, aforementioned Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, as Robinson is formally known to his Mum, health care professionals and now, alas, the warders at HMP Bellmarsh.
Previously in my life, as observant followers of this blog will recall, I ran a youth drama group for youths. I was discussing the impact our Friday evening sessions might have had on those who attended with my daughter. Katy, who is now a social worker specialising in child protection, pointed out that many of those participants may never have had the chance to just share some news of their week as we encouraged them to do during ‘circle time’, in any other realm of their lives. It is impossible to measure the significance this had for them but so many of the children and young people Katy now encounters through her job have no such outlet available to them and the choices, if they are lucky enough to be able to make them, tend to reflect this.
It is the same for the children and young men that Malone and Kemp introduced us to this week. If the opportunity to develop their musical or entrepreneurial skills had been offered before they got to prison rather than once they were there, then the outcome might have been somewhat different.
This is what exposes the myth that austerity is somehow good for our society. We are still paying but rather than investing in young people and their potential we are just picking up the bill for when it all inevitably goes to shit. These are political decisions made by people that have been indulged and consulted throughout their lives. People who have benefits from being able to make the right choices because most of the options were good ones. Kemp and Malone this week introduced us to people who were sentenced to end up behind bars long before they were old enough to actually commit a crime themselves.
And Tommy Robinson.