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Production   /  Shalom Almond

Songs Inside

Can these women prisoners sing their hearts out – and stay out?

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Impact areas

ARTS

HEALTH & WELLBEING

HUMAN RIGHTS & SOCIAL JUSTICE

INDIGENOUS

WOMEN & GIRLS

Crew

  • DIRECTOR Shalom Almond

  • PRODUCER Katrina Lucas and Lauren Drewery

Synopsis

DURATION: 80 MINUTES

Most women leaving prison eventually end up back inside, but one woman and her guitar are proving that music can be a powerful tool for healing and redemption.
Singer-songwriter Nancy Bates has a lot in common with many women behind bars – she grew up in foster care, became a teenage mum, suffered from domestic violence, homelessness and mental illness. The only thing that saved her was music. Now she’s sharing her secret weapon for healing and survival in a ground-breaking music program. Nancy works with prisoners with diverse backgrounds and crimes — from drug trafficking to assault — teaching them how to write songs, sing and play the ukulele.
Her teaching opens up a whole new world to them. Their voices and ukuleles become tools for self-discovery and their songs become stories about love, pain, motherhood, loneliness, shame and hope. The rookie musicians must not only delve deep to find their creative voices, but also learn to collaborate as a group in a place where vulnerability and trust are huge risks. Soon, the music-making uncovers deep scars and forces the women to confront their past traumas and mistakes.
The program’s aim is to help prepare these women to get out – and some of them will. But can they stay out of trouble and continue to be part of the program on the outside? Release from prison is tough: burdened by a criminal record, addictions, precarious family relationships, mental illness and lack of job skills, they face a potentially hostile world of uncertainty, poverty and danger.
Nancy’s dream is to bring together her protégés – both in and out of prison – and stage a debut performance alongside the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra for over 180 prisoners and staff, to help inspire the women to dream of a different life beyond prison walls. The women are terrified about exposing themselves and their deeply personal songs before a live audience. Can Nancy pull off her radical program and prove that music has the power to rehabilitate?

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  • April 2023

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Issue Summary

A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing

Over the last decade the fastest growing group of prisoners in Australia is women. Their number has increased by an alarming rate of 77%, with Indigenous women prisoners accounting for most of that growth.

The profile of women prisoners is profoundly different from that of male prisoners, so when we talk about criminalised women we must examine the factors that contribute to their offending. Perhaps the most important difference relates to women’s past experience of violence. Repeated studies have found that at least 85% of women prisoners in Australia are victims of abuse, with most having experienced multiple forms and incidents of violence. Women prisoners represent the most socially, culturally and economically marginalised population in Australian society.
To reduce high female recidivism rates long-term, there must be greater investment in holistic programs and support services that are tailored to the unique needs of female offenders, such Nancy's music program.

Impact

What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?

We want Songs From the Inside to shift public opinion and inspire communities and government to take a different approach to working with women recently released from prison, to smooth the pathway towards housing, employment, education, positive parenting and mental health support, in both urban and regional areas. In highlighting Nancy’s ground-breaking music program, the film makes a strong case that such programs play a crucial role in helping to reduce the rate of female recidivism.

Outcomes

What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?

• To provide women with lived prison experience with a positive narrative about themselves and to create empathy and understanding of their situation within the wider community.
• For the film to be a tool that will support communities, social workers, correctional departments and educators to broaden their understanding and practice of working with women transitioning from prison to the outside.
• To change the conversation in communities and government about how they approach the challenges particular to incarcerated women, and adopt whole community approaches.
• Support advocacy organisations working in the incarcerated women’s space.
• To highlight restorative justice principles and their potential to help reduce recidivism.
• To shine a light on the Music Program and other transitional programs and their positive outcomes, to ensure they continue to receive funding and support.
• To bring awareness to the power of music as a tool for personal healing and expression.

Activities

How will this documentary achieve its outcomes?

Education for Young People
- Creation of a curriculum-linked study guide
- Educational screenings to be held at schools, TAFEs and universities across Australia
- Department of Corrections use of the film to deepen the practice of working with incarcerated women

Community Engagement
- Screenings in communities – both urban and regional
- A screening tour of women’s prisons around Australia
- Creation of a women-to-women mentoring program for those released from prison.

Government Engagement
- Screenings in parliaments to mobilise support and inspire action from those in power
- One-on-one meetings with MPs and ministers for corrections

Public Engagement
- Australian cinema release inc music/ukelele event screenings and film festivals
- TV and subscription service screenings – ABC, Netflix etc
- Media articles and publicity

Impact Partnerships
- Screenings for their stakeholders
- Fundraising and funding opportunities

Stakeholders

How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?

South Australia has the lowest rate of returned prisoners in the country and our SA film partners are actively working in this space. These include the SA Department of Correctional Services, Offender and Rehabilitation Services (OARS), Seeds of Affinity and Australian Red Cross. We will be seeking additional partnerships with relevant reputable organisations Australia-wide, such as Sisters Inside (QLD). Our social impact consultation process will form the basis of our social impact campaign, and also inform our production, post and release strategies.
In 2018 our team made Prisoners and Pups, a one-hour documentary for ABC2 and three-part series for ABC iView, about women in prison who sign up to foster retired racing greyhounds. In 2019 we implemented a small SA based outreach strategy, including a screening at SA Parliament House. This experience gave us invaluable knowledge and access to the state prison and transition systems, and proved the impact that such a campaign can have.

Audience Engagement and Social Impact

What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?

Rethink stereotypes
Implement policy chance

Measurement and Evaluation

What is the projects indicators for success?

Firstly, our success will be measured by the creation of a film that meaningfully engages audiences – sold out cinema screenings, high TV ratings, wide distribution, selection to prestigious film festivals and award nominations, will all indicate this. Evidence of the film being used as a tool to inspire, educate, fundraise and collaborate by our film partners and other grassroots organisations, will be a second measure. Finally increased and/or continued funding for our partners and their programs, as well as the implementation of new prisoner transition programs will be the long term indication of our direct impact.