National Prison Radio’s Andrew Wilkie on how to build prisoners’ creativity and confidence

I HAVE LEARNT TO BE WARY WHEN TAKING OUT A PAYDAY LOAN, ALWAYS TO ASK IF I DON’T UNDERSTAND, AND ALWAYS TO READ THE SMALL PRINT!

Create’s Inside Change project enables prisoners to explore financial literacy through radio drama. Working with our professional drama artists, participants write, perform and record a radio play centred around personal finance issues, which is then broadcast into 81,000 prison cells via National Prison Radio. We spoke to Andrew Wilkie, Director of Radio at the Prison Radio Association, about how creativity in prisons and getting involved in radio can build prisoners’ confidence and reduce reoffending.

National Prison Radio broadcasts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, into prison cells in virtually every prison in England and Wales. We exist to reduce reoffending by giving people the tools to sort out whatever issue led them to prison. We aim to do that by sharing prisoners’ experiences of the most important issues they face – that’s really at the heart of the radio station.

People are quite naturally really nervous when they go into a radio studio. It’s small, you’re sitting in front of a big microphone, and when you talk into it thousands of people can hear what you’re saying. They may go in to interview someone like a prison governor and start reading a script, and sometimes it can sound really stilted. You can hear the nerves in their voice. But then there’ll be a moment where it goes off script and turns into a conversation. When you get to that point, you feel like you’re engaged and communicating properly. Stepping out of that studio at the end of the interview, you can see the sense of elation on their faces. It’s a huge confidence boost to be able to do something like that.

Virtually everyone who ends up in prison will be released at some point. They’ll come out into society and live among us
Andrew Wilkie creativity in prisons
Andrew Wilkie of the Prison Radio Assocation

The people we work with are quite often at rock bottom in terms of confidence. Many will have lost everything. They’ll be feeling guilt and shame, and they’ll be sitting in their cell thinking about it all day. When you’re in prison, isolated like that, confidence is incredibly difficult to build. But it’s experiences like being on the radio or being creative that can kick-start that process.

People who are in prison should have the opportunity to try and solve whatever led them to commit crime in the first place, whether that’s addiction, compulsive behaviour or financial necessity. The reasons why people commit crime are very complicated and the solutions aren’t simple, but doing nothing is not a solution.

Virtually everyone who ends up in prison will be released at some point, so the question is: who do you want living in your community? Do you want people who have been left to rot in a prison cell? Or do you want people who have used their time in prison to help themselves? Everybody has to take responsibility for these questions if we’re going to call ourselves a society.

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Anyone who’s been into a prison will know that they’re grey, drab, colourless places.

Financial literacy is one of the key pathways for reducing reoffending. Having financial security can relieve a lot of pressure in all sorts of ways. It’s a very important subject, but understanding it can be complicated. Create’s Inside Change project has therefore been amazing; it’s a very clever way of educating people about financial management, because you’re learning without being in a lesson.

Criminologists argue that a common root cause of crime is an inability to communicate. Creativity in prisons is absolutely vital, because creativity is an way of communicating without necessarily having to use your voice.

Anyone who’s been into a prison will know that they’re grey, drab, colourless places. You’re deprived of stimulation and choice because there’s nothing to look at – it’s just bricks and beige paint. Art and creativity in prisons fill that void.

To find out more about Create’s prison work, including our project connecting fathers in prison with their children, click here.