Project Description

Sounding Out is a collaborative research project commissioned by Dr Sarah Bartley at University of Reading, and delivered in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust and HMP Hewell. Funded with support from Research England’s QR Strategic Priorities Fund, the purpose of Sounding Out is to use creative arts practices to document, understand, and disseminate experiences of incarceration during COVID 19 in order to inform justice policy responses to the pandemic and reforms that support the recovery and transformation of the sector.

The original plan was to facilitate a small number of short audio-based residencies at HMP Hewell between January and March 2021. Unfortunately, the imposition of a third national Coronavirus lockdown meant we were unable to visit the prison to work face to face. An alternative plan was developed which involved the creation of two original pieces of audio drama based on the views and opinions of prisoners, prison staff, and ex-prisoners.

The first of these, Walking the Wing, written by Sophia Hatfield, was based on written responses to a questionnaire asking both prisoners and prison staff about their experiences of living or working in prison during the 2020/21. An initial draft of the piece was shared with ex-prisoners involved in the Prison Reform Trust’s Prisoner Policy Network, and following their feedback was subsequently recorded over the internet with ex-prisoners playing the roles of all the characters. Walking the Wing received its premiere on 25 May 2021 as part of Reading Assembly: Care, a two day digital event hosted by University of Reading. It can be heard here:

NB: Contains strong language from the outset and mention of substance misuse, self harm, and mental health related conditions.

A second piece, containing recorded voices of prisoners and staff at HMP Hewell, will explore ideas and thoughts on how, in the light of the experience of Covid 19, prisons could be made better in the future. Work on this piece is currently underway and will involve the participation of ex-prisoners through the Irene Taylor Trust‘s community music making programme.