Constructing personal narratives around key musical events: redefining identities and attitudes within and outside of prison music

Henley, J. and Cohen, M. L. (2014) Constructing personal narratives around key musical events: redefining identities and attitudes within and outside of prison music. In: CMA XIV Listening to the world: Experiencing and Connecting the Knowledge from Community Music, 15-18 July 2014, Salvador, Brazil.


In recent years the UK government has acknowledged that preparing incarcerated people to reenter society is critical in providing them with an alternative to crime” (DfES/PLSU, 2003, p. 3). Crucial to this shift from non-treatment regimes to a desistance paradigm is the recognition of the complexity involved in confronting criminal identities and changing this identity in order to reduce reoffending (Maruna, 2000). Ultimately, through a desistance paradigm, the reentry process can be supported in moving towards successful resocialization into society (McNeill, 2004). The desistance process involves the development of attributes that allow inmates to realign their identity with society. Farrall and Calverley (2005) suggest that the concept of feeling normal and hopeful are important parts of change processes. Burnett and McNeill (2005) demonstrate that personal motivation is further enhanced by inmates’ relationships formed with professionals and personal supporters. The rise to mass incarceration in the US has resulted from an attitude that nothing works (Martinson, 1974). Deep-seated problems of the US prison system have become so extreme that Michelle Alexander (2010) has argued that the prison system has legalized discrimination. However, some music educators and activities have begun music programs in US prisons and research indicates that these programs positively impact people’s attitudes toward prisoners (Cohen, 2012). The role of musical interventions in this process of providing opportunities for inmates to develop both individual agency and build social capital have been considered by McNeill et al. (2011). Moreover, project reports indicate that musical activities provide a connectedness with the outside world (Roma, 2010), they enable incarcerated women to express themselves in new ways contributing to a redefinition of their self-perception and worthiness (Warfield, 2010), and they offer a means to develop positive feelings towards society, regenerating relationships with social contexts outside of their own immediate environment (Mota, 2012). This paper draws on music programs within the criminal justice systems of the US and the UK in order to investigate their role in construction of new personal narratives relating to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in the community. ******* This paper is available open access from the ISME website at the 'Official URL' link below (see pages 119-128 of the full proceedings document) *******

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