Monday 11 June 2012

Songs from the Inside

Ok, so I’m back.
It’s been a while since the last one and to tell the truth I have no other excuse than I've just been too lazy. However that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been areas that I wanted to discuss on here, there have been plenty but too often I would finding myself just staring at a blank page or worse - lurking on Facebook.
Anyway today I wanted to talk about a series that was aired on Maori Television, Songs from the Inside. Last night was the final in the 13-part series and while it wasn’t technically a story in the media it was story-telling at its best.

It was also about an issue that impacts deeply on Maori.
According to statistics Maori, at May 2011, made up 51.2 per cent of the prison population. Maori are, clearly, over-represented and it is a problem that has been the subject of many a report, debate, media report. However, despite such Government policies as whanau ora, we are no nearer to solving the issue.
In fact it seems things are just getting worse and as I sat there watching the last episode I was reminded of something that a good friend always used to say: “give them something to lose…”

And I started to wonder.
As a reporter I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to see and hear some of the stories in Waikeria Prison’s Maori Focus Unit, Te Ao Marama. I wrote a story from my first visit to the unit and it one that will probably stay with me forever.

I hung it on a group of inmates graduating from a taonga puoro course offered. The course looked to rehabilitate by reconnecting the inmates with their Maori roots.

The reason for the story was to discuss the idea of privatising some parts of the prison system and whether Maori organisations could run those facilities. I didn’t ever get my answer but as part of my research I interviewed Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples and he said that it could be idea for the future.

He based his statement around the success of some of the country’s Maori Focus Units, such as that seen at Te Ao Marama, and said at the time statistics showed that those prisoners who had been through the untis were 7 per cent less likely to reoffend than those who stayed in the general prison population.

He said he believed this was the case because these sorts of units look to reconnect Maori prisoners with their roots. After my experience at Te Ao Marama I could see that it was definitely a possibility – the men on the course suddenly had a reason to lift their heads up.

And the Songs from the Inside series also seemed to show the same promise.

The series was directed by New Zealand actor Julian Arahanga and follows four well-known Maori musicians on their journey to help prisoners serving time at Arohata and Rimutaka prisons.

Over the past 13 weeks the programme has shown Anika Moa, Maisey Rika, Ruia Aperahama and Warren Maxwell working with 10 prisoners in the step-by-step music programme to write and produce their own material.
The programme was developed by Evan Rhys Davis, who had tutored a pilot scheme of the course at the Spring Hill prison in Waikato a couple of years ago. It is hoped that inmates will be helped by developing a postive, creative outlet. 
Last night they unveiled the finish products and I was blown away. The musicianship behind the songs was unbelievable and the talent from the inmates as well as evidence of the sure hands belonging to the professional song-makers clearly showed through.
However it wasn’t just the songs that touched me – the brutal honesty in some of the stories coupled with the signs that this programme might have affected a positive change in the inmates was inspiring.

One of the male-participants summed it up perfectly.
Tama, who was interviewed the day before he was released, said the programme had given him something to hold on to.

“If it wasn’t for this production and this unit I probably would have tried anything to stay in here, it’s been my home for so long.”
It is a sad statement and I could almost hear Gaye’s voice saying “just low hanging fruit but just give them something to lose”.

And perhaps I am naive but I want to believe that Tama has been so inspired that he is going to follow a different path on the outside - because what is the point of locking someone up if there is no rehabilitation?

Sure these people have made some bad decisions but they are still New Zealanders and one day they will be released. Hopefully they never end up going back to prison. Hopefully they go on to make their lives better because in turn they will then make their families’ lives better and if their families are living better lives then our country will be better for it - don't you think?

They are, after all, somebody’s mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter. They are the “low-hanging fruit” at the moment but they could go on to do something far greater than they ever imagined, than any of us probably ever imagined, they just need to make the changes and take the chance.

Or at least that is what this series gave: the sense of promise.

The series was beautifully shot, the final programme simply amazing with the recordings of each song portrayed through a series of images that also told a story, and I have no other option but to commend Arahanga, Evans and Maori Television.

There is no way that our mainstream channels would have ever invested the time and money in a series like this and I am so glad that we have Maori Television because while people continue to discuss The GC and the depiction of Maori in it as well as whether it was a good investment of taxpayer funding, there is another side of the story out there that is also just as relevant and should be talked about just as much.

Ka pai to mahi Julian.

And if you haven't seen it check out the series here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Karla. Have bookmarked it for viewing tonight.