AH: Hello, it’s Anita here and welcome to the latest podcast. In this episode, I’m talking with Carl, otherwise known as C. Roots, and Grace from InHouse Records. InHouse is an award-winning record label for change, working inside and outside of prisons with emerging musicians who are prisoners. The team works to both highlight the creative potential of prisoners and to reduce reoffending, focusing on what’s strong, not what’s wrong. They’re supported by a range of impressive partners and funders from the Universal Music Group to the Ministry of Justice, and they’ve won awards for their social enterprise work. So welcome, and thank you both for joining me, it’s great to have you here.
AH: Hi. So to kick off with, can you tell me about how InHouse Records began?
G: So it started back in, I think it was 2016 or 2017. And the founder of the label, Judah, he basically did a ton of research before that, to research the rehabilitation system, the justice system, and he looked into kind of reoffending rates and wanted to bring something to the table that would help the guys to obviously stay focused, stay involved. And he came to the conclusion that music was that option
AH: So was he working in prisons, and not in music at the time?
G: He used to work for like, Fender, Sony, I think, as well. So he did a lot of work in the music industry. And so he bought it into a prison, HMP Elmley, which was the first prison where we were essentially accepted, and that’s where it was built. So although Jude had the initial idea, it was actually built by, I believe, a group of seven prisoners in HMP Elmley.
AH: So he had a connection there already did he, or …?
G: I think he reached out to the Ministry of Justice, you know, they kind of told him to reach out to certain prisons. And that’s essentially how it kind of worked. And Jude did that to HMP Elmley, and there were two amazing staff members there, Becks and Daisy Wilson, along with I believe, Debbie, as well, who kind of saw how important it was for that to happen. And she put us in a, like a kitchen room, because there was no other room. But the guys there were so invested in it, that they were happy to come down and get to work in there.
AH: And so how did you both get involved? And what do you each do?
C: So I first got involved in InHouse finishing up a prison sentence. So I’m the only member of staff that’s actually been to prison. So I joined InHouse to actually do their music programme. We ended up, because I was in an open prison, so we ended up being cleared to go out to, like, the theatre. So we’ve done about, I think about five theatre shows, an art exhibition, opening of an art exhibition as well, and numerous shows in the prison as well. So by the last theatre show, they offered me a job. So they said, ‘Would I like a job when I’m free?’, and I’ve jumped at the chance, because that’s one of the most fears is being like getting out and not being able to get a job because you’ve been to prison. So I kind of had a touch really getting a job with something that I love. So now my job, I work as a mentor, I mentor the guys, because I’ve been in the same, similar environments to them and come through similar situations. So it’s easier for me to put myself inside their shoes, you know? Also like I’m a musician, like I am a songwriter. So if they have any problems with songwriting, I can help them through that. I kind of help them manage the time in the studio, you know, because sometimes people might waste a little bit of time being stuck on something or just generally not know how to manage their time. We’re like the A-Team [Laughs].
AH: Brilliant. Can I ask you, Carl, if you were a musician before you went into prison, or did you discover your musical skills in prison?
C: Well, I did discover them while I was in prison, but from 14 to 17 I used to like spit to drum and bass and then I just, because of my environment and that, I just kind of faded away from music and I forgot all about it until years later when I was in prison.
AH: And that’s when InHouse came in and you started working with them?
C: No. So I didn’t work with InHouse straight away. I was in other prisons just doing, like, music courses. But the InHouse course was different because the others were just basically like me up in a room, and everyone would just jam to whatever is either being played. But there was not really much structure. But InHouse was different because it gave structure. So there was many different elements to it. Like you could learn the management side, the business side, you could learn how to play instruments, you could learn to make electronic beats, or you could learn to be a better songwriter. Or if you can’t songwrite, you could learn how to songwrite. And performance wise as well, because we was doing live performance, we learned performance skills as well. So it was different.
AH: Oh, that’s really interesting. So I want to go on to ask a little bit more about how it works. But first, can I just come to Grace and find out how you got involved?
G: Obviously, I just kind of applied but I started in HMP Elmley, which was only actually I think a few months, or it was probably about six months after InHouse had been running. So we started down in the staff mess, and then when I joined, we were in the industrial cleaning room, which wasn’t very nice. Yeah, it was pretty grim. But basically, we built it from there. So I got working really well with all of the guys that were currently in there. There was some serious talent and we wanted to give them a better room. So we were really lucky. And Daisy, who I mentioned earlier, and Becks managed to get us this massive, lovely room. In Elmley now we’ve got a studio, we’ve got a variety of instruments that have all been donated by Fender and Roland. We’ve got everything, MacBook Pros, everything that the guys want to do. But basically, I’ve been working with InHouse for about, I’d say, nearly four or five years now. So I’ve started working with a lot of the guys when they get released. So that’s where we are currently – we’re in our studio in Bermondsey. And when the guys get out, they get offered free studio time. And that’s basically my job role now is to oversee the guys, make sure they’re doing okay, basically what I’m partnered with Carl, and yeah, that’s essentially what I do.
AH: And what was your job title, I can’t remember what you called yourself, both of you.
G: So I am head of A&R. And you are …
C: I am, I forgot to say that’s part of my job as well. So I’m an artist manager. But I also do a lot in the prison. Like I will go through, so each lead in the prisons has to like write up reports on their learners and stuff. And basically, every week I read through the reports. And you know, like, if there’s a learner that doesn’t seem to be progressing, or is digressing, then basically, I help the lead make a plan on how we can get them through that learning curve that they’re going through. So I’m a prison A&R, and outside I’m an artist manager.
AH: So this brings me neatly onto asking you how this all works, what’s the kind of model? And also I wanted to find out where you work exactly? So are there many prisons you work in now?
G: So currently, we work in HMP [Wormwood] Scrubs, Isis, Lewes, Elmley, and Leeds. Carl does a video chat up to the Leeds team, because obviously they’re quite far away from us. But the model essentially, in the prisons, we have a, at the moment we’re implementing, because a lot of the guys are asking for real structure. So we’re implementing a 12 week curriculum where we offer an arts or an industry award, so the guys can either get an Arts Award, which is essentially the equivalent to a GCSE or they can jump on an industry award, which is accredited by, I believe Sony, EY, Universal, like everyone that we’re kind of, in partnership with. And what that allows them to do is when they get out, obviously, they can put that on their CV, it’s essentially like work experience. And I believe as well, they have the option to apply for internships with those companies as well. On the outside, we have a little bit of a different model, obviously life gets in the way, and there’s a lot that the guys need to juggle as well as music. So the main thing that we do is essentially ensure that they’re okay. So it’s regular calls, regular meetings, their studio time if they want it, but what we make sure is that when they come to that studio time, if there’s more important things that we need to talk about, i.e. getting them housing or getting them a stable job, then that is prioritised over the music. Obviously music’s at the heart of what we do, but we want to make sure that these guys are, you know, on the right path to a life without crime basically.
AH: So what are you looking for in the musicians who record with you? How do you identify them in a prison? So how do you promote yourselves within the prison to prisoners?
C: Well, when InHouse came to Stamford Hill where I was in prison, there was like flyers put about the place, ‘Would you be interested in this?’, and they’ve got like, you know, like display TVs where they display certain things. We had to like, put up basically, put our names down to go to like a hall, and actually come and listen to what they have to offer. In a new prison obviously, after Jude and maybe Grace or like one of the members of staff would go in and pitch what we offer to the staff, it will still be pitched to the first group of the first cohort who want to be involved. And then we’d have a one-to-one with each learner. Which, when I was a learner I had the same thing, like sat down and had a one-to-one and then they took down what I wanted to get out of it.
AH: And so it’s completely open access. Because when I read about it being InHouse Records, an award-winning record company and all these record companies behind it, I thought, well, maybe there’s a selection process, maybe you’re looking to promote and work with the most talented musicians. But it sounds as though it’s fully accessible and that anybody can get involved?
G: Yeah, so essentially, everyone that we take on, they could have never touched a musical instrument in their life or never sung a song before. We’re not bothered what stage they’re at, we just want to make sure that it’s you know, that it’s what they love, and they want to get involved. We take an absolute, a variety of genres as well. So in Stamford Hill, we’ve had a guy who did opera and we merged that with hip hop, because he obviously loved music, and he wanted to get involved, but he really wasn’t sure how, and he felt a little bit out of place. So we decided to kind of combine everything that he does with what the guys did. And it actually came out with some amazing and really beautiful, like, pieces. But the main thing that we do is if you’re looking at prison wise as well, we don’t discriminate on what anyone’s done, the only people we can’t work with for those of like sexual offences. And that’s simply because what we do just doesn’t work for them. But apart from that we take anyone.
AH: So is that difficult sometimes if you have somebody, for example, who wants to do opera, and the musician who happens to be placed in the prison is, I don’t know, a beat maker or hip hop artist? I mean, obviously there you’ve kind of combined it a bit. So yeah, I suppose, tell me a little bit about the staff that work for you. And how many people work in a particular prison? And how do you find them? How do you find the right people to work with you?
G: So me and Carl actually do the interviews so we can answer this perfectly. In a prison, there’s a rule of one staff member, they normally say to about eight men. That’s one thing, we only currently work in male prisons, but it’s one staff member to eight men. So in Elmley, we’re allowed 30 people and there it’s one staff member to 10 men. So currently, we’ve only got 20 learners. So we’ve only got two staff members in there. But the main thing that we look for in our staff are people not only that have a musical background, so obviously they can, not even experienced, but as long as they can play an instrument, or they can teach songwriting. But what we also look for is those people that really want to go a little bit further. Obviously, when we put the job ads out, we get a lot of people applying that simply think it’s music and no paperwork, and all they want to do is play guitar with the guys. And that’s not really the case, we need people that and we have people, we have an amazing set of team, but people that really care about the guys, and you know, they’ll go above and beyond music to make sure that they’re okay. For example, in prison, there’s a lot of issues with mental health. So it’s really important that our staff are aware that, you know, if someone is for whatever reason acting up that day, they don’t just get them to write a song, they get them to kind of sit down and talk about what’s going on. And maybe they need a referral and stuff like that. But essentially, it’s people that are aware and really care about what we’re doing – this is who we look for.
AH: So you’re looking for, obviously musical skills, but also those value-based skills, I guess, and the sort of attitudes towards what music’s all about and what people are all about, I guess, you know, and what people need to support them in their lives with that. Would that be about right?
G: Definitely. 100%. That is literally it onpoint, it’s about making sure that the people that no matter how musically talented they are, that if someone’s having a bad day that they actually want to take the time out of their day to make sure that they’re okay. Obviously being in prison is hard enough, but getting some bad news or having I don’t know, whatever some issues on the wing, can make their days go from okay to absolute plummet bottom. So it’s just about making sure that the people that we employ are caring and making sure that these guys are okay, basically.
AH: And do you give them any specific training around that?
G: The main thing with what we do is that it’s really hard to train someone. We do have a training platform and it’s essentially a bunch of videos that we send out. We ask the new employee to watch them. And obviously, they have to get vetted, key trained, all that kind of stuff. So it’s a long process before they even get into the prison. But the main thing that we do is when a new staff member joins, nine times out of 10 it’s me, but essentially we make sure that a really experienced member of staff is present on their first, I guess, kind of few weeks. And the reason behind that is you can’t teach somebody essentially how the workshop is ever going to run because it’s different every day. You can’t teach someone how they’re going to feel in the prison upfront, because a lot of people, which is quite important, going back a stage, is that we do a taster day in the prison when new people join, because a lot of people feel fine about working in a prison, you know, they’re all up for it, they get to the gate, they get in the workshop, and they kind of sink and they go all quiet. And they don’t really know what to say. And nine times out of 10, it literally just takes me or someone else to be there to go look, remember, these guys are just, they’re just people who have either been in a bad situation, or they’ve made that one mistake. In Elmley we’ve run for four years, and we’ve never had any issues down in the workshop. All our guys are super on board, super attentive. Yeah, there’s some guys that want to come down and have a laugh. But we don’t have a problem with that because as long as they’re having a laugh and enjoying their time, and trying to make the most of what’s down there, then that’s totally fine.
AH: Can you tell me, I read something on your website about the InHouse way: choice, relationship and music. So can you tell me a little bit more about that? I guess that’s what people in music education or education would call pedagogy. So yeah, is it influenced or based on any particular approach to music making, and learning?
G: Yeah, that is very Jude, so I’m not the expert on that. That’s very, very him. But we all follow. This is kind of, I guess, my kind of version of that, which is that we all follow the same kind of values when we’re in the prisons. So choice, essentially, we see that there’s choices. And the way that we do this is, and I’m going to put it my way, which is that essentially, with everyone that we work with, we work on three core competencies, which I guess relate to choice, relationship and music. The last one is also, we work on creativity. But the three core competencies that we work with are accountability, adaptability and communication. And what we basically do is, we’ve realised that if anybody can communicate well, they are accountable for what they’re doing, whether they’re saying that they’ve not done something, or that they can’t do something, and they’re admitting it, and that they’re adaptable to new situations, they’ll be able to live a life away from crime in a steady job, steady housing. And that’s essentially, I guess, a simpler version of the ‘choice, relationship and music’. But that’s essentially how we kind of measure things, measure how people are doing, and I’ll get Carl to take over because he does a lot on the reporting tool.
AH: I’m really interested in this. That’s one of the questions that I thought to ask you is about evaluation, because I also saw on your website that you’ve got a learning platform that’s been co-created with Ernst and Young, and the Royal College of Art. And that’s all around core competencies. So yeah, over to you Carl.
C: Okay, yes. So I literally just completed my course so I can actually mark the Arts Awards myself. Basically, like, in the past, we’ve created music, when we’ve created music inside prisons, it just sits there basically, then when the guys come out, they can release while they’re in there but they have to use a pseudonym, there’s a lot of red tape. But when they come out, we’ve got like a platform where we can put it on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, music, all that stuff yeah. But we wanted something that they can actually, you know, like, actually get a qualification for so they can actually have more structure in their lives. Because sometimes, me, as a learner, I was just all about the music, but having a structure and suddenly, you know, something that’s actually going to make me learn something new I could have done with, to be honest. So the platform that we’ve got now with the Arts Award is like we give them like a little research mission. So if they’re in an open prison, they’ll be able to do the research themselves. If they’re in a, even in a closed prison, they can do the research themselves within a library, and they can order the books that they need if they haven’t got them there. So we give them, like a research mission first, for example, like who’s your favourite artist? Where were they born? How old are they? What were they doing before music? What’s your favourite song? And what is it that makes you play the song? What draws you to that song? They learn researching skills from that and then we ask them to, depending on what they do, so if they’re songwriters – songwriters is a bit easier, because we can just say, ‘Look, we want you to write a song based on the outcome of your research’, then they’ll hand it in to me, I’ll give creative feedback, send it back. Then they’ll make edits on the feedback that I’ve gave them, then they’ll send it back in and I’ll give it to another industry professional, like Grace. I’ll give it to Grace, she’ll mark it, give feedback sorry, then I’ll then hand it back to them. And then they do their final edit, and then we send it off to get them their awards.
G: And going back to the core competencies, as well is, what Carl’s saying is that basically, when we do an Arts Award, it allows us to set tasks that kind of challenge those competencies. Which is essentially, what I believe, EY built with us. Basically we’ll be able to test their communication by how they communicate with staff and the completion of this project. A big element of the arts or industry award is sharing, so how do they share with the team? You know, is their communication good verbally? Or are they quite stern and getting a bunch of people around to listen to the music. The accountability is obviously ensuring that the project is completed by the 12-week deadline. But also just making sure that they’re taking ownership of their work, they’re working towards what they’re doing, they’re not reliant on other people, although we do encourage teamwork and leadership. And lastly, adaptability. A lot of the guys have never done this kind of structured learning before. A lot of the guys who have struggled with school, and there’s normally really good reasons why. So getting them used to this kind of structured learning and structure, which is obviously in every job, even if you’re, you know, learning on the job, you’re going to have that structured learning there gets them used to that so that when they’re out, they can go into I guess, full time work.
AH: So through that Arts Award, as with all arts, I guess, and as of music, you’re learning so much more than the art or the music, aren’t you? And is that sort of intentional? Do you monitor and evaluate for impact? Or do you mainly focus on your impact being about the achievement of the awards for these people? Or the achievement of the, I think there’s an industry qualification as well, isn’t there?
C: So Arts Award is for under-25’s, and industry’s for over 25’s.
G: And we’re answering your question, I think, essentially, in each prison, they always want the guys to achieve something. So any course that any prisoner will do nine times out of 10 has a qualification, which is mainly why we implemented it. But we also realise that that structure, working in line with our competency reporting, which we also do, we report on the guys every week – we report on their communication, accountability, and we monitor it every month to see if it’s gone up or down. And Carl will then review and speak to the leads to say, ‘Look, this guy isn’t doing so well. And that guy’s doing really well’. And what we aim to do is either, obviously pull up the people that aren’t doing so well and to encourage the people that are doing really well. And the main reason for the awards is essentially, to make sure that these competencies are being reviewed. I hope that makes sense. They kind of work in line with each other. So yes, it’s important for the guys to get the awards. But it’s more important on our end for the prisons, they want them to get the awards, and they want them to be doing well. But for us, we really just focus on that the guys are improving those core competencies, and they’re working on improving them, especially if someone is coming up to their release date.
AH: That makes sense. And I think on your website, I’ve just pulled up now, it says that this is all around nurturing core competencies that enhance recovery capital, foster better relationships, and encourage healthier networks and spiralling mobility. So I guess it’s all about getting them into a position where they’re ready for life on the outside again. And can you tell me a little bit about any particular successes you’ve had with people, success can be interpreted in any way you like.
G: We brag about this all the time, but our reoffending rate is less than 1%. So to us, everybody that has been released, apart from obviously a few have been successful in what they do and what we’re doing. If you want to talk about music successes as of yet, no we don’t have any huge successes. But what we do have is a group of guys that are working on their confidence, and their performance skills, and especially right now, and Carl will agree, we’ve got a amazing group of grads that are really kind of dedicated to what we’re doing, pushing the label even further and getting up on stage which Carl can tell you all about. We got loads of events coming up.
C: Yeah, before I’ve gone into like, events and stuff, so you see like InHouse, we’re like a Trojan horse. So it seems like the outside is a record label. Everything functions, exactly like a record label. We do what record labels do, apart from what makes us unique to other record labels is that we take anyone. So anyone that wants to rehabilitate for music, we take them. The reason why we’re a Trojan horse is because inside, we’re all about rehabilitation. That is the main thing that we care about. So yeah, we’d love everyone to be successful musicians and not go back to prison. But even if we got someone a job in a coffee shop, and they never went back to prison to us, that’s a win.
AH: You mentioned the 1% reoffending rate, so how does that compare to reoffending rates generally? What is the national average reoffending rate after prison?
G: I think between zero to six months, the average reoffending rate currently is 38.9%. And between one to three years, quite shocking, 78% of people reoffend.
G: So obviously our graduate scheme has been running for, I want to say nearly two years now, and we’ve got a less than 1% reoffending rate.
AH: That’s just incredible. I would have thought any prison manager listening to this will be thinking, why aren’t we doing music in every single prison?
AH: We’ve come to the end of our interview. So I just wanted to finish by inviting you to answer one or two questions, either sharing three pieces of advice for people working maybe in similar situations or with similar cohorts of people, or to share three calls to action for others working in music and social justice and things you’d like to see happen in this area in the next few years.
G: Yeah, so I think the first one definitely is what we’ll go for, which is kind of advice. The main thing that I would say is, I’ll put my hands up here, when I went for the job with InHouse, I was really scared. And I didn’t really, I wasn’t 100% sure on whether or not I actually wanted to work with – which were my words back then – ‘those kinds of people’. Sorry Carl.
AH: You’re a musician?
G: Yeah. So I’ve done you know, I was never huge. I used to play guitar in a band, we ended up playing like Pride festivals and stuff like that. But I’ve kind of come into my element at InHouse because I’ve realised that I love making beats and recording the guys and getting them to work. I guess the first piece of advice now I’ll pass over to Carl is, you know, I was sceptical about working with prisoners. And I was scared. And even the first two weeks in my job, I was really scared to go to work. And it was simply because I had this really warped perspective that you get from the media and from social media and all that kind of stuff. They kind of warp what prison’s like and what prisoners are like. And the main bit of advice, as I say is they’re just people and everybody that I’ve met in prison, wherever it’s been, even if they’re out of prison. They’re amazing people. They’re super talented. They’re lovely, they’ll do anything for you. And there’s nothing to be afraid of, basically. [Laughs]
AH: Oh, that’s brilliant. Thanks, Grace.
G: That’s alright, I’ll pass over to Carl.
C: Mine would be advice as well. So, I would say everyone has the ability to change. So prison, the majority, don’t get me wrong, some people have done crime deliberately, but a lot is by mistake, they’ve made a mistake, made the wrong choice. But everyone has the ability to change if they want to. So if people want to change and you have the ability to help them change with your skill, with your knowledge, why not help society become a better place? Help someone by teaching them what you know, life is all about helping.
AH: Thanks Carl, I love that. I’ll just wrap up by saying thank you so much, I’ve really enjoyed chatting to you. And I wish you the best of luck for your events coming up. I don’t know if you want to just briefly say what those are because then maybe people can come and see what you’re all about really. Just to note, this podcast may go out later than some of these events but I’m going to ask Grace and Carl to share the dates anyway.
G: We’ve got a fair few, and the closest is April the seventh. We’ve got a poetic justice event, which is a little bit quieter than music. We’ll be doing basically showcasing a lot of spoken words, I think some of the guys are going to be doing a couple of maybe acoustic or quieter tracks, and we’re basically using that event to get people talking. So we’re inviting the audience to talk, to discuss what’s being shared and stuff like that. We’re currently in the work of doing a Mic on Fire event, but I’m not 100% sure on that date. More notable throughout May we have a slot every Thursday evening from 5pm to 7pm at Brighton Festival, and then on Sunday, the 15th we’re doing a takeover day. So from 11am until 7pm it will be an InHouse takeover so that the whole day will be dedicated to InHouse down, I think we’re on the beach front stage, so you can catch us there. And lastly, but super excitingly we are playing Latitude festival. I’m not 100% sure on the date just yet, but we’ve got a small slot. We did it a couple of years ago and it was amazing. So we’ve been invited back to do it again.
AH: That’s fantastic. How exciting. Well thank you both, and thank you so much for making the time.
G: Thank you. Thank you. It’s been lovely.
C: Thank you. It’s been brilliant.
AH: And if you want to read more about InHouse, I will share the link to their website, their Instagram and their podcasts – which are definitely worth a listen – in the show notes on my website. Thanks very much for listening.