Big Issue Changemaker Judah Armani is leading the effort to keep thousands of prisoners across seven prisons connected during the Covid-19 crisis with new weekly magazine Aux.
Armani founded InHouse Records, a by-prisoners-for-prisoners record label supporting people serving time through writing, playing and producing music both while inside and after they’re released.
The rehabilitative programme pivoted from nurturing music-makers to magazine publisher in response to prisoners’ experience of “near total lockdown” during the pandemic, with most kept in their cells for nearly 24 hours a day.
Aux covers a mix of educational content to keep prisoners’ creative juices flowing during lockdown – including song-writing tips, rhythm explainers and cultural analysis.
Armani said: “If we want to see safer communities, less victims of crime and a reduction in recidivism then we need similar initiatives now more than ever to see the person not the prisoner and create the space for transformation.”
The InHouse programme has been supported by talent like Jamie Cullum – who also penned a piece on creativity for the new magazine – and saw six ‘graduates’ invited to perform at Latitude Festival in 2019. The project has improved positive behaviour in prisons by 428 per cent and 80 per cent of those involved while inside keep participating after release.
Now Aux is making sure the team can continue to make a positive change in prison lives across the South East despite hugely restrictive measures brought in to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Emily Thomas, HMP Isis governor, said: “Young men here have been having to spend lots more time in their cells over the last few weeks and the weekly magazines have been really popular, people are always waiting for the next one.
“We’re really grateful for the support because it means that our young men know people are thinking of them at this time and are still hoping they can help them to rehabilitate through what is a difficult time. So thank you very much.”
The prisoners have been able to contribute to the magazine themselves and said the weekly boost is making a difference to their wellbeing and mental health.
It’s hoped Aux will increase the level of literacy among its readers as well as giving them a healthy way to express themselves. It even comes with an accompanying CD packed with practice tunes and interview recordings with InHouse graduates.
There has been a significant uptick in prisoners deciding to take up guitar as a direct result of the new mag, with Fender donating 50 acoustic guitars to be distributed across the seven prisons taking part in the programme.
The InHouse and Aux project has produced a reoffending rate of just one per cent so far – compared to a national average of nearly 40 per cent reoffending within twelve months of release.