By Amanda Keenan
WHEN told they would be facing the music for their crimes, it’s doubtful if any of the inmates at one of Scotland’s toughest jails expected it would take the form of guitar lessons being offered as part of their rehabilitation.
But thanks to singer songwriter Billy Bragg, one of the countries best known protest singers, that is exactly what is happening after he donated half a dozen guitars to Saughton Prison.
Prison bosses at the Edinburgh jail say that the classes have been such a success that they are hoping to get another batch of guitars delivered.
Saughton was given the guitars as part of Bragg’s Jail Guitar Doors initiatives, which has donated instruments to 20 prisons in England.
Wardens with a musical background have been providing the lessons to two groups of six prisoners at Saughton – but there is more demand still and classes could be extended.
Scottish Prison Service (SPS) bosses are hoping to receive another four from the musician, who intends to play a gig for prisoners at Polmont later this year.
A spokesman for the SPS said: “The SPS has a wide range of educational programmes and this runs from that.
“It encourages prisoners to start to learn something and improve themselves, which also improves their self-esteem.
“It is the ability to focus minds on something and, in this case, it is music that can focus minds.”
The Jail Guitar Doors project – which is named after the B-side to the Clash’s 1978 single Clash City Rockers – was set up by Bragg in 2007 as a way of marking the fifth anniversary of the death of Joe Strummer.
Initially, money was raised for the guitars through benefit concerts, although the initiative is now sponsored by guitar-maker Tanglewood.
Prisons are only given the instruments under the scheme and have to set up their own musical classes.
The SPS confirmed that it is now hoping to secure guitars for another five Scottish prisons.
Labour MSP George Foulkes, who has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating Bragg on the “innovative” scheme, said: “Jail Guitar Doors is a fantastic initiative that will help in the rehabilitation of prisoners.
“There is a strong case to suggest that certain prisoners can be rehabilitated and put back into society.
“This is why we welcome Billy Bragg’s innovative idea. It is essential that we find new methods of engaging with inmates so that, when they are released, they can contribute to the greater good of the community.
Billy Bragg said on his website: “Jail Guitar Doors is an independent initiative which aims to provide instruments to those who are using music as a means of achieving the rehabilitation of prison inmates.”