Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

CAT JONES (HMP & YOI Doncaster)

CAT JONES (HMP & YOI Doncaster)

AWARD WINNER 2011-12: Cat is Artistic Director and the creative force behind Second Shot Productions at HMP & YOI Doncaster. Second Shot employ prisoners, ex-offenders and others to deliver a range of professional services from film making and graphic design through to drama therapy and arts projects, both in the prison and for outside customers. Offenders are trained towards an industry recognised qualification and many find related jobs on release, some with Second Shot. Profits from all commercial work are fed back in to the company. (This Award is supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust).


[Cat Jones gives her account of the work for which she won her Award]

In 2008 I started work at HMP Lowdham Grange as Writer in Residence. I began to develop arts activities at the prison including the production of an anthology of children’s stories written by prisoners for their children which we published and sold, donating the proceeds to a local children’s hospice.

I also staged a children’s play, working with 20 prisoners to develop a play that they thought their children would enjoy. We invited the children into the prison to see the play which we performed on the prison’s sports field with full set and costume. The prisoners enjoyed an extended visit with their children after the event, free from the normal restrictions of the Visits Hall. The motivation for these activities was the Ministry of Justice statistics that tell us that two fifths of all prisoners lose contact with their families while inside but those who do maintain them are up to six times less likely to re-offend.

Statistics aside, it was obvious when I saw the prisoners interacting with their families that the experience had been a beneficial one. The family members were proud of what the men had achieved and rightly so. They had shown commitment and discipline, working everyday including the weekends to create a wonderful gift for their children. The sense of achievement they obtained from having worked as part of a team and produced a high quality piece of theatre was clear.

We also filmed the play so that the family members had a record of the day. Following the success of that play, a second children’s play was staged.

In January 2010 I went to work at HMP & YOI Doncaster and set up an arts and media department. Now with two drama facilitators working for me I was able to offer activities on a much greater scale. We continued to stage children’s plays and have completed five to date.

We also began to explore the use of theatre in exploring the issues that contribute to offending behaviour. Our first example of this was a play called ‘My Darling Son’. We worked with a group of prisoners who had all experienced problems with drugs and alcohol and dramatised a story that had been written by a member of nursing staff at the prison. The story was about her son, who had tragically died of a heroin overdose. After four solid weeks of rehearsal we took the play on a tour of the prison wings. There was ‘pin drop’ silence during every performance and the letters that the nurse received thanking her for her bravery was enough to tell us how impactive the play had been upon those who saw it. We were delighted when the prisoners involved won a Koestler Platinum Award for their hard work.  We followed this project up with a play that explored the impact of crime and restorative justice and another that explored why so many ex-servicemen end up in prison.

A further project looked at the experience of the family members of prisoners and another at the issue of knife crime and gang violence. We are now working with the National Youth Theatre to develop this play further and have their actors take it on a tour of schools and pupil referral units.

In April 2011 we launched the arts and media initiative as a social enterprise under the name Second Shot Productions. We now offer a range of commercial services including drama facilitation, film editing and graphic and web design to external clients and the work is completed by our team of 10 (soon to be 20) serving prisoners who we have trained in the skills required. Two of our prisoners have now been released but have been employed by Second Shot Productions to complete the film and drama projects that we undertake outside of the prison.  All profits are invested back into our projects.


[The following article appeared in issue 4 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]

‘For a long time now there has been a push on getting prisoners skilled up so when they leave they can get into employment,’ says CAT JONES, creative director of arts and media at HMP and YOI Doncaster. Cat’s role in helping them do this – and part of the reason she has earned a Butler Trust Award – has involved setting up Second Shot Productions, a social enterprise within the prison that trains prisoners to deliver commercial media services.

‘There’s been a tendency to prepare prisoners for jobs in the construction industry, landscape gardening or other manual work,’ says Cat. ‘But who is anybody to dictate what another person can do or is capable of?’ She realised there were many prisoners who showed an aptitude for media-related skills who would like jobs in the industry, so began to work out how to skill them up. Four months of intensive training – seven hours every day – proved to be crucial to the equation. She had participants who went from having barely touched a computer before to being able to use equipment to make a film and edit it. They were then in a position to be placed with employers after release.

Second Shot now has 20 prisoners working with them full time, with two coming back post release. Offering commercial services gives participants the chance to learn graphic design, filmmaking and all the skills involved in running a production company. But more than that, says Cat, it instils the discipline of having a job. ‘A lot of the guys we’re working with haven’t had any experience of employment. They have to come every day, on time, and they have deadlines – and if they’re a more senior member of the team they’re going to have the responsibility of supervising other people.’ Three-month appraisals let them know how they’re getting on.

‘It’s all about the real world not being quite so much of a shock,’ says Cat. She gives the example of a prisoner not turning up for work on Friday, during his first week. When the prison contacted him to ask why, he said he didn’t realise jobs were on Friday, and thought it was part of the weekend. ‘If you’ve never had a job and no one in your family has had a job, how are you going to know that? A lot of prisons close down on a Friday and prisoners stay on their wings and in their cells.’

Cat’s work in introducing prisoners to creativity began at HMP Lowdham Grange in 2008 and continues in HMP and YOI Doncaster where she is now based. Her comprehensive arts programme involves prisoners and their families, and it is her talent for turning prisoners back into participants in society – and drawing the positives from their experience – that has brought her to the notice of the Butler Trust.

‘A lot of people you might meet at film production companies have had similar journeys – they’ve done well at school and gone to university. But at Second Shot the breadth of people’s journeys and the differences in their experiences is amazing,’ she says. ‘Some of the guys have lived extraordinary lives – really difficult lives with really difficult backgrounds. But in a creative industry you draw from all those things.’

The only barrier to participating is where someone doesn’t want to put the time and effort in. But those that do get the opportunity to work towards a BTEC qualification in creative media, as well as becoming part of a dynamic team, with all the demands of keeping a small company afloat. There have been extra positives to come out of the initiative, relating to literacy and numeracy. Those who have previously found it difficult to engage in education have realised their low literacy was standing in the way of their filmmaking – ‘you can make a beautiful film, but if you can’t make captions and graphics…’ – and have been motivated to improve their skills.

Cat says her work fits well with the ethos at HMP and YOI Doncaster, where there is a push to find out what makes each individual tick, what motivates and inspires them, and use that to encourage them to become educated. She is credited with bringing a cultural shift to her prison and hopes that her Butler Trust Award will help the Second Shot initiative spread to other prisons, with all the opportunities it offers.

For more information: contact HMP & YOI Doncaster

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