Songwriting Role Helps Free Voices

By John Anthony

English teacher and musician Evan Davies has combined his passion for music with his occupation by taking on the role of a songwriting mentor for prisoners

A Taranaki teacher with a passion for music is helping prisoners find their voice through songwriting.

In a Maori Television documentary New Plymouth Boys’ High School English teacher Evan Davies takes on a mentor role for prisoners learning how to express their emotions through songwriting.

The show, Songs from the Inside, features four New Zealand singer-songwriters, including Warren Maxwell and Anika Moa, working with prisoners by helping them write, sing and record their own songs. It was filmed in Rimutaka Prison and Arohata Prison.

Mr Davies, 38, ran a songwriting course at Spring Hill prison, in north Waikato, a few years ago.

Wellington production company Awa Films approached him to help prepare a 13-part series which goes to air on Maori Television.

Mr Davies first conducted the experiment at Spring Hill prison because he wanted to share his musical talent.

Songwriting helped prisoners overcome some of the difficulties they have expressing their feelings, he said.

“Once they decided to express themselves better you could see a weight lift off their shoulders,” Mr Davies said.

He said he was trying to free prisoners from years of pent-up anger and emotion.

The content of the prisoners’ songs ranged from apologies to loved ones to expressions of anger, he said.

“I think the prisoners have this incredible way to cut through the BS and be candid not because they want to provoke but because prison strips them to the bone.

“It takes a person to be broken to say something quite personal.”

The series would be shocking and challenging because it showed a side of prisoners few people ever saw, he said. “I think this film is going to shatter a lot of prejudices.”