August 22 2011

30 Inspirational Stories – Lifelines

Light Through Trees

To celebrate Valley and Vale’s 30th year as one of Wales’ leading Community Arts for Development Charities, we are gathering 30 stories from our work over the years. We’ll be putting these on our website, and at the end of the year we will be putting them all together as a printed or online publication.

by Katja Stiller, Film Development Worker, Valley and Vale Community Arts

As a Film Development Worker, I facilitate young people to work on their self-representation using film. The use of counselling skills in the Community Arts context is not pure counselling. Most of the people I work with would reject the offer of counselling; nevertheless the use of counselling skills offers participants the opportunity to reflect on their current situation, to make conscious decisions and to embrace change in their lives.

Valley and Vale Community Arts aims to give participants the opportunity to: express themselves in a safe and non-judgemental environment; express an inner world through creativity; gain a deeper insight into their lives; be able to share human experiences;
improve interpersonal communication; increase confidence; learn new skills; change lives.

This case study explores the therapeutic benefit for individuals involved in a Community Arts project, and explores a project with young people in the Juvenile Unit in HMP Parc, who I saw once a month for two and a half hours.

Unlike other education programmes participants chose to come to the workshops; they did not see me as a teacher or a counsellor. Most of them were not aware of the developmental aspect of the work.

In the prison workshop we focused on lifelines. After looking at the lifelines of individual participants, we invented one together. Tom, 16, a young offender, had been to prison, continued stealing cars and got arrested again.

I asked the group what he could have done to stay out of prison.

D: “There is nothing he could have done. When he came out, he was back with his friends and that is what you do. Do you expect him to turn his back on his friends?”

I asked the group: “If he didn’t want to go back to prison, is there anything he could have said to his friends, to not get involved in crimes but still be their friend?”

D did not answer.

The group chose to dramatise a section of Tom’s life. D decided to be the friend who did not want to go on the joyriding mission.

D: “No, not interested – come back when you finish and we’ll play some cards.”

He did not try to stop the others, and managed to show them that he was interested in them but not in their action. I only challenged him to think about different options, and he then worked on it himself. If I had directed him he would have refused the part.

Playback gives the participants the opportunity to listen to themselves. Unlike in real life, they get an opportunity to take time to reflect on actions and consequences.

In the role-play J was talked into going with the others, and he dies in the car crash; he was sitting next to me during playback.

I said: “It’s a shame, if you would have only continued playing cards you would still be alive.”

J looked at me in surprise. He did not say anything; maybe for the first time he recognised that events don’t just happen, decisions are being made all the time, not many of them are made consciously.

Young people in prison often for the first time experience being away from home and their friends and are also under strict direction; they don’t get called by their first names, they get told when to get up, eat, clean, learn, and sleep. They become completely dis-empowered and often lose what little identity they have. For development to take place, there needs to be a movement towards a greater realisation of personal potential, new skills, an increase in self-awareness and a clarification of someone’s values. With this the individual becomes more self-empowered, more proactive and less dependent on others.

‘The young person’s task is to free themselves from dependence on other people’s representations of them and in doing so be recognised for who they really are and regain their integrity. In order to do so they must discover themselves through the consequences of their own actions…” (Chapman, 2000).

The sessions with the young people have to be non-directive. They have experienced police, prison, school authority and parents. The directive approach is what the young people are used to and what often makes them feel inferior. Working as equals establishes trust and increases their confidence. Only if the individual feels safe and not judged can he or she explore and look at their lives from a different perspective and understand their freedom of choice. A good process is achieved when the young person takes an active part in the planning of the sessions, chooses what they want to learn and takes pride in the work they have achieved.

Community Arts can empower and improve communication in order to facilitate change. The practitioner must trust the individual and their ability to create, self-motivate and, as a result, improve their own life.