We believe there exists a power in community that is unmatched. Stan’s core aim involves exploring this potential by promoting engagement between the various participants within the spaces they inhabit. That’s why the story of Jail Time Records - a label formed by a cooperative of creatives - is so appealing to us. Founded in 2018, the non-profit project established the first permanent recording facilities inside Douala, Cameroon’s Central Prison. Within its ambit; the initiative brings together personal redemption arcs, societal reshaping and organizational triumph in a way any communal formation would be proud of. We spoke to artist, filmmaker and project manager Dione Roach about what Jail Time seeks to achieve, what role art has played in fulfilling those goals and the transformative nature of collective collaboration. Read our conversation below and listen to “Loubard” by D.O.X, found on our ‘Fans Of…’ Playlist:
Building Stans: Tell us about your background in art and film-making
Dione: I have been doing art since I was a child, I went to an art high school and then studied fine arts at university in London. Although I started off with painting I gradually got involved in video and documentary. During a year-long trip in South America I started working on community art projects as well. I still try and bring ahead each of these practices, each medium I use to express different parts of my experience and of my artistic vision.
Talk to us about when the incorporation of music happens and how music can help build community
I started working with music in 2017 in an asylum seeker center in Italy, with a couple of rappers from Ghana. I had started off trying to bring dance workshops in the asylum seeker center because I thought it was the most universal kind of artistic expression, but I found these musicians to be the most passionate and committed so I tried to find ways of producing them. When I found myself in the prison in Cameroon in front of a group of very talented musicians I thought this was the strongest experience of art and resistance I had come across, and I felt the urgent need to find the way to help channel this energy and this message. From the start the project attracted many people in the prison and then also outside the prison.
Hundreds of incarcerated artists have passed through our studio and recorded their songs, from the outside we have had people from Cameroon as well as from all over the world volunteering to take part and make some kind of contribution to the project. Inside the prison music has brought together people of all extractions, walks of life, ages and beliefs, all working towards a common purpose. Arts and expression can help those struggling with issues of self-worth, confidence and empowerment, it develops positive attitudes and it facilitates communication. Music can provide a safe way to express, release and deal with potentially destructive feelings such as anger and aggression, while helping incarcerated individuals to better understand themselves and to work with others, developing their ability to self-regulate their emotions, especially when confronted with difficult or stressful situations. Music also offers the opportunity for inmates to reconnect with society through their art. It offers them the possibility to not be defined solely by the act that brought them to prison but to be seen as people who have skills, talent and want to improve themselves in preparation for their reintegration into society.
Who makes up the Jail Time collective and what is the importance of having a community of creatives too?
The Jail Time collective is made up from all the artists that have participated in the project, both the ones that are inside prison as well as the ones that have already left prison, as well as other creatives that have participated and volunteered their skills for the project: it is a community of people that believe in the strong and positive message that jail Time carries with it: that even during the most difficult and dark part of your life there is always space for hope, change and beauty. Your voice can be carried far and resonate with people all over the world. We currently have people from many different countries that have taken part in the project. It is very important to have a community of creatives around us because they are the most sensitive to the importance of the project and can support our artists a great deal, they can bring their energy, skills and talent, amplify the message.
How does the project achieve both personal and societal renewal?
By stimulating a regular artistic practice in individuals undergoing incarceration, we help them work on their self-development through improving their motivation, critical thinking, change-making approach, creative doing and social and life skills. In the bleak reality of incarceration, making music becomes the reason for many of these artists to believe in a second chance in life, giving them the strength and determination to positively engage in an activity that transports them beyond their current conditions. The project also promotes a shift in the way society perceives incarceration by offering positive examples and enhancing the creative accomplishments of prisoners, it offers them in fact the chance to not be defined solely by the act that brought them to prison but to be seen as people who have skills, talent and want to improve themselves in preparation for their reintegration into society.
With regards to Happi’s story especially, we can see that people can rewrite their circumstances. How have others been affected by this opportunity?
Generally we have a very good return with the project, with much lower recidivism rates for those who have left prison applying to those who have passed through our program in comparison to those who have not participated. Through the self-worth gained through the music making practice and program, prisoners and ex-prisoners feel more responsible about themselves and their acts, and acquire a level of self-consciousness that often they did not have before. So the beneficial effects of participating in the project apply also to those who leave prison as well as for those inside prison. We built a studio outside prison so we could give the chance to keep working on music once released.
Who are some of the partners of Jail Time?
We have been supported by ANTI-DO-TO, an activist brand that helped us build the studio outside prison and created a capsule collection inspired by Jail Time and using prints created by the drawings of prisoners (we also have a painting workshop in the prison). We are also collaborating with the Moleskin Foundation and the Supporting Act Foundation.
This initiative involves people across continents; how has that shaped its processes?
I think it’s added a great value to the project to have involved people from different nationalities, continents and ways of thinking, the project is managed in fact by me and Steve, respectively European and African, and we have many other people supporting us and part of the team that are both western and African and I think it makes it very special because it is a constant cultural exchange and it allows us always to adjust our positions, have new ideas and see things beyond our limited perspectives.
What were the main aims of Jail TIme when the project first started?
It was only to make an album, it was a very intuitive start, I met a Rap collective in the prison and wanted to produce them because I thought it was a very powerful message to convey to the world, I didn’t even see the large scale picture at the time, and I think that is the beauty about it, it was a very organic process and it created its own route for itself.
What does your own art explore? What’s the importance of art with a purpose and how does Jail Time furthered yours?
I have quite a varied art practice so it’s hard to define it singularly: through painting I explore moods, atmospheres, my personal life. Through the video and documentary work I do instead I explore realities outside myself, realities that are urgent, necessary, raw. I think art with a porpoise is important if that purpose is something that touches and resonates with you very deeply. I am not a fan of art for a purpose when the theme is chosen because it feels relevant to the topics that are spoken about in that specific moment.
I think art that engages communities is a different story, and I think that that is the most powerful way to make art for a purpose. Jail Time has allowed me to take a step back from the solitary confinement of my own artistic practice and work with people, rejoice for other people’s artistic achievements rather than for my own, provide my visual and creative skills for a cause other than myself. Making video-clips or music photographs has never been my interest or dream, and I don’t see it as my artistic practice but it is rather a service I am happy to give to make the project thrive and help shape its creative direction on the whole. In this sense me and Steve work as an artistic duo, since we have been shaping this from the start of our collaboration and do everything together.
Find out more aboute Jail Time here.