The Price of Punishment
October 29th, 2019 by Keisha Bhamra.
On 8th October 2019 we hosted an event at The Roundhouse titled ‘The Price of Punishment’. It was an evening full of immersive performances and thought-provoking discussion about how we interpret punishment.
The purpose of this event was to explore what punishment means to us in society and what the physical, emotional and psychological effect of this can be. We brought together a group of emerging artists who had never met one another before but had applied for a position at Safe Ground. Looking at their diverse skillset and talents, we wanted to engage with them and combine their artistic abilities to produce a rewarding performance to be at the core of our next event. The artists met for the first time at our office back in August, and for the second time on the night of the event. The Safe Ground team very much took a backseat in this process, wanting the final project to be driven by the artists themselves.
The evening began with independent performances of dance, poetry, spoken word, and music scattered around the bar area, allowing guests to walk in between numerous artistic expressions to the proverb The Price of Punishment. Interestingly, all the performers interpreted punishment in association with prison. This could have been influenced by Safe Ground’s large involvement in the prison environment, or conversely stemming from a widespread societal view broadcasted in the media that criminals must be punished and the mechanism to achieve this is prison.
This moved on to the group performance which highlighted some key issues such as mass media; the contrasting voices of the press, society, and the individual facing punishment. These voices were read as though they came from news articles to illustrate how the individual’s voice is not heard, overpowered by the media’s unshakable perspective of locking up ‘bad’ people. The performers then placed an empty chair in the centre of the audience and asked questions in this direction; ‘Did you not have any positive role models growing up?’, ‘So, you’re saying that it’s only people who look like you that are punished?’ and ‘Where do you see your future taking you?’, all followed by no response.
Safe Ground then took the lead and opened the group discussion by talking about how the idea of this event came together. Anya and Miles, the two artists who led the performance, elaborated on their experience of creating the piece and some challenges the group faced with such a short time-frame. These time constraints made it extremely challenging for the artists, but at the same time deeply enjoyable and they expressed that they were overcome by a sense of accomplishment when revealing their performance to the public eye.
The discussion then transformed into the audience sharing their interpretations of the empty chair, different to how the artists intended it to be construed. Next, we spoke about how prison is differentially understood by those who have immediate interactions with the environment, to those who have had no personal experience of it before. This arose by some individuals, both performers and in the wider audience, expressing how this was the first time they were educating themselves on the criminal justice system (cjs), further to media headlines. This was a rare opportunity for people with lifelong experience working or being involved in the cjs to engage with people who were taking an interest in the system for the first time.
Using arts to express what the price of punishment meant to the performers opened the discussion and allowed for deeper thought processes which wouldn’t have otherwise been achieved. Arts is at the core of our work, so it was moving to see how this created a captivating discussion on what people interpreted the real price of punishment to be.
Feedback detailed that the majority of the audience were new to Safe Ground, and the audience admired the variety of performances and the use of arts to evoke emotive responses to the title. Comments also highlighted the enjoyment of the discussion; the collaboration of individuals from different backgrounds sharing and broadening each other’s understanding of the cjs.
Expanding our understanding within this discussion is something that I personally found very compelling; having only volunteered with Safe Ground for a month before the event, it has already proven very different to my experience of what is taught about the cjs at my university. Listening to others’ educating themselves for the first time on this in contrast to hearing people’s life experiences being involved with the system was a space where I gained invaluable thoughts to ponder upon.
Finally, a quote from Safe Ground to leave you thinking… “Punishment is layered and nuanced and goes on and on, sometimes for years… after prison.”
Written by Niki Pavitt