Bird on the Wing
“It shows what you can achieve with a bit of confidence and hard work. I have a brighter outlook for my future upon release.”
— Participant, HMP Wealstun
‘Bird on the Wing’ is imagine if’s flagship intervention for prisoners due for release, which uses evidence-led theatre techniques to address several risk factors for criminal behaviour.
Delivered by a professional theatre company, ‘Bird on the Wing’ is an intervention which gets people ready for release and the working world. Participation in drama develops self-esteem, pro-social attitudes and motivation for work. Prisoners work with imagine if to devise a short performance after an intensive programme of theatre and employability skills workshops. ‘Bird on the Wing’ showcases the skills prisoners have developed directly to local and national employers, recruitment agencies and support services.
imagine if’s practitioners are trained theatre professionals with extensive experience in delivering theatre-based provision in community settings, specialising in work with hard to reach communities. We combine our knowledge of the criminal justice system, associated services (i.e. housing services, Jobcentre Plus and third sector support organisations) and experience of working with employability skills through drama.
‘Bird on the Wing’ addresses pro-criminal attitudes by supporting prisoners to alter self-perceptions and develop a new narrative identity through envisioning a new, appealing and conventional replacement self. The program also works with prisoners to build social capital through access to agents for change – offering exposure and reaction to ‘hooks for change’ or turning points.
In 2017 ‘Bird on the Wing’ was initially piloted in HMP Leeds, HMP Wealstun and HMP Doncaster, after rigorous testing by people with convictions in the community. Across these prisons, 41 men completed the 3-week full time intervention.
Evaluation of the pilot study included informal feedback from participants about their experiences of the programme, as well as an assessment of mental well-being using the validated Warwick- Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS, Clarke et al, 2011).
The pilot interventions were well received with over 90% of prisoners agreeing that the ‘Bird on the Wing’ has helped them to improve their communication skills, ability to work as a team, their confidence and creativity.
When we met David in HMP Leeds he struggled to make eye contact with anyone. By the end of the intervention he performed in front of around 20 employers and prison staff. He also presented us with some poetry he had written in his own time in his cell, now framed in the imagine if office. During the intervention we also found that although David had years of working experience, he had lost hope of finding employment upon release.
We helped him to practise disclosing, in his own words, the “worst mistake of his life” in interviews. Four weeks after release he secured a full time job at Waitrose, moving on to a role with more responsibility soon after. David also works with imagine if in prisons as a motivational speaker, meeting the new ‘Bird on the Wing’ participants, presenting his poetry and encouraging them to persevere.
Since his release, we have been working on Carl’s artistic journey and employment progression. He has performed to over 100 people, including to Secretary of State, David Gauke, and represented imagine if at national events.
Developing creative skills for self-expression and building pro-social as opposed to pro-criminal networks is a vital part of our work and is proven to contribute towards reducing reoffending. We are working with Carl to develop his stand-up comedy routine alongside support with job applications.
“Since I was released imagine if has been a stable presence in my life which has helped me get ready for work again.”
imagine if delivers theatres performances with professional actors for up to 100 prisoners per day, followed by workshops focusing on the play’s themes, covering topics such as domestic abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues. The performances and workshops run over a full day and we work with prisoners individually to respond to their specific needs, designing and delivering specialised interventions for their service users.
“From Jadek I learnt the different signs and symptoms of trauma, some I wouldn’t have recognised.” – Prison Officer, HMP Dovegate on imagine if’s latest production, Jadek