‘HUNGRY but I can’t eat/Not allowed and don’t sleep in my own bed/Any more – a uniform to tell me who I am”, sings Louis Abbott, frontman of Scottish band Admiral Fallow and creative lead for arts organisation Vox Liminis.

An Open Door is the song offered up as a way for this audience to enter a different headspace, an insight into what life looks like from the other side of the prison wall. It’s also the entry point to Making Things New – a strand of work from the organisation’s Distant Voices project and an arts project with a difference. While the main creative output might involve poems and songs – many of which have been included on EPs and an album – it has also involved a three-year research project looking at the diverse experiences of life after punishment and aiming to spark positive changes to the criminal justice system.

Combine ex-prisoners with musicians, poets and academics and it’s no wonder it has had interesting results. Now that space is opening further – this studio in the rafters of Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket is full of people working in and around criminal justice. There are ex-Sheriffs, community justice leads and Scottish prison staff. Here too are those working for the DWP, employers, public health workers and everything in between. The big idea is that if the project is serious about facilitating the necessary discussions around crime and punishment, it needs to invite more people in.

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First we listen to the voices of experience – a poem expressing the alienation of an ex-prisoner returning home to discover: “Thing might be where you left them and/Linda doesn’t work at the Co-op any more” or another who finds “to prove my identity is impossible, I don’t exist now”. In Ten Things the System Taught Me, the writer notes about prison: “You will be brutalised and it will be sore/You will be controlled and it will be sore”, but still feels ambivalent about release. “Feeling free will likely feel sore/Hope, too, is sore, the more of it you get,” he laments.

Next it’s time to break into musician-led groups for the “making new” part to begin, a chance to reflect on what we’ve heard and create an artistic response informed by our collective experiences, whether those include prison time or not. Led by Lucy Cathcart Froden, our group develops Frankie – a proud ex-prisoner attempting, through our song, to persuade an unfeeling, robotic system that it’s in everybody’s interest if he’s supported to change and grow. In another practice room along the corridor one group writes about surfing the waves, inspired by a surfing rehab project in New York. The third responds to a touching song written by a young man in Polmont – Bad Letter Day – about the heartbreak of receiving a letter telling him his beloved dog has died while sitting in the prison canteen.

Our new results are unsurprisingly a bit rough and ready, but the process is a refreshing way to rethink the problems of the criminal justice system. “Certainly in terms of the values and principles,” one participant agreed. “It felt like everyone had a voice in the process but we were led by the words of those who had experienced the criminal justice system.” Or as another put it at the end, when we’d all bashfully sat down after our song: “It requires courage to perform in public before something is finished.” But that is what needs to happen in the system too, he says. We need to start making things better now, not wait for a perfect solution, “because that’s really what transformational change really looks like.”