Ex Nemo ad Aliquis: "From Nobody to Somebody": Theatre Nemo's Role in Scottish Prisons

Kirstin Anderson

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


• This report presents a theory-informed exploration of how Theatre Nemo supports people in prison towards better mental health and wellbeing through the arts. This is done by taking a closer look at some theories of desistance and examining them alongside current research on the contribution that the arts can make to an individual’s mental
health, wellbeing and desistance journey.

• This report is not an evaluation of a specific Theatre Nemo project or projects. However, comments from prison officers, Theatre Nemo staff, and participants in prison who have taken part in recent Theatre Nemo workshops (2014) are used to give context to the paper.

• The survey of literature undertaken for this report included a review of arts- based practice in prisons, of desistance research, of the relationship between the arts and desistance, of Scottish Prison Service policy documents and of grey literature produced by Theatre Nemo (mostly
documentary material including session reviews, project summaries and internal reports).

• Theatre Nemo has experienced growth over the last ten years with regards to the types of programming offered (including Taiko Drumming workshops, animation workshops with prisoners and their families and
collaborative work with men and officers in HMP Barlinnie’s Day Care Unit), the development of documentation and evaluation methods and the dissemination of their work
to the wider community.

• The arts play a key role in health and wellbeing in schools, hospitals, care homes, community centres and prisons. Recent research has supported the view that the arts, including with those engaged outside clinical environments, can be shown to make longitudinal contributions towards individuals’ physical and mental health (Gordon-Nesbitt, 2015; Fujiwara and MacKerron, 2015).

• The arts have been shown to encourage ‘secondary desistance’ (Cheliotis, 2014; Davey et al., 2014; Bilby, Caulfield and Ridley, 2013; McNeill et al., 2011) through the development of positive self-identity and supporting an individual’s personal and social wellbeing.

• There has been a fundamental shift in attitudes towards the arts in prisons over the last ten years as evidenced by a growing body of research in the field and the increase in organisations that carry out arts work in prisons. Better collaborative working is needed between arts
organisations and the Scottish Prison Service in order to achieve the goals set out in the Scottish Prison Service Organisational Review (2013) and the Review of Purposeful Activity (2014).

• The work of Theatre Nemo contributes significantly to the Scottish Prison Service’s pursuit of the Nine Offender Outcomes. The first Offender Outcome, sustained or improved physical and mental wellbeing, is achieved by supporting individuals’ wellbeing through the creative arts. The work of Theatre Nemo has also shown to support
Offender Outcome Six, maintained or improved relationships with families, peers and community and the first part of Offender Outcome Nine, ‘Improvements in the attitudes or behaviour which led to offending’, which have been evident in some of the work that Theatre Nemo undertakes.

• The work of Theatre Nemo supports a number of aims highlighted in the Scottish Prison Service’s Strategy for Purposeful Activity. In particular, Theatre Nemo has demonstrated that their work can support men and
women in prison in developing both their personal wellbeing (emotions, satisfaction, vitality, resilience and self-esteem) and social wellbeing by developing trust in groups through the development of creative arts.

• Theatre Nemo has supported the aims of the SPS Mental Health Strategy through the development of long-term work in HMP Barlinnie’s Day Care Services. HMP Barlinnie’s Day Care Services is staffed by a group of dedicated officers who have professional knowledge of supporting the men who attend from the residential High Dependency Unit. It
is recommended that Theatre Nemo staff, on secondment or as a residency, and officers from Day Care Services work together in designing long-term programming that allows both staffs to exchange and develop best practices.

• HMP Cornton Vale and HMP Barlinnie have purchased their own sets of Taiko drums and it is suggested that they make plans to work with Theatre Nemo in designing a long-term strategy that will support this purposeful activity. Taiko drumming has been shown to have numerous benefits for individual’s health and wellbeing. The craft is adaptable to the various skill levels of people in a given group, an aspect that is welcome in prison settings.

• The Scottish Prison Service should consider the use of bespoke training by Theatre Nemo for new recruits and professional development for existing staff on developing an understanding of self-stigmatisation surrounding mental health in our society and what they can do to support individuals in prison who have mental health issues. Initial work taking place in HMP Edinburgh includes a focus on awareness training of stigma around mental illness and the benefits of stigma reduction through non-clinical therapeutic interventions. This work could be developed further to consider specific needs for women, men, young people and ageing men and women in custody.

• Theatre Nemo and the Scottish Prison Service, by means of
Throughcare Support Officers, should consider working together to research individuals’ desistance journey in prison and out in the community. There is very limited research that ‘addresses the effects of arts-based prison programmes after participants’ release in the community’ (Cheliotis, 2014: 12) and more work is needed in the field.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherTheatre Nemo
Commissioning bodyTheatre Nemo
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


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