Soaring performances of songs from “Cats” and “Les Misérables” are unusual fare for a prison. But on May 3rd an inmate at Leicester prison brought an audience to their feet with his renditions. The recital was part of a TEDx conference, a popular lecture series that had never before been held in a British jail. In the midst of a prisons crisis, with violence against inmates and officers at record levels and crippling staff shortages, the event is an encouraging example of smaller efforts to improve conditions.
On a stage covered in prisoners’ art, inmates thundered the words of Shakespeare. An officer recited his own poetry: “I could tell you tales that would make you laugh…tales that would turn your stomach, tales that would break your heart,” he intoned. Organising the event was a logistical nightmare, says Phil Novis, the governor at HMP Leicester. But the enthusiasm of all involved suggests it was worth it.