InHouse Records is the first fully functioning label to operate in the UK prison system, with a goal of enhancing inmates’ technical and social skills through the power of music—and this year, design, as well.
Hannah Lee joined forces with InHouse in January to teach graphic design at HM Prison Elmley … until COVID-19 forced all prisoners into almost total lockdown. Unable to work with the population they serve, InHouse sought a way to remain connected, especially with anxieties running high in institutions throughout the country.
“Out of this challenge, the InHouse Records’ weekly magazine was born,” Lee says. “The staff pivoted overnight from being music and label facilitators to educational journalists.”
With several issues now under their belts, Lee and her team are focused on producing five more weekly volumes of Aux, and then transitioning to monthly or bimonthly.
PRINT caught up with Lee, who was staring down a print deadline—but was kind enough to carve out some time to tell us more about InHouse’s zine, which goes out to more than 2,500 prisoners across the UK and USA.
Can you give us an overview of how the InHouse program itself works?
InHouse Records operates within nine different UK prisons in London, Kent and Sussex. Inside each prison we work with prisoners creating tracks that can be released when they leave. Some choose to focus on learning new instruments whilst others choose to spend time learning production. A lot of our students are interested in rapping and writing lyrics, so we spend time focusing on processing difficult emotions through the use of their bars.
Tell us about the introduction of design into the program.
I started working for InHouse as a graphic design teacher in January at HMP Elmley. The founder, Judah (Armani), had an idea to introduce a graphic design course alongside the music side of the label, but with the same end goal: to reduce the reoffending rate. I constructed a course to cover the basics in typography, logo design, advertising/marketing, poster work and album artwork, but I also wanted to have a high focus on the design process itself, encouraging course participants to experiment and test ideas.
As a novice “teacher,” it has been both challenging and deeply rewarding. The design process is a portal to provide people with new skills, encourage new thinking patterns and challenge unhealthy ones. Even though I was ripped for my “battered sneaks” on a daily basis and the nicest comment I received in three months was “you’re not that shit at this,” seeing the students make progress and overcome obstacles was amazing.
Delve a bit into the development of the magazine.
At the beginning everyone worked together to come up with a 12-week plan (which we have now surpassed) of which genres and artists to cover. The zine is broken down into Creativity, Writing, Music, Wellbeing, Rhythm, Production and Recording and Culture, and features a new poem from one of our InHouse graduates each week. We have interviewed people such as “Sopranos” actor Joe Ganascolli, comedian Tom Ward and musician Yazz Ahmed. I design the zine and create the visuals each week.
Tell us about its design.
Designing a 16-page zine in three days certainly has its challenges. The first thing I do is listen to the tracks of the artists that are featured. This becomes my soundtrack for the week’s work. Then I spend time researching old posters and album covers from the genre or artists we are discussing, which influence my choices of color and visuals throughout. For instance, with the “Garage” issues I spent hours trawling through old rave posters (a guilty pleasure of mine). With the “World” issue I started by sketching the three countries that the artists we were featuring were from and then experimenting with different spray brushes to create mottled soft borders. These then became the backgrounds of those issues.
At the beginning of the project, Or Type and Signal Type foundry very kindly donated three font families for us to use. I’m currently working with Boogie School Sans, which is amazing as it not only has a distinct personality of its own, but the fact that it comes in a variety of weights, allowing me to combine and play with these in order to create a different tone of voice for each genre.
You’ve also described how the project contributes to the population’s literacy skills.
The magazine also comes with a CD to go alongside. The CD runs much like a podcast and consists of a summary of each section by its writer and a selection of tracks to work with. This allows those who struggle with reading to still be able to join in and increase their literacy skills.
[Here’s a bit more] from our founder, Jude Armani: “Literacy and numeracy within the prison population is difficult to nurture, even harder amongst the general population. Our staff are not English teachers or trained journalists but the fundamental advantage they possess is that they know our audience better than most. They are able to write in a manner that will foster engagement. In terms of developing new skills, InHouse is based on three very simple pillars: Choice, Relationship and Music. The choice to select what pathway to study, how to study and to what level. The safe and enabling environments to make those choices, because choice reminds us we are human. Learning the skills of maintaining and developing relationships—such as communication, adaptability and accountability—is essential to progress in any industry, especially in the music industry, where personal relationships are so key. But more than that, if we have the skills to better maintain relationships, then not only are we potentially stronger employees, but also better employers, fathers, husbands and members of community. Finally, music is the aspiration that binds it all together. The magazine profiles the skills of relationships through highlighting examples of good communication, adaptability and accountability, using music as the driving force and creating choice in regards to what areas to focus on.”