Music in prison, told in comic book

with No Comments

Oktober 2018 -by Aliette de Laleu, France

In a comic book published in September 2018, Romain Dutter, in charge of cultural activities at Fresnes prison, tells the story of prison concerts.

The prison had long been deprived of music. In France, for example, it was only in the 1990s that ideas to organise prison concerts were initiated and encouraged. This is what Romain Dutter tells in a comic book released in September 2018 by Steinkis, designed by Julien Bouqé.

The cultural coordinator of the Fresnes penitentiary center (Val-de-Marne) shares in words and drawings his experience and gives a testimony of the musical moments he has established for 10 years in this prison. “I wanted to talk about what culture could bring in detention for people in prison but also for all stakeholders,” says Romain Dutter, who will leave his post at the prison in November.

“Culture has a real meaning and should not be put aside to the detriment of safer aspects.”

“This work has allowed me to make a personal assessment, to see what worked or what to improve. It is also the objective of this comic book towards the institutions and the governances: to think about and reflect on the relevance of the music in prison”, continues the author. “Culture has a real meaning and it should not be put aside to the detriment of safer aspects, that unfortunately do not solve the real problems of the prison environment, in which idleness plays a big part”.

Through these comic books, we come back to the historical concerts: Johnny Cash in the United States, who inspired other great artists, Barbara’s commitment, very sensitive to the prison cause, and all these groups who have surveyed the corridors of the Fresnes prison thanks to the enthusiasm of Romain Dutter.


Classical music in prison

Among them, groups of punk, cumbia, Arabic music, French song or classical music. In recent years, two orchestras regularly come to give concerts or participate in workshops with prisoners around music and instruments: the National Orchestra of Île-de-France and the Paris Mozart Orchestra. Bleuenn The Master, a musician in this last ensemble, regularly goes to Fresnes prison as a speaker.

“It’s always a little stressful the first time. We were all a little tense, we did not know what was waiting for us and Fresnes is a rather impressive prison, a bit like in the movies with its large doors, large rooms and all these corridors, “says the violinist. But once in place, the pressure diminishes: “We see it as a normal concert, we come to make music first and foremost.”

They tell us that it is good for them and that they will keep the music for a long time.

 For these representations, the prisoners are found in a large room of a hundred places. “The hardest thing is to meet their eyes. At first, we do not dare to look them in the eyes, some are so moved … “, says Bleuenn Le Maître. At the end of the concert, musicians and prisoners exchange: “They often tell us that it’s good for them and that they will keep the music for a long time,” recalls the musician. An important moment as Romain Dutter points out: “The idea of a concert is not just to give a performance and to leave. It’s exchange, talk about music, life, everyday life. ”

He remembers a particularly striking concert, in a completely different style of music: punk. “Something has taken between the musicians devoted heart and soul to this audience, and the public who has responded extremely well. At the end of the concert, I arrived on stage, the musicians were all crying and a good ten inmates were very moved too. I had to pass the microphone, that I sometimes use, it was not obvious when I saw the emotion of the musicians and the public detained. It was the strongest experience I had. ”

These moments of life are told in the comic book, in the midst of testimonies of musicians and prisoners who all know that they share a particular moment between the walls of Fresnes prison.

Article is translated from the France Musique website ‘ La musique en prison racontée en bande-dessinée’.