Archive for SET Journal

SET Journal, 07/25

Wednesday, Kevin, Christina and I went to Tower St and I got to try out my much-prepared-for workshop on copyright issues for inmates who are making creative works. We felt a strong need for this since, as inmates develop their technical skills and their creative talents, they need to develop their awareness of the rights they have and the choices they face when they use those skills and talents. My task was to try to break down the complex realities of copyright law as it relates especially to sound recording, so the inmates can make conscious choices about what rights they want to have in their music.

Highlighting the existence of choice for people whose lives are currently limited by their confinement in the prison was a key mission of my presentation. We all felt keenly that it was important to lay a framework for thinking about rights now, as already works have been recording in the prison: both well-known artists like Jah Cure, and extremely talented but unknown artists like SET Executive Board Member Serano (Director of Sports and Culture), have been recording music with other inmates and with people from outside who come in and use the SET equipment. In addition, there are several accomplished poets and quite a few other creative people making their mark, often in the SET lab on the computers or in the studio.

I explained some key concepts, gave some scenarios in which works were being put into fixed form, and we talked about what choices were open to them. Participants were very focused and asked penetrating questions about the limits and complications arising both from the difficulties in relating copyright law to Jamaican creative practices, and in understanding what their different choices might mean in their given situation. Questions abounded, from the specific (what happens when multiple people collaborate in performing/improvising a song and it is recorded by a third party?) to the general (why is it that there isn’t a uniform royalty rate set at the international level?). I had my knowledge tested on a range of subjects, but luckily there were also some in the room who could offer experience (a former radio employee provided good context on broadcasting rights, for example).

I explained the basics of copyright, and at the end had time to explain a little bit about the choices within copyright such as creative commons, which people were very interested in. Many folks were as interested in promotion or spreading their message as they were in potential royalties, and there was the beginning of some lively discussion by the time we had to leave. I think questions would have continued as long as we stayed!


SET Journal, 07/19

This week has seen several misfortunes for the SET team (can you say three mash-up vehicles?), but today’s visit to Tower St. has almost single-handed made it better.

With Antenna Alliance in tow, we headed over to Tower St. (in a taxi) to do some major technical work. We arrived at about 11:45 and split up into two groups. Oliver, Christopher, and Kevin headed outside to see what they could do about bringing internet to the radio station, while Dan, Larisa, and I held down the fort at SET FM to see what we could do about the funky radio signal.

Dan quickly discovered that not all was right in the land of cables, and quickly fixed our in-house recording system and the signal being output to the antenna. This means, respectively, that we’ll be able to provide you with clips from the inmates’ talk shows soon and that the radio broadcast will now have less distortion. Meanwhile, the internet team found that wireless wasn’t a good option and had started exploring new options when it started to pour outside for the first time this month! They quickly came back to SET FM HQ, slightly drenched, and continued discussing other options.

As all this was happening, Larisa and I were delighted to see the inmates playing with Fruity Loops on their computers although, as Larisa quickly pointed out, we really need headphones in the lab if we want to avoid soundclashes. The riddims they were building sounded really great, and I think providing them with some further tutorials will give them to boost they need to make some truly amazing stuff.

But the inmates were not the only ones playing with Fruity Loops! Officer Simms, the officer stationed down there at the time, had created his own riddim that proved very popular with the inmates. Before we knew it, three of them were jamming to it inside the radio room. Kiki, Jason, and Serano took turns chatting over the riddim with astonishing ability. With lightning speed, they all generated lyrics that were clever not only in rhythm and rhyme but also in content–most of them were incredibly socially conscious and much more deep and mature than most of the songs out there today. This improvisational jam session went on continuously for about half an hour, and I really wish we could’ve videotaped it. It was such a wonderful manifestation of SET’s purpose: we had provided the tools and a bit of training, and the inmates just ran with it, putting their incredible creative energies to a positive use that even improved relations with the institution they were in. It gave us all a reminder of why it is that we spend our days in Jamaica inside prisons instead of on the beach, and we are totally grateful to the inmates for it.


SET Journal, 07/18

The SET team started off the week with a farewell, as friend and teacher Wayne Marshall went home on Monday morning. We were determined to make sure that the lessons he began teaching would be continued, though, and headed to Ft. Augusta later in the afternoon. We taught the ladies the basics about setting up a microphone for recording, including how to manage levels, filter out background noise, and do a sound check. Then we reviewed the basics of multitrack recording and basic sound editing. Everyone had a pretty good time, and the ladies left excited and ready to work on their digital storytelling skills.

Today, the SET team visited the Ft. Augusta again to attend their weekly meeting. There were so many persons that we had to meet in the chapel instead of the SET computer lab, which is a great sign!

First, we had the good news that, thanks to the efforts of Superintendent Stone, the lab has been open everyday, allowing the classes to continue steadily. This is great news and we are very grateful to Supt. Stone for her firm support.

Next, the SET president led the welcome and the opening procedures. The agenda of each SET meeting –even the format!–is determined fully by the inmates, and at Ft. Augusta each meeting includes a reading of the scripture, a welcome, a prayer, a vocabulary word, and a different inspirational thought of the day. After these, Christina gave a quick explanation of the spelling bee and went over basic spelling strategies, common word roots, and so on. Then we launched straight into a very interesting discussion about the day’s topic (chosen by inmates)–abortion.

The inmates had a lot to say about abortion, and their opinions were all over the map. It was fascinating to hear them debate with each other over the moral issues and practical consequences of abortion, and everyone was forced to think about situations that they had not necessarily taken into consideration before. The debate eventually shifted to the differences in the way Jamaican society deals with boys and girls, and how homophobia was directly causing Jamaican boys to be more aggressive and violent. The long discussion eventually wrapped up, and the meeting was concluded by the traditional Ft. Augusta SET farewell.

As much as we miss Wayne already, we won’t be alone for long because Oliver, Dan, and Christopher of Antenna Alliance are coming in tonight for a 5 day tech run. We’ll keep you up to date on all the work they’re doing!

SET Journal, 07/12

SET usually leaves Tuesdays and Thursdays for office work, but today was special–Mr. Wayne Marshall (not this one, but this one) is gracing us with his presence for the next 4 days, so we made the best of his time here and took him with us to Ft. Augusta.

The meeting today focused on audio production training for the inmates. Last week, Ft. Augusta had held a “Parent’s Day” for the juvenile inmates where the juvies performed self-written skits, sang, and danced for their visiting parents. Kevin was very impressed by the skits, so it is our hope that the Ft. Augusta ladies will learn how to do basic audio production and do some digital storytelling for broadcasting on SET FM and Kevin’s program “Unchained” on Roots FM.

While Wayne installed the necessary software on a computer, Christina went over the reasoning behind the upcoming spelling bee with the inmates. She explained that this year’s spelling bee will focus on words with Greek and Latin roots so that the participants will learn not just how to spell, but also where the words came from and what one can learn about the definition of a word from its spelling. The inmates seemed interested, and the logistics of the spelling bee were decided.

Then it was Wayne’s turn. He introduced the inmates first to Audacity, a free and open-source audio editing program that they could use to record their voices and mix different audio together, and much more. He recorded one SET member’s voice and used it to demonstrate techniques about maintaining levels, adding background music and sound effects, and dubbing vocals over an instrumental track. The inmates were visibly excited about this program and admired its power and simplicity.

Wayne then moved on to Fruity Loops, a professional riddim-making software. The inmates were even more excited about this program, especially when Wayne gave a small demonstration of how to build Techno, Calypso, Reggae, and Hip Hop beats. We are planning to go back next week for a follow-up, but there should be plenty of new software and excitement to tie the Ft. Augusta ladies over for the next few days. Hopefully, you’ll be hearing the fruits of their labor soon on this blog, so stay tuned!

SET Journal, 07/11

Today, Kevin Wallen, Lecia Gordon, Christina Xu, Larisa Mann and Wayne Matthias went to both Tower Street and Fort Augusta.At Tower Street, Wayne and Christina spent some time working on the radio station’s problem with recording, which appeared to be partially fixed. The SET executive board met with Kevin, Larisa and Lecia in attendance (and occasionally Officer Johnson).

The SET secretary kicked off the meeting by sharing with us the minutes from the previous meeting. In the ensuing discussion, there were technical concerns and organizational concerns on everyone’s mind: some pointed out that the transmitter was not reaching all of the prison equally, and it was agreed that work would continue to focus and direct the transmitter. In addition, many were concerned about the inmates who don’t have their own radios, and thus couldn’t hear SET programming. One solution suggested was installing speakers or possibly asking about the use of the existing PA system so that inmates who do not have radios could also listen. The Station Manager and the news team raised another concern: they were having some difficulty getting access to newspapers from which to derive the daily news headlines. There was also some discussion about the need for systematic and reliable communication within the SET hierarchy about new projects, and also about more of this among the DCS officers and between SET and the officers.

Turning to the next in a long series of events SET has planned to develop the skills and build the characters of all involved, the SET executive board agreed on some timelines for organizing the spelling bee that will occur at the end of the month. Kevin also announced that later this week we would return with our latest intern, here for only a week, Wayne Marshall of Boston, who would train interested members on the FL Studio music production system.

Next Kevin Wallen &Co went into the recording studio to observe inmates working on mixing a sweetly sung song that had been recorded previously. During this time Wayne Matthias finished installing some programs on the radio station computer and the studio and helping the inmates on editing skills in the studio as well

We arrived at the Fort Augusta facility in the afternoon, perfectly timed so as to coincided with a new associate of SET, Colleen Diedrich a psychologist. Walking past the puppy keeping watch over the guard house, we made our way to a meeting of the SET-Fort Augusta, consisting of several inmates and one officer, in the chapel.

Today the SET-Fort Augusta meeting focused mainly on building rapport through conversation on a chosen topic. Here, the chosen topic of the day was “What is good parenting?” The SET members, a wide range of ages and experience, but nearly all mothers, shared many interesting opinions and experiences from their own lives, and invited those attending to contribute as well. Christina, Larisa and Lecia shared their thoughts as non-parents, while Kevin gave a father’s perspective. Psychologist Colleen was particularly in demand as SET members asked about dealing with children’s questions about sex or other intimate issues, and the main agreement and theme of the discussion all along was “communication and respect” – take the time to listen to kids’ questions and answer them honestly -particularly about sex, do not be shy but explain the facts simply and directly. Otherwise, they will learn elsewhere, and may get the wrong idea.

Over the sea breeze blowing in the chapel door, Kevin described the importance of linking up SET Fort Augusta with SET Tower Street and SET South Camp – the main way to do this would be through timing events that would occur simultaneously at all three facilities. The SET- Fort Augusta members agreed to shift their schedule to synchronize with what was happening with the other facilities. The meeting ended with the joining of hands between SET members and visitors, and the recital of the SET motto: “From darkness to light, From evil to good, from ignorance to enlightenment.”