In 2011, four successful musicians began teaching the honesty of song writing. Their students were convicted prisoners serving inside prisons in Wellington, New Zealand.
It launched a groundbreaking series for the indigenous Māori Television network, a chart-hitting album and unprecedented insights into worlds that lead to lives behind bars.
"No one else could write these songs. If we did, we'd be faking it."
Warren Maxwell, Musician, Series One
In 2013, more national artists came on board, entering new prisons in Auckland. Once again, every struggle and success was captured on film as it happened; every song professionally recorded; and every prisoner confronting their pasts to turn walls of distrust into songs from the heart.
"They had to fight their own demons to be part of this. They had to overcome years of distrust and self-loathing. They had to be willing to face public judgement again.
But some of the best songs you will ever hear in your life, may be hidden behind bars."
Anika Moa, Musician, Series Two
Songs From The Inside is an intense rehabilitation module that teaches students to write, sing and record their own song. But to achieve their best, they must also learn to face their worst.
Across weekly themed lessons, they are confronted with the consequences of choice and discover the power of the pen. As unsettling memories rise and walls crumble, both prisoners and artists edge closer to unlocking minds and the freedom of song.
"Every week I took a deep breath because we never knew what we were walking into. You can't predict the mood, what's going to be stirred and what's gonna hit the floor.
This project is the most gut wrenching, uplifting, important song I've ever worked on."
Annie Crummer, Musician, Series Two
None of the participating prisoners were sexual offenders or had committed offences against persons under the age of 18. None were paid to appear on the programme.
But all had to agree to be identified, to declare their crimes and to face the inevitable court of public opinion on camera.
Produced by Awa Films Ltd and funded by Te Māngai Pāho, NZOnAir and Māori Television, Songs From The Inside does not pretend to be the answer to prison reform. It is a journey of choices, exposing the best and the worst of who we are, without excuses.
"You have to tear down the walls and barriers. You have to take responsibility and don't delay. You are your worst enemy but you are also your best healer.
I felt if we could plant the seed of this idea within these chained minds, there might be hope."