Japanese female duo use music to inspire incarcerated

After changing lives of many offenders with their moving lyrics, Megumi Ikatsu and Manami Kitao are now establishing a non-profit organisation that will help ex-inmates find jobs and housing

Image Credit: THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN
Manami Kitao and Megumi Ikatsu of Paix2 perform a song at a reformatory for girls. The duo has inspired many inmates to change their way of life by giving more than 300 concerts at prisons and reformatories in Japan.
Tabloid on Saturday

A female musical duo that has inspired many inmates to change their way of life by giving more than 300 concerts at prisons and reformatories in Japan will now also be able to help on the other side of the bars after being appointed volunteer probation officers.

The duo, Paix2, has been called “prison idols”. It was formed by Megumi Ikatsu, 38, a former nurse, and Manami Kitao, 36, a former university staff member, in 2008. Paix means “peace” in French.

The two want to sing not only for adult and juvenile offenders, but to play a direct role in their rehabilitation after their release from such institutions. In cooperation with former detention officers, they will soon establish a non-profit organisation that will aim to help ex-inmates find jobs and housing.

“Please do a good deed once every three days, and praise yourself once every four days. And then please keep going straight down this path ...” the two sang at a prison concert in August.

At the concert on August 22, the duo performed for about 40 juveniles at Haruna Joshi Gakuen, a reformatory for girls in Gunma Prefecture. The girls have been sent to the reformatory for delinquency, including cases involving physical harm and the use of stimulant drugs. It marked the 342nd Paix2 event at prisons and other facilities across the nation over the past 14 years. While the tune was a light pop song, some girls shed tears as they listened to the pair’s tender singing voices.

In the beginning, the duo started to hold concerts at prisons to gain experience on stage. However, a year later, they started to receive letters from inmates one after another, which carried such messages as, “After hearing your songs, I started to think I might be able to live a decent life.”

Hoping that their music would help lower the number of crimes, they continued their prison concerts, asking only for transportation fees in return.

Meanwhile, they felt frustrated because their activities were limited to supporting inmates in prisons or reformatories. Some former offenders told them that they had quit an organised crime group, while others sent letters saying they had returned to prison.

Tatsuhiko Araki, the head of the Tokyo probation office, befriended the pair and suggested that they become volunteer probation officers around June this year. Ikatsu and Kitao, who have received several hundreds of letters and e-mails from former delinquents, decided to accept the offer. “We’d like to keep cheering on former inmates while forging emotional connections with them,” Ikatsu said.

Araki said, “The two of them will surely understand the realities and emotions of inmates.”

Ikatsu and Kitao will meet with former inmates individually and give advice about their concerns about day-to-day living and employment as voluntary probation officers covering Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. Furthermore, along with former detention officers whom they came to know via prison concerts, they will establish a non-profit organisation as early as this year. They plan to visit companies with which they established connections through their activities as singers and ask them to employ former inmates, while also seeking other singers to hold concerts at prisons and other facilities. “We’d like to call for companies and citizens to create an environment in which former delinquents can easily reintegrate back into society,” Kitao said.

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Local volunteers have been serving as probation officers because it is unpaid work that can be difficult at times. However, with the introduction of the lay judge system, interest in the rehabilitation of criminals has reached new highs. There has been greater diversity among those who have been taking on the role, which includes full-time homemakers and female business managers. In 1990, women accounted for only 20 per cent of all volunteer probation officers in the country, but the figure hit a record high of 26 per cent this year.

In some cases, entertainers have been temporarily assigned as voluntary probation officers, using their communication abilities to promote the need to support the rehabilitation of offenders. In May, professional Japanese storyteller Ichiryusai Teika, singer Hiroko Chiba and others formed a group of show business professionals working as volunteer probation officers, and Ikatsu and Kitao plan to join.

However, the number of volunteer probation officers has been slightly declining. As of January, there were 47,914 nationwide. As people in local communities have become less connected with each other, it has become more difficult to find people who can take the role. In addition, an increasing number of volunteer probation officers are ageing, with the average age standing at 64.6 at present, or four years older than the average 30 years ago.

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