Local rapper Optamus gives back through hip-op rehabilitation at Casuarina Prison

Scott ‘Optamus’ Griffiths - his MC name is about the positive and he also likes the Transformers. Picture: Jon Hewson.
Scott ‘Optamus’ Griffiths - his MC name is about the positive and he also likes the Transformers. Picture: Jon Hewson.

HIP hop is about the downtrodden.

Through that sentiment, a local hip hop artist has turned it into a rehabilitative force for good for some of the most downtrodden and discarded members of our society: inmates at Casuarina Prison.

Scott ‘Optamus’ Griffiths has run a hip hop program at Casuarina for 15 inmates since the start of the year.

It is an accredited Tafe course that’s proving to be a powerful and healing tool for the rehabilitation of inmates.

“It’s about reflecting diverse voices and about making that positive,” he said.

“It’s based around lyric writing, narratives, the journey in and out of the prison system, talking about emotions and the music.

“It covers everything: sound production, mixing, lyric writing and song composition.”

Each inmate is allowed to use a laptop and set of headphones to create their own hip hop tunes.

Held every Wednesday, classes are started with a freestyling session where inmates have to improvise around a speaker.

“It’s quite challenging to get up in front of others but that breaks down the fear of performance,” Griffiths said. “It also builds self-esteem and creates a bond between myself and the guys.”

Griffiths did not fear going to the maximum-security prison.

“As a rapper walking into a class – it’s the same as walking into a class anywhere – there has to be a bond with the class from the start,” he said.

Dubbing it ‘hip hop pedagogy’ Griffiths said it had become a worldwide movement for dealing with prisoners.

“There is a real therapeutic value to lyric writing and beat work is a proven therapy,” he said.

“Studies have shown that the repetition of beat works with trauma therapy, along with the low bass tones of hip hop.

“One key thing is prevention and taking a three- pronged approach.

“Prevention, rehabilitation and release/re-integration, so they don’t fall into recidivism.

“People think just about the crime committed; there is always a bigger picture and a lot has to do with childhood trauma.

“Then these (human) time bombs are created.

“In the sober light of day, these guys want to do the right thing and they are very, very remorseful.

“The program helps break down the walls they normally face and gives them common ground.

“And it’s about having fun.”

Griffiths is one of the founding members of Australian hip hop band Downsyde.