a tale of music in 2 women's prisons--Alaska & New Jersey

Earlier this month, the Washington Post published an article on the orchestra program in the women's prison in Alaska.

According to the article:

For the prisoners, the hour-long Saturday orchestra practice gives them a break in their highly structured prison routine. Hilbish said she’s so protective of that hour, she tells people not to visit her on Saturdays.

“The routine is the same, you get up at the same time, everything is the same. With music, it’s going to be different, it’s going to be challenging,” said Coffman, who was convicted in 1997 of stealing marijuana and the murder of the homeowner in Willow, even though she didn’t enter the house. The jury found she was the leader of the people who did, however.

Music gave her “something to focus on besides being unhappy and walking around like a robot,” she said.

Beyond a reward, being in the orchestra gives the prisoners an identity.

“So much of the time in jail, your life is really compartmentalized and very structured, and you have to wear a certain thing and follow a strict schedule, and orchestra is like, ‘Well, I’m a musician,’ and music is a certain kind of freedom, to be able to make music and make music with your friends, so it is really a sense of being free,” Whitfield said.

Today, as I type the last of the submissions for Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison, I open an envelope from a woman in New Jersey's Edna Mahan Correctional Facility who laments the cancellation of the music therapy concerts:

Here in Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, New Jersey, for about twenty years, we have had a program called Music Therapy. The program still exists, but the administration has stopped the music therapy concerts that we put on for the population here. They have not wanted the concerts to continue since 2007, but always was looking for a good enough reason, so in January 2012, they made up a reason which was people were out of control. Yet no one went to lock and no one received a charge. If this were true, there would have been charges written. Administration got its wish and put a stop to the concerts here in the medium/maximum compound. Yet on the minimum compound, they are still allowed to have music therapy concerts which I think is unfair as women who are residing on grounds in the minimum compound are allowed everything and nothing really gets taken away from them.

The sad part is the volunteer who comes here and gives his time to do the music therapy class and put together the concerts was never notified by administration that there would be no more concerts. When he tried several times to set up a meeting with them, they blew him off. Then finally they called him and told him, "There will be no more concerts in the medium/maximum compound" and never answered his question, Why?

Music therapy is where women write poems, songs or words on paper expressing how they feel and what they are going through. Every six months, there was a concert held and the women would get up in front of people and read or sing what they wrote. I loved to sing and slide on my knees in the middle of the aisle and the crowd would go crazy as they loved it.

Now the music concerts that were once performed and were loved by many have come to an end because administration stopped them.