Presumably most folk are aware of John Prine’s song, Christmas In Prison, a song that regularly does the rounds at this time of year. It’s a fine song but I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t reflect the reality of being incarcerated at this time of year. Criminal sentencing is a hot potato at the best of times; there’s the “you done the crime so do the time” and the “hang ’em’ high” brigades that would rather lock folk up and throw away the key. However there’s plenty of evidence that rehabilitation rather than pure punishment reaps its rewards. Prison can be like a university. Inmates can learn from their peers, new tricks and ways of doing wrong but it can also offer opportunities previously denied to them particularly as race and poverty are prime indicators of one’s likelihood of getting banged up.
Famously, Johnny Cash performed to inmates in San Quentin and Folsom but music can be used as a rehabilitation tool also and producer Chris Brown, recently mentioned on Blabber’n’Smoke for his work with David Corley and Suzanne Jarvie, has been working with inmates of the Pittsburgh Institution in Ontario for some time on a project called Pros and Cons Music Mentoring Program. The results are to heard on an album called Postcards From The County which you can download here. Brown has talked about the experience here and this week has unveiled the latest fruit from the enterprise, a song written by David Corley and played and sung by the inmates.
Corley, currently riding high on end of year lists with his excellent album, Available Light, has this to say,
“It was a real honor, for me, to have these guys, in prison, taking their own time to do something special with this song that I wrote. And this is a very personal song to me. I could hear, right away, from the first recordings, the genuine care and effort they were putting into it. I originally gave this song to Chris, to record on his own record, and he, in turn gave it away to them. That’s just Chris, and these fellas. This song’s free, and for anyone and everyone….a prayer and a song of life and love and time passed.”
Cast away any prejudice and have a listen to the song. It’s delivered with feeling and a warmth that surely proves that music can bridge any gap, can offer hope to those who had no hope and it certainly justifies Brown’s desire to maintain some form of rehab for these prisoners despite budget cuts.