Albert “Joe”, 48

Albert “Joe”, 48

Meet Joe…

This is proof that serenity can exist, you just need to look in a place you have never searched before to find it.

Albert “Joe”, 48
Incarcerated: 14 yrs
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility

It didn’t take me long to realize that music and my cello would be the best psychologist in the world. I gave up the desire to give up and focused on the performance side of music. I joined Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program and was soon performing in concerts for the Sing Sing Community. With my love for grunge/alternative rock, I decided to begin writing original scores for string quartets. Included in those are Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite.” I felt a need to expand my abilities so I decided to try my hand at writing a song. I’ve never done this so didn’t put much stock into it. I’ve never fancied myself a singer, but was willing to try. Enclosed is my first song, “Dying Moon.” Practicing the song, it was decided it should be performed live at a family concert, scheduled for March 17, 2023. But writing the song was not enough. I needed to push myself beyond my comfort zone, so I decided I was going to pick-up a guitar and sing the song as well. Not an easy undertaking, especially since the concert was but four weeks out at the time of the decision. I believe the concert will be recorded and will be released online for viewing. Once we are notified, I will gladly send you all the information for your viewing pleasure.  “Dying Moon” is my desire to find peace and serenity in a place it just doesn’t or shouldn’t exist, but it was found in a series of musical notes. This is proof that serenity can exist, you just need to look in a place you have never searched before to find it.

Verse 1

Seeking what don’t belong
Where violence is strong
It is true
Blood red hue
Over you the sound of the dying moon

Chorus:

I’m chasing the sound of the dying moon
Sometimes red and sometimes blue
(Repeat)

Verse 2:

It’s the sound of serenity
Highest tranquility
Rising moon brilliant blue
Longing to hear the sound of the dying moon

Chorus

Bridge:

I can’t take in anymore
I strain to hear a whisper
Need to find peace
Where serenity hides
Behind these walls these walls these walls

Chorus

Verse 3

Found a way to escape
The monotony of this place
Found a note gave me hope
Strength in the sound of the dying moon

Chorus

Michael, 50

Meet Michael…

As an openly queer person, I wondered if it would matter to the audience. Performing in prison can be like performing in front of the audience at Showtime at the Apollo. They will let you know in an instant if you are off- key. Would their toxic masculinity afford me the moment of performing as Nero and tell the story of love between two different-sexed loving people?

Michael, 50
Incarcerated: 28 years
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, New York

Singing in prison is tricky. Sing out loud and proud and you are guaranteed at least twenty people within earshot yelling “Shut the f*!@ up!” from the confines of their cages. But that wasn’t the case when I had the opportunity to sing with multi Grammy-Award winning mezzo soprano, Joyce DiDonato, and acclaimed American pianist, Howard Watkins. Singing taps into a voice that is uniquely yours, and on December 2, 2022, I got to use my voice as one of three tenors, singing opera. Two weeks prior, Carnegie Hall Weill Music Institute notified me that I would be in the concert along with two other incarcerated persons. The nerves immediately set in. We would be singing Pur Ti Miro from Monteverdi’s final opera, L’Incoronazione di Poppea written in 1642. For the first time, this opera would be performed in the notorious maximum security prison of Sing Sing. We would be performing for people, like me, who did not have exposure to opera. I tried to dampen my voice by singing under the covers or when the noise from the company would overwhelm any sounds I could make. I don’t have a great ear and hoped I was singing the correct notes. I imagined myself as Nero, the character who sings to his love Poppaea. As an openly queer person, I wondered if it would matter to the audience. Performing in prison can be like performing in front of the audience at Showtime at the Apollo. They will let you know in an instant if you are off- key. Would their toxic masculinity afford me the moment of performing as Nero and tell the story of love between two different-sexed loving people? The day of the concert came quickly. I only wanted more time to practice. That afternoon we met with Joyce and Howard. They were kind and generous. We also found out that we would be singing in a chorus for the folk song “Shenandoah.” Joyce described the writer of the song as using music to remember their home, the Shenandoah Valley, from the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. That struck a chord with me. We were nearing the holidays- a tall Christmas tree with garland, multi-colored lights and ornaments was in the corner of the Catholic Chapel where we were performing. We were performing for some people who have not been home in decades. In fact, some people have lost all of their family members and what they thought of as home does not exist anymore. Literally, buildings have been torn down with new buildings in their place with gentrification and other forces reshaping what used to be “home.” The only home they have, that I have, is the home in our hearts and memories. The opera piece came and went. I was not even thinking about it. I was focused on singing my heart out on Shenandoah. I wanted the audience to know we were their home for that moment and that home was filled with warmth and love. Something they could take back with them to their cold cages.

Terence, 47

Terence, 47

Meet Terence…

My education has given me the clarity and understanding of how to be accountable. It’s like I have the answers to the test. The test of life. I’m a work in progress which started when I enrolled in the Hudson Link- Mercy College. Today I can say that I don’t hate myself anymore. I’ve even started to learn to like myself and maybe one day I’ll learn to love myself too.

Terence, 47
Incarcerated: 12 years
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility

When my younger brother died in his mid 30’s, I had a very difficult time grieving. We were close. When he got into trouble for a fight at school he called me to meet with our high school disciplinarian. No matter what I’ve done in my life he always looked up to me and never changed how he saw me, even though I’ve definitely disappointed plenty of people. His death could have been the straw that broke this camel’s back. I wanted to drop out. I could barely function but Professor Downey told me to keep showing up. In her class, I also started to learn about the effects trauma had on children’s development and decision making. So I listened and kept showing up because I trusted her knowledge based on the work she’s done in research. A light bulb went off in her class: the class brought up a lot of pain from my childhood with the different case studies we’d read on adverse childhood experiences. The discussions and my brother’s death at the time had me on an emotional edge. Showing up was about all I could do. But I was just learning how my traumatic experiences affected my development. It never occurred to me the intense feelings of shame that I can’t really remember ever living without, those reflected in my abnormal development from those events. I just thought they were THINGS that HAPPENED. What I do know is that through education here I’ve been given hope. People who leave prison with a bachelor’s degree have a recidivism rate of 3% and 1% with a masters which I plan on pursuing here. My education has given me the clarity and understanding of how to be accountable. It’s like I have the answers to the test. The test of life. I’m a work in progress which started when I enrolled in the Hudson Link- Mercy College. Today I can say that I don’t hate myself anymore. I’ve even started to learn to like myself and maybe one day I’ll learn to love myself too.

Jennifer, 39

Jennifer, 39

Meet Jennifer…

Prison is not designed to change a person, only you have the power to change yourself.

Jennifer, 39
Incarcerated: 12 years
Housed: Taconic Correctional Facility, Bedford Hills, New York

I am not defined by my crime, I am not a number, I am a beautiful, intelligent woman. I have learned that I can prosper in the worst conditions. I am a survivor! I had to learn to love myself in order to become who I am. It is a terrible feeling, sitting alone in a cell with only your thoughts. My thoughts have given me purpose these past 12 years. I graduated college with an associates and a bachelor’s degree. I have made the dean’s list, all behind walls, locked doors and razor wire. In three years I will be released after serving 16 years. I will be free, but I will never forget. Where there is hope, there is purpose. When I started my sentence I felt alone. I didn’t know how I was going to be in prison for 16 years, without my son. He was nine when I left and will be 21 when I am released. He is my motivation. I want him to be proud of me. I want him to know that I achieved goals and made new ones, all in prison. Prison is not designed to change a person, only you have the power to change yourself. You have to want to succeed, I am determined and I will keep changing – I learn something new everyday because my knowledge is my liberation!

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