“When the music started, the prison walls disappeared.”

In a recent issue of the “Walker Talker”, the in-house Walker State Prison newspaper, one author attested to the work and broad impact Arts Capacity programming has on the culture at Walker State this when they wrote that the work of Arts Capacity is “transforming the culture inside the prison.”

In another article written about a recent recital of ours they wrote, “When the music started, the prison walls disappeared.”

It went on, “The first composition involved the violin, piano, and saxophone. The sounds, feelings, and images that the music inspired filled the gymnasium to the point where there was no room for prison worries, anxieties, or stress only music.

As varied as the music was, so were the responses to it. Tears could be seen in some eyes, while other men laughed out loud at different parts. Who would have thought classical music could make a person laugh out loud? In between numbers, the microphone made its way around the room. Residents told stories of the past, fantasies of islands and forests, and one guy described a medieval battlefield! They talked of loved ones and aspirations for the future. It is truly amazing there could be so many responses to a single piece of music, and how all of those responses add to the harmony of the music to create something bigger.

When the recital ended, the residents and guests were able to spend 30 minutes visiting. Residents expressed appreciation and wonder to the musicians, and interestingly, the guests shared the same with us. They were just as appreciative of our participation as we were for their presence. This was as meaningful to the men as the recital itself. Thank you, Holly, for everything you’ve done here It means more than you know We are all looking forward to your return in May!”

These men see themselves not as prisoners but as human beings passing through a difficult season in their lives. They have a hunger and thirst for what is right, thoughtful, and inspiring. Arts Capacity celebrates their humanity and brings selected music not for entertainment, but as a tool for introspection, understanding, and change for good. When the music starts, “the prison walls [disappear].” There’s something fascinating about this powerful observation. The selected music transports the men mentally and emotionally to a better place. In the freedom of mind and spirit, healing can take place. One day a prisoner wrote that when he came to prison, he buried all his memories and feelings. Thinking about these things only hurt. He found himself during these recitals able to resurrect them, think about them in a safe way, and then put them back until the next time. Healing was happening. They look forward to our return. Thanks to the pandemic, that has not yet happened in 2020, but through correspondence with residents and conversation with prison leadership, we know they still look forward to our return.

Perhaps this time of forced isolation in our own homes will give us a tiny glimpse into the lives of the men locked down at Walker, and just how meaningful music & arts can be to heal and to help.

Alan Bonderud, Arts Capacity Board President

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