My friend Nathan Lee is a musician. He performs in prisons. Not Andy Griffith in Mayberry type jails. Attica. Rikers. Some of the toughest prisons in LA County. To say he’s compelled to do it is an understatement. He is called to minister to prisoners. This ministry is Send Musicians to Prison. And I never understood why until June 17th.
My awesome dad is a retired police officer. I have a strong sense of justice. Can you imagine what my idea of prison was?
Do the crime, do the time.
Bad guys vs. good guys.
Us vs. them.
When Nathan invited me to this private concert, we had to fill out a form in advance, get checked in, turn over our keys and IDs, and no cell phones were allowed. We were counted before and after every door was pulled open and crashed shut behind us. My nerves were lit up. The room was expectant and nervous and way too hot.
Nathan asked 50 inmates in this Nashville jail to spend 8 weeks studying the Beatitudes with a different teacher, pastor, or priest. Weekly, the inmates wrote about that particular Beatitude. Those journals were given to 8 songwriters. What happened next is one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever experienced. You can see a glimpse of it featured here on the local news.
One by one, songwriters got up and sang the prisoners’ words back to them. The prisoners were leaning forward into each word, bowing their heads in tears. It broke my idea of what a prisoner is. To be lost in a uniform and lose your humanity to a small cell as you pay the price for your decisions. And that night, to hear the validation of their own words sung back to them. To be human again. For an hour. Their words told me they know a different Jesus than I do, and God suddenly became much bigger to me. And that is so beautiful. I stopped only seeing a bad guy and began seeing a human. We are all one step away from a bad decision. It was a powerful, raw evening.
Your humanity and value are priceless. Let’s make wise decisions. Let’s make healthy decisions. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other. Be kind, for everyone you see is fighting a hard battle. – Plato
Please visit Send Musicians To Prison. All photography by Eric Brown.
Stay tuned for an announcement on 8/7/14!
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