Impact of the Pros and Cons Music Rehabilitation Program Continues to Grow Outside and Inside Prison Walls

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Joyceville & Grand Valley Institution Release Second Collection of Songs – Paint In The Forest and Private Town

Kingston, Ontario — In 2012, Canadian multi-instrumentalist Hugh Christopher Brown received permission to go inside Joyceville Institution (then named Pittsburgh), with the intention of bringing inmates together to express themselves in a song-driven sanctuary. The music rehabilitation Pros and Cons program was founded and is now an integral part of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).   Prisoners participating in the program do so on a volunteer basis and have opportunities to learn guitar, piano, percussion, songwriting, as well as music production.

To riff on the Canadian author, W.P. Kinsella’s Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will… sing!” and did they ever… With over 200 songs now written and recorded, there is more than enough material overflowing for the Pros and Cons Program to simultaneously release a second selection of songs out of Joyceville and Grand Valley Institutions on May 15, 2020, marking the 3rd and 4th albums Pros and Cons has produced.

Brown estimates 1,000 people have gone through the program, with 50 men actively involved at this present time in Joyceville. Lloyd Ingraham, convicted for second-degree murder, says: “I lost my faith for many years while incarcerated. Little did I know that first day of the program in 2012 would have such a profound impact on my life.  Pros and Cons has inspired me to continue to work with those that society has marginalized.  A society I felt I had greatly wronged.”

Lloyd, a free man for four years now, adds: “None of this erases the wrongs I have done but I am determined to continue to give back to society and encourage others to succeed and once again hope, dream, and work towards something better. The next step for me is to return to the institutions to do music workshops and spread the message that there is a life after prison and help guide these men and women to seek out the support systems they will need…. Both inside and out.”

During this perilous time of the Covid-19 outbreak, however, the prisons are on full lock down, arts programs are on hold and life in prison has become even more isolated. Pros and Cons is working on ways to continue the prison production work safely during this crisis. Music is among the principal practices offering refuge and the inmates who worked on these albums take solace that their songs will be available worldwide across commercial streaming services, for sharing on playlists and broadcasts.

Jake was another Joyceville inmate who “leapt in with both feet” to be a Pros and Cons participant and feels his life was immeasurably changed by the program.  Jake says, “Pros and Cons gave me purpose. Direction. It helped me to help the guys realize they have worth even after a lifetime of being told they have none.” “One of the most powerful aspects of the program,” he explains, is “putting the production and creativity directly into the hands of those inside these prison walls.” Jake, now out on parole, is working in music production and has also begun to set up Pros and Cons at Collins Bay Institution.

While the first album Postcards from the County produced at Joyceville in 2014 stayed in an “inescapably honest and raw” (Exclaim!) folk/country genre, this new collection of songs, Paint in the Forest, explores a variety of music from reggae/funk to country to indie rock.  The track “High on Music” confronts the struggle of drug addiction that many inmates combated.  “Go Funk Yourself” continues in a celebratory vein, with a determined defiance and optimism in the face of adversity where music is also this inmate’s coping mechanism. “Lord Prepare Me” a traditional Methodist hymn, is another standout on the collection, sung beautifully in English and Tamil.

Private Town, the 2nd album Aimee Copping produced inside the Grand Valley Institution for Women, is much more eclectic than the first album out of GVI in 2018 called Undisclosed Location. Aimee says: “The women I worked with this time around often were unsure of what they wanted to write, or even if they could write. This collaboration called for lot of sistering, one-on-one time and confidence-building (not to mention singing and lyric-writing lessons and long conversations about the process of songwriting).”

The expressive voices on the women’s album come forth in a mix of musical styles, blending darkness with light in a dance track, a spooky folk song, a folk-rock-electronic mashup, an upbeat “group performance” piece with bongo drums, as well as pure, sweet, undiluted Sunshine pop, as witnessed on the title track.

Watch video for “Private Town” here:

On all of the abovementioned releases, the process in writing and recording these songs, aided by the universal language and power of music, where creativity, collaboration and communication are key — offer a strong argument for restorative justice, healing and rehabilitation — be it inside or out.

The Pros and Cons program is currently operating in three Canadian prisons and hoping to raise $5 million to expand this effort to over 50 institutions in Canada and the US. They are in the process of obtaining charitable status and will then be able to issue tax receipts. All Pros and Cons productions are given anonymously, raising funds for restorative justice, education and victim support. For a free download of these works, and to read more about the program, or make a donation, please visit the Donate + Thanks page.

Partnerships with The David Rockefeller Fund, Kingston Soundworks, Long and McQuade and Yamaha Canada have and/or are providing opportunities for inmates to develop skills in playing, writing, engineering and producing music. The Pros and Cons Program will soon be announcing music workshops in new institutions.

New Video and Music from Pros and Cons – the groundbreaking prison music program

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“Lost” from the album “Undisclosed Location” was recorded inside Grand Valley Institution for Women and performed and written by the inmates. This music video was shot on location inside the prison.

We also present to you “Delicate Love,” a lead track from the collection about to be released from Joyceville Institution.

 

Download MP3

The Pros and Cons prison music program continues to grow. This year will see the release of a second album from Grand Valley Institute for Women, plus scores of tracks produced with the men in Joyceville.

The program will soon be announcing workshops in new institutions. Partnerships with The David Rockefeller Fund, Kingston Soundworks, Long and McQuade and Yamaha Canada are providing opportunities for inmates to develop skills in playing, writing, engineering and producing music.

All productions are given freely and anonymously, raising funds for restorative justice, education and victim support.

NOW Magazine: “…the first album made inside a Canadian federal women’s prison”

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It looks like a community centre or a campus – inmates live in shared housing, wear their own clothes, order groceries once a week – but Kitchener’s Grand Valley Institution for Women is a prison.

“We can walk around [between buildings],” an inmate tells me, “but we can’t leave.”

We’re sitting in a gymnasium set up for a special International Women’s Day program– “International Broads’ Day” as mentor/producer John Copping jokes by way of introduction. It’s an unlikely location for a CD release concert/listening party. As part of the Pros and Cons program, which brings musicians and producers into prisons to work with inmates, a group of women from GVI is celebrating the launch of Undisclosed Location – the first album to be written and recorded at a federal women’s prison in Canada, and the second to be made through the Pros & Cons program.

Read more at NOW Magazine…

570 News: Women’s prison in Kitchener releases music album in a Canadian first

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Talk about dropping bars behind bars.

Inmates at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener have released a 10-song music album, called “Undisclosed Location.”

It’s the first album written and recorded at a federal women’s prison in Canada and part of the Pros and Cons Program.

Founder of the program Hugh Christopher Brown tells 570 NEWS it all started by bringing music workshops into prisons, and it became popular in a men’s prison outside Kingston.

Read more at 570news.com…

CBC News: Women at Kitchener’s Grand Valley prison release first musical album

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When she first walked through the doors of the music room at Grand Valley Institution for Women, Bayley didn’t know what to expect.

“I never knew I was musically inclined,” she told CBC News. “I never played an instrument before in my life.”

But when another inmate put a bass guitar in her hands and a microphone in front of her mouth, the young woman found something inside herself that both shocked and inspired her.

Read more at CBC News Kitchener/Waterloo…

Waterloo Region Record: Grand Valley inmates celebrate release of album

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KITCHENER — The voices of inmates at Grand Valley Institution for Women will be heard around the world through a groundbreaking new album released online.

It’s the first album written and recorded at a federal women’s prison in Canada, and available for anyone to listen for free.

“I hope that the music first of all moves them on its own merits,” said Hugh Christopher Brown, founder of the Pros and Cons Program that brings together music professionals and federal prison inmates to write and record original music “inside.”

“When people realize where it’s coming from, I hope it changes ideas.”

Read more the TheRecord.com…

Selah, an all new track

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mp3 download

Rethinking Prison: Music and Life Beyond Punishment

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In his talk, Hugh Christopher Brown explains how the instigation of a music program with inmates taught him the importance of mentorship in prison; and how its effects on convicts deepened his understanding of what music is.

Project reviewed by Samaritan Mag

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“What does the rehabilitation of incarcerated people look like? Is it hard labour? Intensive counseling and soul-searching? Career training for eventual life on the outside? Chris Brown thinks he has a partial answer: prisoner rehabilitation looks a lot like making a record, which happens to incorporate all the above and plenty more.”
— Samaritan Mag 18 August 2014

Read entire article at Samaritan Mag

truthout op/ed

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“I was first motivated to get inside when the federal government began dismantling highly functioning programs, the chaplaincy and compassionate care inside prisons. It was obvious the tactic was to wreak havoc on successful programming to rationalize privatization of correctional services. Input from American senators who had experienced first hand the perils of a punitive based private prison system was unwelcome. Our crime rate had been dropping for over a decade and the severity index was in steady decline for 17 years. The sabotage of the agrarian and other successful programming in prisons was blatantly not in the public interest.”

Read more at truthout …

Kingston Whig Standard spotlight on the album release

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From June 5, 2014: Kingston Whig Standard:

About three years ago, as the prison farm at Pittsburgh Institution was decommissioned, musician Chris Brown felt compelled to do something to fill the newly created void.

“I became involved with that, and wanted to continue contributing to my environment,” explained the Wolfe Island resident. “In the past, I have a history of doing protests and fundraisers, and this time, especially with the destruction of the farms, I wanted to get in there and do something positive.”

So Brown approached the then-chaplain of the minimum-security prison, Kate Johnson, one evening after, fittingly, the documentary Music in the Big House was aired as part of a fundraiser.