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.