Music, writing project gives voice to prisoners of Maine



ALFRED – Marion Anderson has written her whole life. She has always kept a journal and often turned to the printed word to try to capture the confusion, rage and pain she has felt in her guts for as long as she can remember.

Until this fall, she had never really thought that anyone cared about her feelings.

Anderson, a 33-year-old inmate at the Southern Maine Re-Entry Center in Alfred, has helped write several songs that are part of a new CD and book project that gives voice to adults and youth who are in the system prison in Maine.

“Beats and Bars” features eight songs and an 80-page anthology written by the men and women of the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, children at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, and recently released youth from Main Stay in Portland.

“I think we all have a story,” Anderson said. “If I can touch other people with my words and if I can positively influence a child with my writing, then the mission is fulfilled here on earth.”

Guitar Doors, the music education organization that created the project, will host a CD launch party on Saturday at Mayo Street Arts in Portland. Meghan Yates & the Reverie, along with the Blue Lobster Troupe Community Chorus, will perform the songs. Members of the community will read the anthology.

Anderson grew up in Bangor and has been in trouble for most of his life. Drug addiction put her in prison for the first time, in 2009. She was sentenced to two years for burglary. She committed the crime to support her drug use.

She got into trouble the second time around because she couldn’t control her addiction after she was released. She has been back in the prison system since March and is expected to be released next summer.

Outside, she had no predilection for any drugs. She loved them all and did whatever it took to get them.

Her habit started when she was young. “I didn’t feel out of place, I didn’t feel out of place. (The drugs) helped me integrate, ”she said.

She came and went to school and did not graduate with her peers. She received her GED in 2000, while juggling her desire to follow the straight and narrow path with the reality of her addiction, which took her down another road.

This struggle, and the demons it brings into the night, is a frequent subject of her writings.

“I taste your sadness on my face,” she writes in the song “The Loneliness of You”.

“I eat the chaos that consumes this place

“I need something here to fill the space

“Apart from your misery.”

She looks more upbeat on the song “Searching”. She wrote:

“You know I might have missed the ship

“But I’m swimming towards the light

“And while I chew these words

“I know there is more to write about.”

Collaborative effort

“Beats and Bars” is the 13th CD released by Guitar Doors. Jim Svendsen founded the arts group in 2009 and has spent the past five years working to empower inmates in Maine to express themselves. For this project, he teamed up with Oren Stevens, a creative writing coach with The Telling Room in Portland.

“Beats and Bars” is a collaboration between many inmates. To start the project, Svendsen and Stevens met children in Long Creek and helped them put their thoughts and feelings on paper, in the form of poetry and other creative expressions.

This writing then went to the adult inmates at the Maine Correctional Center, who reacted to what the children said and created songs based on their feelings. In that sense, all of the songs represent a collaboration between children and adults in the prison system, Svendsen said.

The recordings were made in prison, with the inmates singing.

“We’re not trying to save the world here,” Svendsen said. “Our goal was to create a dialogue between children and adults.

This is because 70 percent of the children of adult prisoners themselves become prisoners, he said, citing national statistics. “It’s mind-boggling. These are not children at risk. They are beyond risk. They are already in the system. They see adult inmates as their role models: “These people are cool, because they don’t fit in very well in society either. “

The hope is that adults will see something in children’s handwriting that reminds them of themselves when they were younger. They can then turn those thoughts into a song or story that might help illuminate the situation and offer a different perspective.


While it is not uncommon for artistic groups to work for inmates to express themselves, it is less common to work with inmates to make recordings while incarcerated.

The idea of ​​helping the next generation is something that appealed to Cassandra Farris, 24, of Portland, who is also serving a sentence at the Southern Maine Re-Entry Center.

She knows the prison routine well. She was convicted of a burglary to support her drug use at the age of 19 and sentenced to seven years, with all but two suspended. She had her day, went out and had a baby. A violation of probation sent her back to jail.

The child now lives with Farris’ grandmother.

She identified with a poem about grief, alcohol and drugs, written by a girl from Long Creek. “This is the story of my life,” she said.

Another Long Creek inmate wrote that he helped his sister raise her three children. They lived together in a trailer without heating or hot water.

Farris put herself in her shoes and developed the theme by remembering “things that I connected with in my childhood and in my past”.

The process of putting the words on paper felt stimulating, and the recording process gave her goosebumps, she said.

“The course made me come out of my shell a lot. I’m not shy, but I don’t like a lot of people knowing about my struggles, ”Farris said. “But this class, I was really uninhibited. I just let go.

She felt like she was doing something to help the children of Long Creek by listening to them and working with them to focus their writing. In the end, she probably benefited as much as they did.

Farris has spent a lot of time thinking about her bad decisions and how she ended up in jail for the second time, with a 2 year old outside.

“It’s not a kind of life,” she said. “This is not to live.”

Looking inside herself, she was able to say things that she had never said before.

“I put things on paper that I never said out loud,” she said.

Svendsen said the purpose of Guitar Doors is simply to get people to listen to inmates. This project is not about rehabilitation, but about understanding.

The inmates are easy to ignore because they are behind bars and barbed wire. But the vast majority of them are doing well. When that happens, we have to face them, he said.

“Whether we like it or not, these people are part of our society,” he said. “These are our cousins, our daughters, our uncles and our fathers, and they are coming back. The question is, do they come back better or the same?

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:[email protected]Twitter: pphbkeyes

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