“Giving Voices to the Voiceless”: Current Eastman Students Share Music with Prisoners

George Motchan Detention Center music program photo

By Kameron Ghanavati

This coming winter break, a group of Eastman students and alumni will head to prison to lead a five-day music workshop.

In an effort to better serve its inmates, Rikers Island Correctional facility recently opened a new housing unit in the George Motchan Detention Center, where inmates receive positive rehabilitation through community engagement, schooling, and arts programming. Life on Rikers Island is tough; feelings of loneliness, worthlessness and hopelessness run rampant among the incarcerated population. Music programming gives inmates unique opportunities to create, to find hope and meaning in life, and to regain a sense of identity.

The group of current Eastman students and alumni visiting the GMDC in January will include: Hannah Harrow (MM Voice ‘17), Kameron Ghanavati (MM ‘18), Stephen Morris (BM ‘17), Mike Craig (BM ‘15) and Steve Harrow (MM ‘79).

Hannah Harrow, who leads the group, loves working with inmates. This will be her third time on Rikers Island. The past two summers, she has partnered with Shining Light Ministries and traveled to 15 prisons along the East Coast to share her love of music and hope in Jesus. “I’ll never forget the times I’ve been begged by an inmate sing an opera aria after a Shining Light show. Remember that scene in Shawshank Redemption? It goes like that. Every time,” she recalls. In August, Hannah began planning to return to Rikers to offer a singing workshop.

Each day, the team will spend four hours in the facility. Complete with vocal warm-ups, a gospel choir, rhythm and improvisation techniques, music appreciation activities, and a final performance, Hannah designed this unique program around the strengths of her fellow team-members. The workshop will also include a spiritual component, designed to help the participants connect with the gospel songs they will be performing, and enable them to create powerful and life-changing music.

“I can think of no better way to use my Eastman education than by giving a voice to the voiceless. To people who feel forgotten, unloved, isolated. To people who will treasure this experience to sing and make music together … I want them to know they do matter, that they are loved, and that they have something to offer the world,” comments Hannah.

For a few of us, including myself, this will be our first time visiting a prison. While I am anxious about the experience, I know it will turn out to be a life-changing experience and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Hannah put it best: “We will bring light into an incredibly dark place.”

George Motchan Detention Center music program photo