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By Clark Newsom,
South Carolina Department of Corrections
(Originally Published in “The Rap Sheet”)
Each Tuesday and Thursday morning, the flute-like sounds of recorders can be heard playing very basic musical notes coming from beginners either new to music or just a bit rusty. The sound is part of an unlikely scene in the Greenwood Dorm at Broad River Correctional Institution (BRCI) where inmates are enjoying an opportunity never before offered at the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
For one hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, inmates who represent a wide range of ages are learning music with the aspiration of being a part of SCDC’s first-ever concert band. They have signed up for beginner music classes with the goal of learning to play either brass, woodwinds, or percussion in what will eventually become an institutional concert band.
A concert band in prison is the brainchild of Dr. David Osterlund, the former director of Columbia International University’s Prison Initiative and a long-time music instructor at the school, and SCDC’s director of Chaplains Lloyd Roberts. After discussing the idea with Warden
Robert “Chip” Stevenson and agency Director Bill Byars, Osterlund was given the go-ahead in August.
“Our goal is to provide qualified inmates with an opportunity to exercise a constructive means of discipline and personal expression through the development and exercise of musical skills in group settings,” said Dr. Osterlund. “We believe that the men of BRCI that take part in this program will find the challenge of developing musical skills to be constructive, therapeutic, enjoyable, and mentally and spiritually healthy.”
If the initial music program goes well, the plan is to expand it to eligible men and women of the Department of Corrections’ other institutions around the state.
Osterlund will be the initial instructor for the concert band program with the hopes of adding more instructors and support personnel when possible. The program will subsist on donations and a volunteer support base in the beginning. So far, 28 inmates at BRCI have qualified to take part in the band program. They must have displayed incident-free behavior and show an interest in learning to read and play music.
Inmates who participate will be taught in the recorder class, three times a week for an hour per session. They will have group practices and are expected to practice on their own 30 minutes each day. Experienced musicians will be auditioned to determine reading level and experience. After 15-weeks of training, the student should be able to successfully demonstrate the skills necessary to begin training on brass, woodwind, or percussion instruments. The concert band program at SCDC is based on four years of musical study leading to a certificate signifying a level of advancement which indicates a student’s ability to complete a task and demonstrate to a potential employer that the participant has the ability to be faithful in his work with a desire to improve. The hope also is that, in the case of advanced players, their participation may lead to future recommendation in the area of music teaching or performance.
Osterlund and Chaplain Roberts managed to get a discount on 50 recorders for the beginner students by working through the Columbia Philharmonic Orchestra, while a piano was donated by Rice Music House of Columbia and brass instruments by individuals around the state donated
Warden Stevenson credited Associate Warden Sharonda Sutton for her hard work and dedication in assisting Osterlund in getting the music program underway. Sutton says the concert band has already created a lot of interest and excitement among the BRCI inmate population.
“It gives our inmates another interesting and creative task to do that has not been available to them before,” Sutton said. “It is also a chance for them to earn a certificate and build some camaraderie and teamwork among their fellow inmates which will serve them well when they return to society.”
Randy Regan, who heads the Palmetto Unified School District which oversees education among the inmates, also likes the idea.
“Participating in activities like music education helps inmates improve themselves which will ultimately reduce recidivism,” Reagan said. “This is the primary purpose of correctional education.”
As the concert band program evolves, plans call for expanding it to qualifying inmates from other institutions. Osterlund says a separate string orchestral program directed toward the population at Camille Griffith Graham Women’s Correctional Institution in Columbia is also under consideration. The concert band will be expected to prepare musical programs that will be open to inmates and the community.
If you or someone you know is interested in donating used band instruments in good condition to the SCDC Concert Band program, you may contact Chaplain Roberts at (803) 896-8504 or by email at Roberts.Lloyd@doc.sc.gov.