New Video: Songs in the Key of Free

Previously, we've shared some still images from a project called “Songs in the Key of Free.” Now we're sharing the main product of our work -- a video that showcases the extraordinary songwriting and performing talents of incarcerated men in a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania.

The program, which is the brainchild of August Tarrier and Miles Butler, ended a period of about two decades in which music programs were unavailable at State Correctional Institute – Graterford, which is about 45 minutes northwest of Philadelphia. After repeated visits to document these exceptional individuals, many of whom are serving long sentences or even life without parole, we became very attached to their passion, their humanity, and their commitment to do everything possible to make the most of their situation. In fact, our work on Songs engendered some of the strongest emotions of any of our experiences working on incarceration issues. That’s because the many men who we met inside were so warm and giving — and so grateful for the opportunity to express themselves through music.

Fortunately, their talents were highlighted at a concert inside the prison, which is available to view on Facebook Live, and subsequently in an outside concert in Philadelphia at the Painted Bride. In the future, the men’s original songs will be available in an album. Moreover, the Songs in the Key of Free will begin serving women in a downtown Philadelphia prison in Fall 2017.

Please check out our video — as well as the still images available here — and let us know your reactions. (Please note that prison regulations in Pennsylvania forbid us from showing the faces of those who are incarcerated.) And also please consider supporting Songs in the Key of Free in their work, which relies mostly on the help of volunteers to date. There is no question that this program is embracing and preserving the humanity of those involved — something that is sorely lacking in most prison environments in the United States.