The Prison Music Project is an album of songs, poems, and raps by nine incarcerated (currently or previously) artists at New Folsom Prison (Ken, Spoon, Marty, Alex, Nathen, Abe, Drifter, Samual, and Gregory). It is being produced by Ani DiFranco and myself, Zoe Boekbinder. The performers on the album will be a broad cast of musicians and songwriters, including some recordings that were made inside the prison of the writers themselves. The objective is to bring the stories out into the community even if some of the people they belong to remain locked up. The profits from album sales will benefit arts in prisons and reentry programs for people being released from prison.
The Prison Arts Program
The prison holds approximately 3, 000 male inmates. The arts program there is unique among California prisons, and is partly left over from a state program, which lost funding in 2010, called Arts-in-Corrections. What is left of the program is kept running by inmates, with the help of an inspiring member of prison staff, Jim Carlson. Carlson used to be the artist facilitator in the days of Arts-in-Corrections but became a recreational therapist when the program lost funding. On top of his duties for the prison he also raised support in the community to keep the prison stocked with art supplies and musical instruments. Carlson retired last year after almost three decades in prisons and prison administration. Funding for Arts-in-Corrections has been restored this year so, with any luck, the arts program at New Folsom will continue without Carlson.
There were studies conducted that show the effectiveness of the arts program in lowering recidivism rates. It also lowers the incidence of violence within the prison. In fact, New Folsom’s general population (or C yard), is known as a “soft” yard among those incarcerated there and elsewhere. It has a reputation for having less gang activity than other maximum and medium security prisons.
In May 2010, I paid my first visit to New Folsom Prison, a maximum security facility outside of Sacramento, CA. I volunteered there until the end of 2014, playing concerts and teaching workshops in songwriting.
Through this I heard a lot of work by the people incarcerated there. There were a few pieces that I wanted to share with audiences outside the prison. I started collaborating on a songs and that turned into an album's worth of songs.
Once I was ready to get to work on the album I approached Ani DiFranco about being involved. We have recorded the basic tracks and are now reaching out to artists we admire to lend their voices to the project.
I am raising funds to cover the costs of the album since all profits are being donated.
“I’m feeling like I’m getting something up off of my chest.” said Alex (Shell Dogg) when asked what he thought about Zoe using his raps on the album.
“It tickles the shit out of me,” Ken says when asked what he thinks of Zoe’s version of his song. “The biggest compliment one songwriter can pay to another is to use their material.”
We are looking for funding for the album. If you would like to contribute to making this album a reality, email zoeboekbinder (at) gmail (dot) com.
For quick donations, use the button below. (For amounts over $500, please consider sending a check to avoid percentage fees.)
Donations are tax deductible.
Recording, production, printing, marketing, and everything else that will go into this album will cost no less than $80,000. Email for a detailed budget.
Illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton. See the full comic with text by Angela Watercutter.