Pictured; Radical Reversal’s Dr. Randall Horton & Devin Waldman
If you’re as passionate about music as many members of the St. Olaf community are, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that music’s ability to transform lives and create hope in desolate situations is something that humans will never fully understand. However, you may be unaware of the importance of music in the lives of those currently living in incarceration.
Organizations like Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop (MPWW) have been working for years to incorporate creative pursuits in prisons across the state of Minnesota, but the opportunities for students of MPWW to work with music have been minimal. However, as of April 3, thanks to the partnership between MPWW, Radical Reversal, and the Minnesota Department of Corrections, a full music and recording studio has been installed at the Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF) in Faribault. They proudly shared that the studio will be home to “songwriting, beat making, audio book narration, podcasting, and so much more. Our students have big dreams and the talent to match! We are elated about all the incredible art that will be made in the coming years.”
MPWW ends their incredible announcement by asking for donations to the newly established studio space. While, at the time of writing, MPWW has been able to find two acoustic guitars and some music stands, if you or someone you know would be interested in donating a bass or any instrument in general, please email email@example.com.
This is far from where the story ends, though. For MPWW, the journey to making creative writing classes a mainstay of Minnesota prisons began in 2011 with a single class at MCF Lino Lakes. Today, the organization proudly hires over 25 instructors “who have taught more than 250 creative writing classes to over 3,000 men and women in every adult state prison in Minnesota,” according to their website.
Radical Reversal, the organization that has partnered with MPWW to bring the music studio in MCF Faribault to life, describes their mission as providing rehabilitation through creative endeavors in correctional facilities across the country. According to their website, they “conduct poetry workshops, seminars in music and music production, readings and performances.” So far, they’ve successfully implemented studios in Massachusetts, Alabama, and Minnesota.
The opportunities this studio space opens up for current and future students under MPWW are immense. In my pursuit of learning more about the world of arts education in incarcerated communities, I had the opportunity to call Jennifer Bowen of MPWW to learn about what it takes to make these programs a success, and what it took to get the studio up and running.
Bowen shared with me that the key to making these programs a success is to be consistent in the pursuit of community. These programs require a willingness to be vulnerable and to be dedicated to the craft without needing to be celebrated for it. Their priority is creating transformative arts programming that intentionally breaks down barriers to education in incarcerated spaces, and a massive part of that is having teachers that are ready to listen to the needs of their collectives (groups of MPWW students).
The work that MPWW has done up to this point has only been possible thanks to the 12 years of careful planning and protective work. Building trust and maintaining relationships is essential to creating long-lasting arts education programs in spaces like MCF Faribault, but these steps have also required a deep understanding of the systems at play in prisons across the state.
Radical Reversal, MPWW’s partner through the creation of the MCF Faribault Studio, is a relatively new program co-founded by Dr. Randall Horton. Through their mission of amplifying dialogue revolving around incarceration and rehabilitation through creative outlets, they’ve already implemented three studios across the country. Their partnership with MPWW came about after Dr. Horton reached out to Jennifer Bowen, and despite the newness of Radical Reversal’s mission, they’ve implemented these gorgeous pieces of equipment at MCF Faribault.
Without organizations like MPWW and Radical Reversal, it’s not difficult to imagine Minnesota being a state lacking arts education or general education opportunities for incarcerated communities. With the heightened awareness of equity issues that currently exist in our state, it’s important to remember that our community needs to be intentional about caring for those who are incarcerated or have recently ended their carceral period. The power of strong arts education, especially music education, cannot be underestimated — and we all deserve the opportunity to make music a part of our lives.
If you’re interested in learning more about Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop or Radical Reversal, you can check them out at their websites. If you or someone you know is interested in donating musical equipment to MCF Faribault’s new installation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.