Finding That Path Out of Jail To A Second Chance
Guest Post by Louise Grant
“And we all deserve that second chance
All we need is heaven’s helping hand
To lift us up into that light again…”
-Second Chance, Billy Dawson/Keesy Timmer
There’s a newly-recorded country music song called “Second Chance.” And though I’m certainly no music expert, I think it could be a chart-topper.
It’s as real as it gets. It was written and recorded at a jail that I’ve visited often as a volunteer. You couldn’t find a more appropriate song chorus written to express the lives of inmates who are dreaming of new beginnings and searching to find true freedom within.
I know one inmate at that Nashville jail who, when I watched him write those emotional song lyrics with Nashville singer-songwriter’s Billy Dawson and Keesy Timmer, felt like he had been given a second chance to believe in himself.
I was a spectator in the jail room on the afternoon that the Beat Of Life brought Billy, Keesy, and inmate Stephen together. They spent two hours taking the man’s life story – a path of hard lessons and some desperate days, but also of newfound hopes and possibilities – and weaving a song out of that soulful journey.
Stephen was overcome with emotion that he’d been given the opportunity to participate in the beautiful “Redemption Songs” music program that The Beat of Life offered in the jail. But what was the most poetic of all was seeing his pure joy as the lyrics came together while the acoustic guitar created melodies that rang true to his new hope.
The inmate was a man in his 50s who shared that he was, himself, a musician and had been in the construction business successfully for years before having made poor choices that led him to jail. He naturally was nervous about his upcoming release. He said he believed he was ready for a fresh start and that he had so much to make up for — to become the person he knew he was intended to be. In that cell room, on that day with us, Stephen was feeling quite grateful.
He and the two musicians were high-fiving every time they landed a great line. The three of these men were belting out the words and laughing, and there was such a spirit of freedom in that moment behind the bars and razor wire in the jail.
The music session became full of energy when the three story-tellers, sitting huddled next to one another with guitars and picks and pens and notebook paper, wrote the line “I’m not giving up, giving in, packing up, or backing down.” It was a line of pure heart and soul about Stephen’s journey, and every one of us in the room smiled as Billy said, “That’s it, man. That’s great!” And Stephen’s smile of pride made it all worthwhile.
I’ve worked in corrections for nearly 15 years and also have spent so many countless volunteer hours working with women and men who are incarcerated. I’m not here to judge them for their past choices that led to incarceration. My passion is to help them glimpse the worth of themselves and that of each of us. What I do know is that as many as 80% of these incarcerated men and women are sentenced because of drug-related charges. Addiction has led to such pain and violence in their lives and in the lives of so many people. Most of the individuals I’ve taught and mentored also have experienced deep trauma – especially the women. Sexual abuse, domestic violence, and abandonment are just some of the challenges they’ve faced that then led to drugs and other life choices. I certainly believe jail or prison is a place where they should be held accountable. But it also can and should be a place for redemption. After all, about 95% of all people incarcerated will be returning to society. They will be our neighbors, so it is in the best interest of all of us to help them find ways to recover, to find aspiration, inspiration, and a sense of human worth. For many of the men and women with whom I’ve worked in corrections, those feelings of hopefulness are sometimes found for the very first time in, of all places, a prison or jail. And so many times this hopefulness is brought to life because generous individuals like those with The Beat of Life, are willing to give their time, talents and treasures and show that they believe we all deserve a second chance.
At the end of that afternoon song-writing session, I was given the opportunity to sit in the jail’s counseling conference room with The Beat of Life team. With us were the several men and women jail participants, dressed in their jail jumpsuits with their photo badges and inmate number. But I don’t think they felt like inmates at that moment. They looked like they felt so free. Their eyes showed their hope. They’d spent their afternoon sharing and co-writing their most personal words about their lives. They had given themselves freely to these singer-songwriters who had, in return, created magic in the form of Redemption Songs.
The musicians called their co-writers to the head of the room, and together they performed their newly-written songs. I watched with great personal emotion as these incarcerated men and women teared up with both pride and other emotions I can only imagine they were experiencing. Here they were, exposing themselves so fully with the words of their lives: sadness over lost time, homesick for their children, fear of failure, and new-found faith.
But, I believe, the co-writing experience was a large step for them in finding their inner freedom. Freedom from the physical bars and razor wire will be there for them one way or another, perhaps in the next months or next years. But finding that emotional and spiritual freedom is where the true beginning happens.
I’m grateful that The Beat of Life is part of that path to freedom for these men and women in our prisons and jails today. It’s giving them – and their families and friends – second chances. And we all deserve that second chance.
Louise Grant is a corporate communications executive and a former corrections professional in Nashville. She voluntarily teaches writing classes and mentors females who are incarcerated in The Tennessee prison for women, while also serving on the non-profit Board for Dismas, Inc, a residential reentry center for men coming out of Tennessee prisons..