I’ll admit, I’m such a fan of the guitarist/songwriter that I even toured the country with Dave Matthews Band in the summer of 2003. What an amazing few months!
While learning how to play the guitar can benefit your dating life—and even lead to a successful career—many people don’t realize how good it can be for your mental health. Music therapy has been a growing field in recent years, and the power of art programs in schools cannot be underestimated.
If it applies to the field of education, could learning to play the guitar help inmates who have spent years in jail? Do prison inmates even have access to musical instruments? Time to talk about today’s blog post: Can You Play Guitar in Prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Are musical instruments allowed in your cell?
- Are there music programs in prisons?
Are musical instruments allowed in your cell?
I’ve said before that nothing is universal in prison, and that’s certainly true of musical instruments. The prison I’m in does have art classes, but I’m not aware of any music classes or instrument classes.
However, many states do offer music programs and allow you to purchase instruments from vendor-approved catalogs. Alternatively, some prisons accept musical instrument donations. Some prisons do allow prisoners to keep musical instruments in their cells, but this only depends on the warden and the specific facility’s regulations.
Are there music programs in prisons?
Usually, yes, there are music programs in prisons. Typically, these are volunteer-driven programs, so they do vary from facility to facility. Music lessons can range from prison choirs to individual instrument lessons. Some states are going all in on their music and arts programs because they’ve seen such success.
In California, they expanded their prison arts program because it turned out that help recidivism. Musical equipment nonprofit Jail Guitar Doors is run by Wayne Kramer, who teaches inmates how to play guitars using donated instruments.
“It was almost like a caveman trying to figure out what a cell phone was,” recalls CRC inmate Christopher Bisbano, laughing at his first class. “They’re taking it and spinning it…” Seeing these gangsters holding these guitars, unable to play, just pull the strings—the art unleashes some magical powers. It’s almost like healing starts happening right away. “
Art projects like Jail Guitar Doors and The Actors Gang Prison Project help him stay off drugs and encourage good behavior, Bisbano explained. In fact, he was released five years early thanks to his good performance in the prison arts program.
Bisbano said studying the arts was a recognition that gave him a sense of worth. He explained that when he was in prison, everything he loved and everything he had contributed as a person was taken away. But being able to be a part of music gave him purpose, inspiration and something to look forward to.
The California Arts Correction (AIC) program is a partnership between the California DOC and the California Arts Council. They offer an extensive music program throughout the facility, everything from Afro-Cuban drumming to hip-hop. They also offer drama, sculpture, creative writing, painting and poetry.
The program, which aims to reduce recidivism, support rehabilitation and create a safer environment within prisons, also helps reduce costs to taxpayers.
In 2017, the state of California introduced a month-long extension of the arts program at all of its adult-only facilities, making it the first state-funded program of its kind in the United States.
Studies have shown that after the AIC program was implemented in California, participating inmates experienced a 75% reduction in disciplinary action. They were 27 percent less likely to reoffend after release.
Studies also show that the psychological impact is greater. AIC’s music program has a positive impact on inmates’ ability to manage their emotions and work with others. The data also showed that prisoners exhibited better critical thinking skills, self-discipline and a sense of self-worth.
“I’ve seen two guys try to kill each other in the yard, and then the same two guys would sit six inches from each other, one playing the guitar and the other rapping,” Bisbano said. “In prison, showing emotion is a sign of weakness. But if you put a guitar in a man’s hands, the first thing he does is smile. Prison life is organized around two things: drugs and violence. But now it Focus on other things. It’s expression, it’s healing.”
Do you think music therapy should be offered in prisons? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: How Music Is Keeping People From Going Back To Prison Prison Bars And Guitars California Arts-In-Corrections Music Program