By Mac Gostow ’13
"I didn’t have to explain the ‘why,’ the ‘gospel reason’ for going to sing to prisoners.”
—Jamie Hillman, Men’s Choir director
Eleven members of the Gordon College Men’s Choir waited to get through the extensive security-clearance procedures at MCI Norfolk, a juncture known as “The Trap.” Soon they’d be on the other side, presenting a concert for about 200 inmates. Few of the students had ever been inside prison walls, and, adding to the unfamiliarity, MCI Norfolk is a medium-to-high-security facility.
“When I stepped inside the prison after all the security checks, I wasn’t exactly fearful, but I was nervous,” says Seongmin (David) Jang ’16.
Conductor Jamie Hillman led the men into the auditorium. Hillman, a Boston University Prison Arts Scholar and faculty member of BU’s Metropolitan College/Prison Education Program, was well-versed in prison etiquette, having worked with the inmates of MCI Norfolk for the past several years. He has developed a comprehensive choral program that is offered in two large Massachusetts prisons, sharing the freeing potential of music.
“It’s great to perform at, for example, the Christmas Gala,” he says, “but I also want to go to people who can’t come to us. I want us to be at prisons, homeless shelters, psychiatric hospitals.”
The Men’s Choir sang a range of music, from Biebl’s “Ave Maria” to the chain-gang song “Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder.” Before the latter, Hillman turned to the inmates and quipped, “This song really requires chains to be dropped and sledgehammers to be hit, but for some reason we couldn’t get these items past clearance!”
The audience, of course, erupted in laughter. “We have never performed for a more enthusiastic audience in our lives,” notes Ben Bowden ’16.
When the choir finished, several inmates took the stage and gave a lively, passionate rap performance. “It opened my eyes to the use of rap and the power of true humility and authentic gratitude. It showed me what it means to have your world changed,” says Bowden.
“One man walked up to me and said, ‘I know it doesn’t look like it, but I was crying on the inside,’” says Bowden.
Joel Estes ’16 explains how the experience affected him: “I had the opportunity to see real men, with real stories and real grief, humbly unfold their hearts, faults and all, through their own medium. This was the heart and soul of rap music, I think.”
“They had so many emotions inside and no way to get it out,” says Ben Tuck ’16. “And who did they share this with? Us. A men’s choir from a small Christian college. They just wanted to be heard, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that they were.”
Top photo, from left: Jamie Hillman, Andrew Lewis ’16, Nathaniel Stowe ’16, Joel Estes ’16, Benjamin Tuck ’16, Kenny Ling ’14.
Bottom photo, from left: Samuel Pereira ’16, Aaron Horton ’15, Seongmin (David) Jang ’16, Colin Bradley ’16, Ben Bowden ’15, Dalton Weaner ’16.
Mac Gostow is a communication arts major, co-founder of ScotRadio, and performer with the Sweaty-Toothed Madmen improv troupe. He has interned with CBS News and been a radio host in Istanbul, Turkey.