Each year, the New York City-based Decoda Chamber Ensemble spends a week with inmates at the maximum security Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina. They teach inmates to play instruments and compose their own music. At the end of the week, they perform for other inmates, prison staff and local officials. This year’s program (2.16.16) was called “Seasons of Life,” inspired by Antonio Vivaldi’s classical work “The Four Seasons.”
The musicians mentor the men in groups of 4 or 5 for up to 8 hours a day, exploring genres of music and the songwriting process. In all, they’ll end up with more than a dozen finished pieces for their concert. A jazz vocalist accompanied Decoda on the most recent trip.
Lee holds nearly 1,500 inmates, holds some of South Carolina’s most violent, longest-serving offenders and has been known for riots and brutality. In the last several years, there have been two large insurrections, including one in which an inmate overpowered a guard and used his keys to free others from their cells in a six-hour standoff. Two officers were stabbed during a fight last year. And in 2010, an officer overseeing the prison’s anti-contraband efforts was shot and wounded at his home in an attack police said was orchestrated by an inmate using a cellphone smuggled into the prison.
Decoda is comprised of virtuoso musicians, entrepreneurs, and passionate advocates of the arts. Its mission statement is twofold—to present world-class chamber music performances and to make deep artistic connections in places where music is rarely heard. The artists of Decoda are affiliated with Carnegie Hall, the Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute.
Rehabilitation through music. We can all be free in our minds. I hope you’ll check out the video.