October 19, 2013

Music, writing project gives Maine prisoners a voice

Creative voices of incarcerated Maine youth and adults sing with determined spirit.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED — Marion Anderson has written for her whole life. She has always kept a journal, and often turned to the printed word to try to capture the confusion, rage and pain that she has felt in her gut for as long as she can remember.

click image to enlarge

Cassandra Farris says she felt uninhibited and found herself expressing long-silent feelings through a writing project at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Marion Anderson talks at the York County Jail about her songwriting and the classes she took to learn the process while she was in the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Until this fall, she never really thought anybody cared about her feelings.

Anderson, a 33-year-old inmate at the Southern Maine Re-Entry Center in Alfred, helped write several songs that are part of a new CD and book project that gives a voice to adults and youths who are in Maine’s prison system.

“Beats and Bars” includes eight songs and an 80-page anthology written by men and women at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, kids at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and recently released youths at Main Stay in Portland.

“I think we all have a story,” Anderson said. “If I can reach other people with my words and if I can influence one kid in a positive way with my writing, then the mission is accomplished here on earth.”

Guitar Doors, the music education organization that created the project, will host a CD release party Saturday at Mayo Street Arts in Portland. Meghan Yates & the Reverie, as well as the Blue Lobster Troupe Community Chorus, will perform the songs. Members of the community will read from the anthology.

Anderson grew up in Bangor and has been in and out of trouble for most of her life. Drug addiction put her in jail for the first time, in 2009. She was sentenced to two years for burglary. She committed the crime to support her drug habit.

She got in trouble the second time because she couldn’t control her addiction after she got out. She has been back in the prison system since March, and is scheduled to be released next summer.

On the outside, she wasn’t partial to any drug. She liked them all, and went to any lengths necessary to get them.

Her habit began when she was young. “I didn’t feel like I fit in, I didn’t feel like I belonged. (Drugs) helped me fit in,” she said.

She was in and out of school, and did not graduate with her peers. She earned her GED in 2000, while juggling her desire to walk the straight and narrow path with the reality of her addiction, which pulled her down another road.

That struggle, and the demons it brings in the night, is a frequent subject of her writing.

“I taste your sadness resting on my face,” she writes in the song “The Loneliness of You.”

“I eat the chaos that consumes this place

“I need something here to fill the space

“Besides the misery of you.”

She sounds more hopeful on the song “Searching.” She wrote:

“You know I might have missed the ship

“But I’m swimming toward the light

“And as I’m chewing on these words

“I know there’s more to write.”

Collaborative effort

“Beats and Bars” is the 13th CD made by Guitar Doors. Jim Svendsen founded the arts group in 2009, and has spent the past five years working to let inmates across Maine express themselves. For this project, he teamed with Oren Stevens, a creative writing coach with The Telling Room in Portland.

“Beats and Bars” is a collaboration among many inmates. To start the project, Svendsen and Stevens met with kids at Long Creek, and helped them put their thoughts and feelings down on paper, in the form of poetry and other creative expression.

That writing then went to adult inmates at the Maine Correctional Center, who reacted to what the kids said and created songs based on their feelings. In that sense, all of the songs represent a collaboration among kids and adults in the prison system, Svendsen said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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The Maine Correctional Center in Windham is where inmates Marion Anderson and Cassandra Farris recorded music for a CD of songs and stories written by themselves and by other incarcerated and recently released youths and adults.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer


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