As part of the Music in Incarceration & Rehabilitation Resource, Geremia Lodi describes his experience working with former inmates in a transition community program, the possible benefits of implementing music programs in complex situations such as incarceration and rehabilitation, and various issues related to self-care.
Hello, my name is Geremia Lodi. I am a musician and a music educator. My purpose in life is to use music to create a connection between people, while at the same time using this connection to create musical sounds and more personal and intimate sounds together.
My favorite tool to make music is body music — body percussion, singing, and beatboxing in other words. Everything that we can do directly with our body and maybe without an instrument. I like it because it allows every participant in my workshop to directly bring the music that is in their body, in their experience. It’s an accessible approach to music.
My experience with former inmates is quite limited and relates to my collaboration with communities based in Montreal, especially the initiative Open Door. Open Door is a weekly meeting and is open to former inmates, sometimes also to current inmates on a permit, to encounter people of the community and create a new connection to support their integration in society.
When I offered a workshop for this association, I encountered a group really curious for what I had to offer, and really ready to take the chance to have a moment of fun together, a moment of interaction.
The activity that I remember them enjoying the most was one of my activities called Silent Rhythms. I request each participant to perform a silent and repetitive movement, but I ask to the other participants if they, by listening with their eyes, can hear something in their imagination. If imagination can produce a sound. Guided by this movement, and most of the time people can, in fact, produce something that responds to that movement.
In the second round of people performing a movement, the people opposite in the circle to the mover give voice. We sing the movement that we hear in our imagination. People commented that it was really comforting to hear your movement through the voice of somebody else. Hearing somebody giving voice to your body, it’s a way of looking, it’s a way of
paying attention to the other but brings to the surface that web of reciprocity that connects everybody in a group, but which is not always evident. It’s not always easy to perceive and to feel. I think that that is also a hint of one of the ways that music can be of benefit to people that experience penitentiary: to feel this reconnection to others in a different way.
So what can a music program bring to inmates or former inmates?
The first thing is aliveness. Consider someone who is facing a guilt, who is coming to terms with a pain that they might have caused, and difficult stories. All of these come with a really heavy burden to carry and upon which to elaborate.
In order to live this process, an individual needs to be able to connect back to the part of themselves that is a master life. The part that can laugh, that can feel a joy, that can feel pleasure is fundamental to face a demanding process like the one that inmates are facing.
So, music can bring aliveness in the form of passion, of grooving, of playing. Playing in the sense of playing an instrument, but also having fun, which is really important. Second, a music program can offer a way to connect to oneself and a way to connect to others. As I was saying, every person sentenced to penitentiary has probably the need to gain ownership over their own story, elaborating what happened in the chain of events that brought them there, and at the same time finding again their very own subjectivity. Their own voice among the many voices that sentenced them and to label them to their position. It’s important to find full agency by themselves.
Music and support music programs can help to regain a sense of self. A sense of intimacy, the sense of individuality, which is fundamental for the process of elaboration of the guilt and of gaining ownership. And finally, when most former inmates are met, they carry a strong protective shell, which is a natural response to hostile environment, such as the one of the penitentiary.
A music program within a penitentiary, after a process, or at the time of detention can offer the participants a safe space, a sense of brotherhood or sisterhood, where mutual recognition can happen. Where reciprocity and normality, a normal sense of warmth, of human warmth can be installed, which can greatly support an experience of humanity. That can be healing, in relation to the more institutionalized and more cold experience of life as experienced in a penitentiary.
Thank you so much.
Self-care before, during, and after the project. My own experience about the self-care doesn’t come from working in the penitentiary, but more working in an urban community. Which is a really different context but what is in common with the penitentiary is that as an educator you will find yourself witnessing some really challenging life experiences. A second element in common is that these are experiences to which most people in society are not really exposed, which will make you feel a bit more alone at some point. And we’ll talk about it in a minute.
So the first thing that comes to mind about self-care is to make sure to be paid enough for this contract. Which may sound funny but what I think is that when working such a project, you need to make sure to allocate enough time for the briefing, for elaborating what you’re experiencing, and to be fairly paid so that you can pay your rent without the pressure of looking for that extra contract to feel more safe, this will be really important. It’s not a matter of greediness, it’s just a matter of giving yourself the time for elaborating. Of course, this is also the second element, considering that you will need time for elaboration.
The third element is considering the resources in the association or the institution you will be working for in terms of partnership. Which are the other indicators and which is the relationship you will be established with them. Will it be a partnership also on debriefing and elaborating the project together or not. How much time will you’ll be spending? The other person doing this job? These are important things to know. What is the basis of this collaboration, and also what is your role in carrying out this project. What is expected from you, and how your role fits in the same overarching structure on which you’re an actor, but not fully in charge of all the responsibility of the project. It is really important to have clarity around your world. To be able to place yourself in that project.
Another element is, before the end of the project, to analyze your network, your own personal network which are the friends that can offer a good listening partner, but also qualified or competent listening. As I was saying, in my own experience when I was living in the North, I felt some resistance to share certain stories to my friends about what I witnessed. It felt somewhat disrespectful to bring up certain stories without offering a complete context in which that story took place. And this context is really difficult to provide sometimes.
It is really challenging to tell. There are so many things that I still couldn’t name or couldn’t figure out myself to explain the context I was living in, but it was different if I was talking to somebody who actually lived the same experience and had already a sense of what I was talking about. So, it’s really good to verify if you already have somebody in your network with similar experiences that could be a good partner to debrief, to have a listening ear.
Finally, and especially if it’s a long-term project, it’s really good to read inspiring experiences of other people that work in a similar context and who faced similar problems. It’s really soothing at times to make yourself be accompanied in this way, by somebody else that went through the same path. Actually, there will be more with what they wanted to share and sometimes also a really good laugh. And you will be facing some really hard life experiences and you need, in the week, to reconnect to your own vitality, to whatever makes you feel really alive.
For the inmates, they need to connect to what is really alive for them, what is really fun and joyful and you will need to do the same for yourself each week. A colleague in the north told me that you need to make sure to be happy at least three times a day. It’s funny but I think it’s such a precious suggestion. To be sure to connect to your life energy, to the most vital part of you each week, and if possible three times a day. Because that will be so important for you to be in a in a context that is difficult, to be full strength.
Don’t supercharge yourself with the dark part because we really need the lively part in order to to be in this context. Don’t be afraid to be light and to be funny.
Why carry out a project in a penitentiary, or in another complex place? Maybe it sounds like a funny question to ask but I wanted to do this tutorial and I was inspired by a sentence of Genostrada, the founder of ‘Emergency Association’ that provided medical support in war zones. He mentioned that people wanted him to say that he was doing what he was doing as a sergeant, in such context, because it was a good cause because it was moved by a really good intention. But he wasn’t shy to say that he was doing that simply because he really enjoyed doing it. That’s the reason.
Then we rephrased it in a different way, using a sentence by Lila Watson that really inspired me at the time. Lila Watson says, “If you have come to help me, you’re wasting time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound to mine, let’s work together.” I think this sentence was really of help for me to place myself, and in a context where I faced people facing really difficult situations but finding a way that’s of strong resilience and a strong personal capacity.
In a way, it helped me to this awareness to keep a balance, feeling responsible for myself, responsible who I was, responsible for my professionality, but also realizing that this responsibility entailed to not take over responsibilities of other people. In fact, doing so would have would have deprived these people of their own responsibility, of their own capacity.
And always remembering the reason why I was there, but it was my own reason. These allow me to remember that each person has his life or her life story, and better acknowledging our uniqueness is and our difference is the basis for allowing this encounter where each can offer the other person something important for our own path as human beings.
For more info on Geremia Lodi, see their artist profile HERE. For a taste of what Geremia Lodi does, see the following projects featured on the PCM Hub:
For more info on Music In Incarceration & Rehabilitation, see HERE