A dozen women in the Daviess County Detention Center are rehearsing for a March 26 performance that’s part of the Owensboro Symphony’s ‘Music On Call’ community engagement program. The symphony got a grant from Owensboro Health to bring a choir director into the jail and have the inmates bring the music back into the community.
“You’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles. You’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies," sing the members of the women’s choir at the first of four Friday afternoon rehearsals to prepare for their March 26 performance.
One woman in this choir at the Daviess County Detention Center who said she’s no longer planning to walk the same old road that landed her in jail is Jennifer Blaisdell. The 54-year-old says she’s finding a new path, including singing with a group for the first time.
“I’m the only one from my cell who came. I tried to get a couple of other people to come and they’re like, ‘Oh, I can’t sing.’ Neither can I. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I tell you what, this has been the most uplifting thing,” said Blaisdell. “I’ve been there three months to the day and this is probably the most uplifting day I’ve had.”
Blaisdell said singing with the group gives her a chance to express gratitude.
“God has given me so much. You know what I mean?” said Blaisdell. When she asked what she means by that Blaisdell responded, "Grace and Mercy."
"Grace and Mercy."
Blaisdell said some things she lost are now being returned.
“My children, you know, they’re grown and have families of their own. And now I talk to them, text them back and forth and they send me pictures of my grandkids, and I miss them.”
Amber Stepp, 30, said her life was spinning out of control and being in jail stopped the downward spiral.
“I mean, I can honestly say jail has saved my life,” said Stepp. “I was an IV drug user. I about died several times, and I’m truly blessed to be sitting here alive right now.”
Chaplain Emil Herzog is part of the national nonprofit Good News Jail and Prison Ministry. Herzog said he launched the inmate choir several years ago with a group of male inmates. Since then, the focus has shifted to a women’s choir.
Herzog said the value of the choir is obvious.
“I can tell on their faces they’re glad to be together and singing,” said Herzog. “There’s just something about singing.”
Research confirms that 'something about singing' is good for mental and physical health.
Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin is professor emeritus at McGill University and author of the book This is Your Brain on Music. Levitin said singing releases endorphins, the 'feel good' chemicals in the body that reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Singing with a group has also been shown to release oxytocin, a hormone that produces a sense of bonding with others, like when a mother bonds with her baby.
Herzog said the choir’s performance at the spring banquet is not just a positive experience for the inmates.
“I think it’s an encouragement to the community, too,” said Herzog. "They like to see what’s going on behind the walls.”
Art Maglinger, Daviess County Jailer, agrees.
"A few years back, I attended the Good New Jail and Prison Ministry banquet, and that’s the first time I got to hear the ladies singing in the choir, and I’m very supportive of it,” said Maglinger. “I think it’s a great program.”
Cathy Mullins is the choir director contracted by the Owensboro Symphony to lead the jail choir project.
“Music is a gift and music gives hope, it brings life. And so we are so fortunate and blessed to have a jailer open to this program in the jail. Some jails across the country do not have this opportunity and they are very dark, dark sad places,” said Mullins. “To bring music in and see the smiles and the love and the life and the tears and the laughter, we become a family.”
Anna Gamble, 29, said the performance at the banquet reminds people outside the jail we’re all part of the human family.
“We get to be able to show the community that although, yes, we are wearing an inmate shirt right now, we messed up, you know, but it doesn’t mean we’re not childrens of God,” said Gamble. “It doesn’t mean we’re not in here livin’.”
Gamble said the singing speaks for itself.
“It sounds literally amazing,” said Gamble. “We are God’s choir right now. You know, we might be in our own battles right now, but we’re shining.”
Gamble and the others in the choir said in between the weekly rehearsals, they’re going to keep singing.
Note: The women’s choir from Daviess County Detention Center will perform Tuesday, March 26 at the annual Good News Jail and Prison Ministry banquet. The event at Owensboro Christian Church at 2818 New Hartford Road is open to the public, but reservations are required. For information or reservations email Chaplain Emil Herzog or call 270-685-8466, ext. 236.