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Songs in the Key of Free is a nonprofit that challenges mass incarceration through collaborative arts practice; we partner with incarcerated musicians and artists to create and record music inside prisons. Together with 25 incarcerated musicians inside a maximum-security prison, we spent three years writing and recording a podcast and a concept album addressing mass incarceration. Our producers’ work is nearly complete, and the album will be released in Fall 2022.

Our mission is to stand with our sisters and brothers on the inside, to promote community and to cultivate leadership and dignity among those who have been marginalized and disempowered by providing opportunities to be of use and to lead. The foundation of the workshop springs out of the communion of music and song, which is powerfully redemptive for us all.  The transformative potential of being heard and known provides opportunities for participants to tap into the power of story to transform and heal our lives, and to access our core strengths. Music summons us back to our elemental goodness: telling our stories in song can set us free.

A key building block of this reclamation project is story: our stories help us to reclaim our innate goodness, especially if goodness has been denied us because we are incarcerated or are on parole, struggle with addictions, are without secure housing, have lost a job, or are estranged from those we love.

Songs in the Key of Free addresses the wounds inflicted by the carceral state. Our aim is to dismantle the boundaries it imposes, the silence it imposes, to counter its vast power—one human at a time. One body, one voice, joined with other bodies and other voices in a chorus to take back our bodies, our voices, and our stories.

At its core, music is a shared, collaborative space in that multiple musicians perform together, and Songs is expressly designed to be a collaborative venture.  We aim to bring professional musicians/songwriters into prisons because people who are incarcerated or in reentry—i.e., people who come from underserved neighborhoods and/or who live in poverty—rarely get the chance to receive musical training; the opportunity to create music and to experience professional musicians interpreting what you have envisioned is tremendously empowering.