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Jim Motherall, accompanied by Laurie Lyss and Janet Newediuk, perform at a CD launch hosted by Open Circle. Alison Ralph

Jim Motherall, accompanied by Laurie Lyss and Janet Newediuk, perform at a CD launch hosted by Open Circle. Alison Ralph

Inmates, former inmates launch CD of original music

December 22, 2008

WINNIPEG, Man. – Five participants in Mennonite Central Committee's (MCC's) prisoner visitation program have launched a CD of their original music.

The five musicians have been incarcerated or are still incarcerated in Manitoba correctional institutions. Their original compositions include songs of hope and inspiration, piano pieces and folk music.

The CD, Beyond the Din, gives a voice to people whose voices are seldom heard, said Murray Barkman, coordinator of Open Circle, an MCC Manitoba program that supports prisoners and ex-prisoners through prison visitations and community integration.

"There is so much rhetoric out there about getting tough on crime," said Barkman. "We can't just talk about crime like it is a disease that can be stamped out. We are talking about real people who are so much more than their crime. We want to get beyond the din to hear what the guys are saying in their songs."

All proceeds from the sale of the CD will support the Open Circle program – a program that is an integral part of the lives of the five musicians.

"There is something in this for us too," said Jim Motherall, 58, who has spent 32 years of his life in prison.

"People who have been beaten down commit crimes. If you feel good about yourself you don’t commit crimes. This project comes with responsibility. The more good you do the more responsibility you have not to commit crimes.

"Everything that you do in life that is a good thing reinforces your self esteem. At the end of the day I can look in the mirror and say I did something worthwhile. I have something to contribute."

Motherall learned to play the guitar in prison and over the years has composed music and lyrics for more than 100 songs. He spent almost 20 years in Stony Mountain Institution where he formed Prairie Hearts in 1992, a band that played at Open Circle events, in the chapel, weddings and socials.

"In spite of everything I have done in my past, what they will hear on the CD is a different side of who I am," said Motherall.

"My music is part of my therapy, part of my healing. In order for a song to have real value it has to have part of you in it. This brings things to the surface and then you have to deal with it."

Broken Wings—one of the songs on the CD helped him deal with the anger of not being able to trust people. The lyrics begin with reflections of shattered hopes, of "reaching for love, finding pain" and end with the assurance that "Jesus loves me, this I know."

When he sings this song he relives the painful emotions that he felt when he wrote it but he will continue to sing it in the hope of bringing healing to others. "That’s the thing about songwriting, people can be touched by the emotions and inspiration of the song," he said.

Thomas Black, 49, had completed Grade 4 level in trumpet lessons before he ran away from home at the age of 13.

Black has spent five years in prison. "My prison was the streets," he said, describing himself as "a traveling minstrel, a wandering hobo" who earned money to support himself by singing his own compositions on street corners.

Expressing his emotions and thoughts through writing songs, he said, brings personal healing and sharing his music with others is "another step on the ladder" that not only brings personal healing but also has the potential to bring healing to others.

"When you perform a song it touches someone—for me it is my way of reaching out to people to help them have a spiritual awakening. There is hope for all of us, no matter how low you get."

Other musicians featured on this CD are Darrell Peters, Bryan Rabie and Don Baxter. For more information about the CD or to order one call your nearest MCC office in Canada at 1-888-622-6337; the nearest office in the U.S. at 1-888-563-4676 or email beyondthedin@mennonitecc.ca. Excerpts can be heard at mcc.org/manitoba.

Demo mp3 01-Broken Wings - Jim Motherall

Demo mp3 02-It Just Don't Pay to Sing the Blues - Don Baxter

Demo mp3 03-Rescue Me - Darrell Peters