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Ohio prison hosts full symphony concert behind bars

The Lima Symphony Orchestra performed at Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution to support rehabilitation through their “Healing Through Music” program

By Precious Grundy
The Lima News, Ohio

LIMA, Ohio — Incarceration is intended to punish those who break the law by separating them from the rest of the world and the beauty it contains. On Sunday afternoon, however, some of that beauty broke through as the Lima Symphony Orchestra filled a state prison with the beauty and emotion that can only come through music.

For the first time in the state of Ohio, the full complement of the Lima Symphony Orchestra performed at a correctional institution Sunday afternoon at Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima, part of an effort to bring rehabilitation to the incarcerated population through the symphony’s “Healing Through Music” program, according to Lima Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Elizabeth Brown-Ellis, the concert was an “extension” of the program.

“Since 2018, we have been bringing small ensembles, drum circles and different groups of musicians here,” Brown-Ellis said. “This is the first time we are doing an entire orchestra. It is just an overwhelming experience.”

The prison population not only enjoyed a full concert, but they also enjoyed the talents within the facility, as a choir made up of men incarcerated at the prison were able to participate alongside the musicians.

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Participants Jamie Doan, Kevin Karszewski and John Townsend expressed their gratitude for the program and having the opportunity to perform.

“I have not been incarcerated as long as some of these guys,” Townsend said. “For me having this happen earlier in my time will make it easier. It will help me build better relationships and something I can carry outside of here as well. It makes us feel more at home as musicians.”

The orchestra performed for over an hour while the inmates swayed and clapped along to the sounds of the symphony. One of the songs performed was an original piece composed by former Allen Oakwood inmate Kevin Kohler.

“This has been the vision of our chaplain,” Deputy Warden Jim Hobbs of Administration said. “It coincides with our director’s vision and goals of bringing more holistic activities into the institution for the incarcerated population — A lot of folks see the movie version of the prison which is not reality. The truth is two-thirds of our population is going home — we want to give them the tools to be a successful citizen and that is what we are trying to do.”

The correctional institution has created many opportunities to promote ‘personal growth’. The Tender Loving Dog Care program is another initiative that provides rehabilitation to inmates.

“Music can play a valuable role in rehabilitation,” Deputy Warden of Special Services Corey Foster said. “It promotes emotional well-being and positive behavior. It is all about restorative justice; giving something we have taken back. That’s what it’s all about.”

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