Music for Transformation

A criminal justice initiative impacting the lives of the incarcerated


Director of Criminal Justice Initiative, Claire Bryant

Music for Transformation is a new criminal justice initiative, created by Decoda after successful projects at Sing Sing Correctional Facility and Lee Correctional Institution. This initiative will connect with other emerging trends in rehabilitation and anti-recidivism for adults, juvenile offenders, and at-risk youths in correctional programs around the nation.

Decoda’s work in corrections has been extensive and transformative. Over the past three years, Decoda has cultivated a model for long-term creative projects in two of our country’s largest maximum security prisons for male offenders: Sing Sing (Ossining, NY) and Lee Correctional Institution (Bishopville, SC). Decoda’s immersive musical collaborations have impacted inmates’ emotional well-being and improved their sense of self. Each institution has experienced a profound benefit beyond the individual; Decoda’s work has contributed to a transformative atmosphere of positive citizenship within the prison at large.

Decoda’s correctional residencies seek to

•   provide each participant a means to express themselves creatively in a safe place

•   foster good citizenship within the prison community

•   use collaborative creative work in order to develop the social and analyticalskills necessary for successful living both inside and outside the facility

Decoda seeks to enable the broadest possible audiences to make deep and personal connections to art regardless of their previous experience, exposure, or expertise. Our community initiatives in schools, correctional institutions, healthcare facilities, and homeless shelters strive to empower the musical voice inherent in all people.

At this prison, inmates are becoming songwriters. A collaboration between Decoda and the South Carolina Dept of Corrections via HuffPost Rise.
Sound is one of the strongest energies that I know of. It can penetrate wood, stone, even steel. Music has a way of touching our minds, our hearts, even our very souls. It can cause a vortex of emotions to swell inside of us. Music can be a very compassionate and loving, but it can also be destructive. It must be wielded carefully and responsibly. So, through music, even a prison’s climate can be changed.
— Jimbo; inmate at Lee Correctional Institution

Recent programs:

December 12th & 18th @ Sing Sing Correctional Facility; Ossining, NY

February 8 - 15, 2016 @ Lee Correctional Institution; Bishopville, SC

March - May 2016 @ Belmont Academy; Brooklyn, NY



About Music for Transformation

Projects involve week-long visits facilitated by four-eight Decoda musicians in collaboration with approximately 25-40 youth and/or inmates as selected participants for each visit. Creative songwriting workshops are based on themes (ex: ‘Transformation’, ‘Where I’m From’, ‘I Hope’, 'I Can') and run between three and four hours each day.  The culmination of each workshop-week is a live concert for a larger group within the incarcerated community and invited civilians, as well as the production of a professional recording of the participants’ original songs. 

Decoda uses a two-pronged evaluation method to measure successes and identify areas for improvement:

  • Surveys for participants (both pre- and post-workshop), including number-based metrics and ‘free-write’ reflection to measure their satisfaction in each aspect of the residency
  • Surveys for correctional officers, staff, and state representatives from the DOC, distributed before, directly after, and two months following each residency, to chart personal and behavioral development and the positive effects on the sense of community across the facility

At a time when both social and criminal justice is boiling over in the nation's consciousness, the musicians of Decoda excite at the possibility of this amazing exploration of the power of music to heal and rehabilitate.

Can music heal us? The Decoda chamber ensemble is convinced it can by making music accessible to everyone. Every year, the New York City-based collective spends one week at the Lee Correctional Institution teaching inmates at the maximum security facility to play and compose music as part of a rehabilitation program.
If you doubt that within every person resides a divine spark, listening to prisoners express their joys and sorrows — ever-luminous even in this dark place — may cause you to reconsider. The 19 songs created and performed came from deep places many had never explored before. With a few notable exceptions, many had no prior musical experience...the concert brought jubilation and left few dry eyes...I was privileged to witness the transformative power of music scored with human kindness.
— Kathleen Parker, The Washington Post

Inmates’ Reflections on Music for Transformation

I went from thinking that only some people could be musically inclined to seeing that everyone has it in them to some degree or other. Decoda showed them how to dig down deep, pull their creativity out and share it with others.
— Keith; inmate at Lee Correctional Institution
The workshop that Decoda has created works for relieving your stress out in a positive manner. And it gives others the ability to do right while you’re incarcerated. I don’t know about the rest, but the joy they brought was good for my soul. It was like a stress reliever, medicine for my heart.
— Spazz; inmate at Lee Correctional Institution
Decoda encouraged ideas and allowed the participants to find ways of expressing themselves that, in a lot of cases, the participants did not realize that they were capable of. It was amazing to watch the transformation throughout the week. The final performance was incredible. In five days the group went from literally nothing to nineteen musical compositions that ran the gamut from spoken word and hip-hop to R&B and hard rock. Decoda gave the participants the opportunities, encouragement, and guidance to express themselves in very personal ways. From grieving for lost family members, lamenting lost love, overcoming incarceration, and the recurring theme of transformation, they poured their hearts into this project.
— Jimmy Sligh, Program Manager, Lee Correctional Institution
Decoda’s musical gift/contribution to Lee County Residence extend far beyond entertainment. The affair stimulated cognitive growth, musical integrity, inspired, enriched individual lives, and spurred courage to challenge oneself. Further enforcing the concept that only so much can be learned from reading books. Whereby instruction from highly skilled professional artists passionate in their art, imparting workable tools (insight into composing and arranging music, lyric writing, performing, etc.) true rehabilitation life time experience, subsequently impacting our future, family, friends, and possibly the world.

We are eternally and profoundly grateful for the mind changing experience. When you change the mind…you change the man.
— Basil, inmate at Lee Correctional Institution