CONDUCTING HOPE follows the East Hills Singers–inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas– as they prepare for an upcoming concert and travel outside prison to perform before hundreds of people including their families. They sing everything from rap to classical choir music and for choir director, Kirk Carson, it’s a daunting task since most have never sung in a choir before.
The film focuses on four inmates sentenced for murder, drug manufacturing, theft and sexual offense. It also introduces two former inmates who continue to sing with the choir along with other community volunteers. For them, the choir has served as a lifeline while transitioning back to “the outside.” The men are amazingly candid, sharing intimate feelings and at times, even humor, exposing sides of the incarcerated seldom seen.
The receiving line after the concert is both joyful and heartbreaking. For one inmate it’s the only chance to hold his young son in a non-prison setting– a scene that brings the inmate and his family to tears.
This transformative musical experience provides support, builds self-esteem, teaches critical life skills such as teamwork and most important, gives hope.
The film raises important questions about the high rate of recidivism and how programs like the East Hills Singers can make a difference. Clearly, there are no easy solutions to this complex issue but these men are going to be released at some point so question is: will they be better prepared thanks to the power of music?
The film leads to important discussion regarding prison reform and the therapeutic power of music including:
- How we perceive the incarcerated.
- Who are the incarcerated?
- Why the United States has such a high rate of recidivism.
- The need for and lack of rehabilitation in our prisons.
- What type of rehabilitation is most effective?
- The importance of developing self-esteem, self-confidence and hope in order to facilitate personal growth.
- The role of former inmate mentors.
- The role of community support for both inmates and former inmates.
- The power of music to enhance wellbeing.
- Recent scientific studies show that singing in a group effects overall well being both physiologically and psychologically by reducing stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness.
- How positive teamwork can impact individuals on an individual level.
Additional funding provided by: The Francis Family Foundation of Kansas City.
The East Hills Singers is run by Arts in Prison, Inc. Arts in Prison uses the arts to inspire positive change in the incarcerated, to reduce the rate of recidivism, and to reconnect ex-offenders with their communities.