Canada: new music project allows women to tell their stories from prison

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Saint John is hoping to strike a chord with incarcerated women in its new initiative that encourages expression through music.

The Singing My Way Home pilot project, a collaboration with Symphony New Brunswick, helps women at the New Brunswick Women’s Correctional Centre in Miramichi compose their own songs.

The music will eventually be performed at the centre and for the public in Saint John.

Singer-songwriter Rachael Grant will be among the project members who go to the prison to work with 15 women for four sessions over two weekends.

“We’ll go in over two separate weekends to get some of the initial ideas and music, hear the stories, see what kind of music comes out of that,” Grant told Information Morning Saint John.

“What kind of songs they want to have, it could be country music, lullaby rap, whatever women want to produce with us.”

She said they’ll take the music to Symphony New Brunswick and “bring the sound to fruition.”

The Elizabeth Fry Society is a volunteer-based organization that supports women and their families affected by their involvement in the criminal justice program. Its goal is to see women gain resilience to make positive changes.

Executive director Judy Murphy said the new musical project stems from its Mother/Child Read Aloud program, which encourages incarcerated mothers to record bedtime stories for their children.

“It just seemed a natural extension to say, ’OK, what else can we do?” Murphy said. “And then it turned to the idea of storytelling through music and we feel that music is such a universal language in itself that it’s a wonderful way for women to be seen and heard and bring that into the community.”

Murphy said part of the society’s mandate is health and wellness. She said the expressive arts serves as “as a way to nurture ourselves and **give voice to ourselves and our stories.”**

Although she didn’t have provincial statistics, Murphy said 70 per cent of female inmates across Canada are mothers — and the majority of them are primary caregivers.

“I’m hoping that their voices can be heard. I hope the community can have a sense of a deepening understanding of women’s issues that bring them to be incarcerated,” she said.

“It’s really every woman’s story because so much of what brings women to be incarcerated is really about systemic issues in our community and society.”

The program is not exclusively for mothers, however.

Grant said she will be joined in the prison by Cynthia Sewell, a Gopit clan mother with Pabineau First Nation. She said it’s important to have Indigenous representation among the project facilitators, considering the overrepresentation of Indigenous women in Canadian prisons.

Grant said the women who participate will have the option to perform the song, or speak to it, or just watch from the audience.

“I would love for the women we work with to feel like their voice and their story is heard and the humanity behind who they really are is brought out into the community,” she said.

“I want the women we work with to feel that, to feel proud of what we produce.”

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