The Pros and Cons Program
Chris Brown was inspired to start Pros and Cons (encouraging professional mentorship of inmates) over four years ago after the closure of the prison agricultural program, including the farm at Pittsburgh Institution. Chris’ request to “go inside” and work with the inmates was granted and he began having music sessions at the prison on a bi-weekly basis, encouraging and inspiring the men to sing, write, and learn production, arrangement, recording and engineering skills throughout the process.
The prisoners at Pittsburgh Institution collaborated with Chris and the guest musicians he brought in, including Sarah Harmer, Kate Fenner, Luther Wright, Sarah McDermott and Pete Bowers. Every single note was played, recorded and sung in jail, resulting in an “inescapably honest and sincere…” (Exclaim!) album, Postcards from the County.
Some of the prisoners who wrote songs for, sang or played music on Postcards from the County have now been released and/or are out on parole. One parolee, Lloyd Ingraham, wrote: “In my 11 years inside the Federal Prison system, I have never seen anything touch the hearts and souls of so many. It was with the power of music that Chris was able to reach out to the guys. The music drew them out and sometimes it took a lot of encouragement to convince them to get involved. But to see the look on a man’s face as he listens to himself for the first time on tape and realize this is an accomplishment and he is capable of doing more than he ever thought he could, gave the guys a new sense of purpose that brought them out of the darkness that had been in their life for so long.”
Another parolee, Adam Harris says prior to and throughout his incarceration, “music has been the only way I could express myself in a positive way. However, I never developed any associated skills much beyond playing guitar and writing rudimentary songs on my own, but never in a collaborative effort. Throughout our recording sessions and time on our own, I developed strong social skills that are helping me during my current day parole release. I fell in love with music again. By receiving the positive feedback from Chris, and the other professional musicians, my self-esteem started coming back as I flourished under their guidance and encouragement.”
Chris expressed that he is “so proud that the art of all the participants over the last 5 years is having such profound effect on their own lives, and now stands as an example to help so many others. The practice of restorative justice lowers crime and recidivism rates, reduces violence and promotes mental health in prisons. It also prepares convicts for integration into society upon release.”
“It is said that it is easier to build children than to repair broken men; but who amongst us decides which of us is broken and unworthy of repair? As someone who has been held by the hands of time for over 18 years as the sands of time continue to fall, I am speaking from experience: I have built a foundation to securely walk on with the comfort and creativity of music. It has nurtured my soul, providing me with lessons of wisdom and understanding to pass on.” Lawrence Da Silva, former federal prisoner
The album Postcards from the County is available for a free download and/or a donation to suggestions of charities here: http://www.prosandconsprogram.com
Please watch the powerful Tedx Talk (see video below) that Brown gave at Kingston’s Queens University about Brown’s music mentoring program at Pittsburgh Institution: