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Program helps incarcerated women create music for their newborns

Lullaby Project
Posted at 1:44 PM, Dec 16, 2022

COLUMBIA, S.C. — There's a growing problem of people returning to prison after they're released. To prevent that, correction facilities implemented many rehabilitation programs.

One program getting recognition across the country allows incarcerated mothers to create music for their newborns to help keep them connected to their child while staying on the right path once they are released.

The Lullaby Project, developed by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, pairs new and expecting parents and caregivers with professional artists to write and sing personal lullabies for their babies.

According to the program’s website, this can aid in childhood development and strengthens the bond between the parents and child.

Scripps national correspondent Tomas Hoppough was allowed to interview two incarcerated woman at the Camille Griffin Graham correctional Institute in Columbia, South Carolina. He was not allowed to reveal their faces, their full names or why they were incarcerated.

However, he was able to show you what motivates them to get on the right path and stay out of prison.

“My name is Ashley, I’m a mother of five.”

“I’m Brittany, I am a mother of two.”

Brittany and Ashely are two of four participants in the University of South Carolina’s inaugural session of the Lullaby Project partnered with South Carolina Department of Corrections. The women work with USC School of Music cello professor Claire Bryant.

"We're there in a place that literally does not have hope,” Bryant said. “That is a humbling experience, and it reminds me to remember why we play music and what the power of music can look like."

While Bryant, Ashley and Britany practice music in the visiting room, there are posters hung on the walls with lyrics to music that they wrote, which is something they’ve never before.

“It gives me joy and happiness even for just a little bit of time,” Ashley said. “You can take your mind off of everything that’s going on.”

“Next year, I’m going to be doing something like buy a cello and pay for some music lessons to be able to play it,” Brittany said.

The songs they are practicing are songs Brittany and Ashley wrote, inspired by their children.

“I had my son eight months before I got incarcerated,” Ashley said. “Then, I had my daughter three months ago while I was incarcerated.”

“I got incarcerated when I was 18 weeks pregnant,” Brittany said. “I just had my daughter a month ago. My song I wrote is called ‘My little shining stars.’ It means I’ll always love them no matter where I go.”

“My song is called ‘Mama’s world,’” Ashely said. “The meaning behind it is to let my children know that we’re through this right now, but it’s not going to be forever. I just want them to know they are loved, and how much they mean to me.”

Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said programs like these matter because he believes it truly helps people turn their lives around.

"Most of the folks incarcerated in this state will be out in under five years,” Stirling said. “We have the lowest recidivism rate, or return back to prison rate in the country, and I believe it's because of all the programs we have here. Currently, it's at 19.2%."

The national average recidivism rate is 82% in the first 10 years of release.

Bryant has taken the songs both Brittany and Ashley wrote to USC, where her students and some professional musicians brought them to life and recorded it to give their newborns something from their mother to get through this moment when they’re not around

"So, it's like something that they can have for the rest of their lives. These babies are going to be able to hear and not know what they're going to be hearing,” Bryant said. “Five years down the line, they'll still have this song to look back on it's sort of like a memory that will exist forever.”

“This song will say ‘Hey, we got through this, and I was able to do this for you,’” Ashley said. “Especially since we are in a dark place.”

"Regardless of how bad your life is, or what kind of situation you're in you still have that unconditional love for your kid,” Brittany said. “That's what my song is about."