(Above) Youth Turon W. writes a line for a hip hop songwriting exercise in Global Perspectives, a program at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility.
“Home is what you make it, but home is not salvation…”
Hip hop beats accompany a youth rapping a piece he and his peers composed in a single sitting.
The composing and performing exercise is one of many music-centered activities presented through Global Perspectives, a program offered to youth at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility since 2015. The program delves into topics that relate to oppression, culture, art, and, of course, music. Its Global Beats course, which debuted within the program in 2016, resonated with youth so much that a separate curriculum is being developed for the newly-named Keys, Beats, Bars, which is being sponsored by the Northwest Alliance for Alternative Media and Education.
“I’m excited about Keys, Beats, Bars because it’s the only musical outlet we have,” youth D.M. said. “It’s a good opportunity for people to come together.”
J.H., who has an interest in hip hop, said he was making music long before coming to Oregon Youth Authority, but the course has taught him how to do it better.
“I love to make music,” he said. “I’ve been making music since I was 9.”
In past music-centered sessions of Global Perspectives, 10 youth with varying levels of experience would participate in a musical activity, often with a guest speaker representing the music community. Since the program started in 2016, the youth have learned from and made music alongside the likes of prominent Portland rapper Mic Crenshaw and Massamba Diop, a Senegalese drummer featured in the soundtrack of the Marvel movie “Black Panther.”
OYA multicultural services coordinator Roderick Edwards pointed out how important it is to bring in people from the outside community.
“Youth really enjoy having people come in, so they don’t feel forgotten,” he said. “People who have come have a lot of passion and compassion for the youth.”
“It’s a lot of focus on music education,” added Adam Carpinelli, a community organizer, volunteer and musician who brought the program to MacLaren. “(The guests) are not just involved in the music, but they’re invested in the community as well.”
The ultimate goal of Keys, Beats, Bars is to provide incarcerated youth with creative avenues that help them amplify their voices, along with access to a creative community that supports them, reducing the risk of recidivism.
“It’s a cool music program because when you’re still inside you have a community,” L.W. said. “And when we transfer out, we’re still connected to it.”
BUILDING A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
Carpinelli’s goal with Global Perspectives, which follows the Multicultural Educational Group Support Sessions (MEGSS) and runs through OYA’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, is not only to educate, but to encourage development of social skills, life skills, critical thinking, and conflict resolution.
Since its inception in 2015, Carpinelli estimates that about 150 youth have been served through the program, which meets every other week.
While any given course within the program has a syllabus that looks much like a social studies course, the youth have been eager to participate, especially as it provides activities of interest, such as a mock trial centered around a fictional scenario.
“Immediately after the (trial) was finishing up, participants rushed (me) asking, ‘When are we going to do this again?’” Carpinelli wrote in a post-activity writeup. “In the weeks following this activity, youth watched footage taken by OYA staff and were able to critique each other as peers. This took a high level of respect, trust, and integrity on the part of the youth, and staff and community partners were impressed.”
An OYA staff member who watched the mock trial wrote: “I was impressed at the high level thinking our youth displayed. It goes to show that when we raise the bar, set high expectations, educate and provide the necessary tools to achieve, they can and do meet the high expectations. … I personally saw a side of these young men that I’ve never seen. … I now know that the sky’s the limit for these guys.”
Another Global Perspectives activity that garnered a lot of interest from youth was a mock presidential debate. Over the course of a few months in early 2016, six participants put their political concerns and knowledge of current events on display in front of nearly 50 audience members made up of OYA staff and volunteers.
“They have really good enthusiasm,” Edwards said. “The only thing locked up is the physical; mentally, they can explore. It’s important they have an environment that is healthy and safe to be.”
Keys, Beats, Bars organizers are planning a benefit concert on June 27 to purchase music equipment and bring in more guest speakers to MacLaren.
“People should support this in the future because we all will be out one day and we’ll be better off with these skills,” J.H. said.
Carpinelli, who said he’s held a couple sessions at other OYA facilities, hopes to expand the program through community support.
“I personally started all of this work and do it in order to contribute to a safer and healthier society,” he said. “These kind of programs serve youth in a lot of special ways that are educational and multicultural. Having visitors from outside fosters new life possibilities, resources, and relationships for incarcerated youth. This helps to limit re-entry and provide youth opportunities for positive human development before they return to our communities.”