A DJ, percussionist, guitarist, and keyboardist head to Rikers Island in a Corrections van and what results is magic. DJ Cherish The Luv, MelimeL, Smax Music, and Ray the Piano Teacher (with special thanks to Robert Galinsky of Literacy For Incarcerated Teens), performed for male inmates at Rikers Island on October 28, 2016 and what resulted was a humbling experience that none will soon forget.
Security and scrutiny aside, the visit from point of arrival to exit was met with officers and staff who genuinely appreciated having the artists on board. While the artist collective were excited to perform for the inmates, the magic was really in the way the inmates reacted to the music and their own active participation in the performance. Some of the inmates were allowed to get on the mic and express themselves, one even joined in the percussion and played the claves, and seeing them cheer and applaud for each other was one of those rare moments the outside world barely gets to see. "Those remarkable moments proved the immense power music has to bring joy and people together, no matter the circumstance," said MelimeL. "To witness the warm camaraderie was refreshing because what the media shows us about prison is that inmates don't get along, they fight all the time, and to witness a glimpse of the opposite really showed the beauty of humanity even in the most undesirable environments."
(L-R) Smax Music, MelimeL, and DJ Cherish The Luv on the way to Rikers Island
DJ Cherish The Luv, who previously dJ'd for the women inmates at Rikers earlier this year, had this to say about her experience yesterday:
Every time I DJ for prisoners at Rikers Island, I go in there thinking we are gifting the inmates something. At the end of the day, sitting in the police van crossing the Rikers Bridge to go home, I re-realize it's actually the other way around. THEY gift us. They gift us perspective. They gift us their talent. They gift us their gratitude. We don't go in there judging. We go in there for the music. We go in for a certain type of freedom - creative freedom. And humanity. Last night was profound. The hidden talent among the prisoners blew me away. Seeing inmates cheer each other on instead of fighting... It's got me thinking to create a 'Rikers Got Talent' show. Let's see if we can make that happen!
Rikers definitely has talent! And it is always great to be given the opportunity to have a creative outlet. Smax Music walked away inspired by the inmates, "It was an honor to share the gift of music with the inmates. Some of them may be forgotten, but they're still people and there is something wrong when people are not treated with dignity. In that moment in time they inspired me. I was blessed by their presence and I would want to share that moment with them again in a heartbeat."