Monday, March 16, 2015

New Folsom Blues

On January 13th, 1968, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom Prison near Sacramento in front of a sea of inmates and prison guards. The subsequent release of his live album At Folsom Prison was met with booming success and helped Cash rebound after drug and alcohol problems nearly derailed his career.  

Nearly fifty years later, Canadian musician Zoe Boekbinder is once again putting the spotlight on prison life through music. Along with Ani DiFranco, she is currently working on her newest creation, the Prison Music Project, which will be a collaboration of songs, raps, and poems by nine prisoners at New Folsom Prison, which is located next to the original site. Boekbinder began performing and volunteering at New Folsom in 2010 through its arts program and came to recognize the talent of the inhabitants of the maximum-security facility.

Boekbinder has two primary goals in completing this work. She wants to give a voice to the otherwise ignored and to help the public realize the humanity of the incarcerated. She has noted that the men in New Folsom are remembered only for the worst things they have ever done, and she wants them to be seen not merely as criminals but as talented artists. She also wants to bolster funding for prison arts programs, which is why she is donating all album profits to such programs as well as to reentry programs for convicts finishing their prison sentences. She notes the multiple benefits of prison arts programs on her website-- studies have proven that such programs decrease reoffending rates and lead to lower instances of violence within prisons. Listen to Boekbinder discuss her project here:

In her youth Boekbinder traveled back and forth between Canada and California. In high school she became involved in theater. As a senior she befriended Kay Pettigrew, a member of the jazz choir, who encouraged her to pursue a career in singing and songwriting. In 2004, Zoe moved to California more permanently and formed the band Vermillion Lies with her sister Kim. In 2008 Zoe began to perform on her own, releasing “Artichoke Perfume”, “Darling Specimens”, and “Baby Bandit” in the following years.

Not all creative individuals fall under the same personality categories, yet certain traits are usually linked to creativity. In terms of the five factor model, Boekbinder’s life travels, musical exploration and skill, and willingness to go beyond her comfort zone reflect openness to experience, which is considered to be the most correlated factor in linking personality to creativity. She exhibits other traits common to creators as well including conscientiousness and agreeableness.

Boekbinder now lives in New Orleans. According to her website, she “has an affinity for mason jars, rusted metal, Dolly Parton, sea creatures, botanical drawings, dilapidated barns, chocolate, avocados, broken hearts, port wine, and the open road” and “wants to own a farm someday.”

Boekbinder is planning to release the Prison Music Project in a year. She is accepting donations to help cover the costs of producing the album on her website:

Sources and additional information can be found below:

1 comment:

  1. I think this is awesome. It's great because obviously these men have been imprisoned for criminal actions, but that doesn't mean they're not people. People with a capacity for creativeness and an inherent desire to express it - yet they lack an outlet. It's going to be interesting to see what sort of pieces these prisoners create. You would think that imprisonment would suppress the individual's sense of creativity, but I bet there are some who use incarceration as a source of inspiration for their work. It's an experience that not many people have, so it'll be very interesting to see what these prisoners turn their sentences into (creatively). If this project is successful, it would be neat to see what sort of changes in the prison system, if any, come from it. The idea of having an art program within the prison system is something I would definitely support. Great piece!


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