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Posted: Wednesday, November 13th 2013 at 3:21pm

Alto prison releases Christmas CD by soprano & alto inmates

By Marc Eggers Staff
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ALTO – Lee Arrendale State Prison has seen their share of inmate releases through the years but on Wednesday morning the imposing bastille in southern Habersham County hosted a release unlike those others: the women’s correctional facility was launch site for a Christmas music CD featuring the all-inmate "Voices of Hope" choir.

The "Voices of Hope" choir began in 1992 at the Metro State Prison in Atlanta and relocated to Lee Arrendale when Metro was closed in 2011.

Present to join in the compact disc’s debut was Emily Saliers, founding member of the Indigo Girls. Saliers sang "Labor of Love" with inmate LaSha Adams, a member of the "Voices of Hope" choir.

Choir member Tracy Fortson said people are often taken aback when they hear a prison has a choir. "I never thought that I would be a part of a choir inside of a prison. A lot of people have a preconceived notion of what they think an inmate is."

Being a part of the ensemble is seen as a blessing by most of the members as the choir is allowed to travel to functions in the area and perform. That is something that Fortson feels is a privilege as well as an opportunity.

"With the choir, and being able to go out into the community, you show a different side of the person…there’s some reconciliation or redemption…and we like to show people that even though we are in a place we might not like to be we can still smile and worship God," the second alto added.

Brian Owens, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, said that the choir was an example of success in inmate rehabilitation. "There’s something changing out there today. Five years ago there were 64,000 inmates under sentence to the Georgia prison system; today there are 58,500."

"Five years ago our jails were packed; today there are 10,000 empty beds in our county jails," Owens added as spontaneous applause erupted. "Five years ago there were 5,000 people in county jails waiting to get into the Georgia prison system. Do you know what that number was Monday? 280."

"There is something changing in our community, and I think it is because the generation coming behind me has a more redemptive heart. My generation was pretty tough on crime. My generation passed the ‘two-strikes-and-you’re out’ law; my generation passed mandatory minimums."

Owens ended by saying, "The generations coming up behind us…are much more forgiving, understanding, believing in redemption…and believing in second and third chances."

"Voices of Hope" operates under the direction of Chaplain Susan Bishop who drew peals of laughter when she referred to the choir as "a way of escape" for the inmates. She quickly amended herself, laughing at her comment, "A way of escape without going anywhere."

"When music is alive in a prison…it transports you out of the ordinary and obvious circumstances of your life," Bishop said.

The CD was dedicated by the choir to Warden Kathy Seabolt and is available for purchase by contacting Lee Arrendale Correctional Institution at (706) 776-4700.

A tearful Seabolt could only say, "This is my calling and I take it that way."
Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News

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