Jaheim has never been to church and the prospect of experiencing a spiritual service had him excited and nervous. He waited, perspiring on a humid Monday morning as he anticipated seeing a pair of gospel singers perform at Robert N. Davoren Center facility on Rikers Island.
“With God on my side I won’t do no more bad s–t. I will go home, go to church. I have never been to church in my life before. I am taking God serious now,” Jaheim told amNew York Metro.
Rikers Island has become known for a great many things over the past several years, but jailhouse concerts are not one of them. Pastor Tim Johnson is looking to change that, however, by inspiring hope in the hearts and minds of those incarcerated upon the penal island through a series of religious-based musical performances. Johnson’s ambition is to show that change is possible and there are those on the outside rooting for his congregation—including celebrities.
As a devoutly religious man, Johnson is looking to utilize faith to help inspire his unorthodox parishioners to move their lives forward. In June, Kirk Franklin and Maverick City performed at Rose M. Singer Center for female detainees and on July 26 Gospel duo Mary Mary serenaded the men of the Robert N. Davoren Center.
Prior to the concert, Pastor Rex Duval of Prison in the Wild — an organization offering Christian-based programming to people in confinement — weaved between rows of empty chairs that lined the jail’s gymnasium. With one hand raised, the man took his time blessing each and every seat amidst an otherwise empty room. For Duval this solitary ritual is not for show, it is, instead, designed to put hope into the world.
“Scripture shows us that our hands are an extension by faith in Jesus of God’s Holy Spirit and we can release the Spirit of God when we lay hands in an object,” Duval told amNewYork Metro, hoping that goodwill is instilled on those inside Rikers. “I was praying for the young men who will be sitting in those chairs, that their lives will be transformed from the inside out.”
Soon thereafter, a flock of men decked out in white and beige jumpsuits were led to the chairs by correction officers with gas masks and zip ties hanging from their belts. The mood began, uneasy, quiet. The seated individuals spoke to one another in hushed tones.
And then Mary Mary entered. Tina and Erica Campbell spent well over an hour performing for the detainees as if they were high-paying ticket holders.
The spectators didn’t warm up right away, yet song after song, shared story after shared story they began to raise their hands while others even got to their feet and danced. One man even joined the duo and sang alongside them. Soon emotions ran wild, complete with rousing applause. Mary Mary concluded their performance on a personal level by running into the crowd and shaking hands with their new fans.
“To see the persons in custody, go from okay to wow and the level of engagement–the walls, I literally saw walls come down as I was watching. So, I am a bit overwhelmed by how relevant this experience has been. You talk about hope, but sometimes you just need to see it,” Pastor Johnson said after the concert.
Both singers shared their enthusiasm for the opportunity to perform, and in turn pour their passion and love into a religious uplifting for the incarcerated individuals on Rikers Island.
“We saw them laughing, and getting with us, and clapping and stuff, which is great because we came here to literally encourage and uplift them, even in the place that they are in. You may not be able to change your location, but you can change your mentality and just change your overall outlook which puts you in a better position to be better and do better,” Tina Campbell said.
“The same Jesus that moved them, is the same Jesus that moves me, which is why we are here, so to see them respond them positively to it was just exhilarating, it was a massive blessing,” Erica Campbell added.