For a little while, they felt free to dance and enjoy music behind the impenetrable walls of Rikers Island.
Incarcerated women housed at the Rose M. Singer Center on the island of detention got to enjoy a live Christian rock performance at the facility’s recreational yard on June 17.
Dressed in beige jumpsuits, those locked away from the world raised their hands to the sky and hugged one another as choirmaster Kirk Franklin and contemporary worship music collective Maverick City brought the world to them.
This religious themed show hoped to inspire the incarcerated as they journey into the next phase of their life. For Franklin, incarceration is a steppingstone to a better part of life, and by bringing his music to Rikers he is optimistic that he can serve as inspiration during the recovery process.
For every person serving time, that process behind bars likewise alters the existence of family and friends — something Franklin himself knows all too well and spurs him on to motivate others who could be at the lowest point in their life.
“Being impacted by mass incarceration myself — my sister was in prison for 15 years, my grandfather was in prison for murder and then my sister’s father was imprisoned — and so it has impacted my life personally,” Franklin told amNewYork Metro. “You are dealing with a multiplicity of barriers and so you just hope and pray that your contribution can make and can land on someone’s heart in a way that even for a brief moment gives them a picture of real life.”
Franklin is no stranger to entertaining those behind bars. Most recently he performed in a Florida prison and has been playing Christian music for 30 years.
Joining with Maverick City Music, the artists made their way into New York’s most notorious island, guided by correction officers through sliding bars and under the watchful gaze of prisoners.
The concert was set up in the compound’s basketball court and several benches served as the modest stage. Around a hundred incarcerated women poured into the yard under the hot sun and perched on plastic chairs while excitedly waiting for the once in a lifetime experience.
Anthony Brown of Maverick City was born and raised in the Bronx, and throughout his mother’s life she was in and out of Rikers Island for sex trafficking charges. He has seen and felt first-hand how prison has a ripple effect from the incarcerated individuals into the family and even community, which is what prompted him to bridge music with advocacy for social change.
“When I was 15, I was on the wrong side of a lot of things, and I went to a service like this. I didn’t grow up in church and I didn’t understand what religion was, and there were guys doing exactly what we are doing here today, and I left that concert and made a decision to change my life and I never looked back,” Brown said.
Both Franklin and Maverick City Music made it clear that they held their unconventional crowd with the same respect as any other by greeting the confined with warm embraces.
When the music began, emotions ran wild. Some audience members unleashed a deluge of tears while others clung to one another.
Using the power of music, the performers looked to spark a fire in the hearts and souls of the spectators, which seemingly they succeeded. The incarcerated clapped their hands to the beat and even sang and danced alongside Franklin himself. Department of Correction officers were also drawn in by the positive vibes.
“It was amazing,” one incarcerated individual told amNewYork Metro, who could be seen dancing with her hands held high. “It means everything to come out and have some time to be with others.”
It wasn’t just those incarcerated who believed the unique concept could have a positive impact during the recovery process, Rikers Island top brass also hailed the religious message put forth.
Francis Torres, the Deputy Commissioner for the Correction Department’s Division of Programs and Partnerships, expressed the importance of hosting such performances for both those incarcerated and the DOC staff.
“There is this side of our own mind and body that we often don’t connect with, especially for those persons who are incarcerated as well as our staff,” Torres said. “In recent times, they spend an enormous amount of time inside our jails. So, you have families on either side whose lives have been disrupted. You have those persons in custody who are assigned to our care and then you have a staff that for the last two and a half years have been working doubles and triples themselves. They have missed the opportunity to worship and really to be connected to their own faith. What better than to bring it in.”
The Maverick City Music x Kirk Franklin’s new album, KINGDOM Book 1, released the same day as the performance. For band member Naomi Rain, the album invites everyone to worship God and to put their differences aside.
“Everybody is made in the image of God and the little things that separate us, our color, our culture, that stuff really doesn’t matter when it comes down to it,” Rain said.