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Incarcerated Artists In D.C. Jail Have Songs Professionally Recorded

In June, several incarcerated artists gathered in the jail chapel to hear the songs they wrote like never before: played from speakers, accompanied by keyboards, guitar riffs and voices from the outside world. Their songs had been interpreted by D.C.-area musicians and turned into professionally recorded tracks. The listening session in the jail chapel was the culmination of a months-long project that gave incarcerated musicians the chance to hear their compositions set to music as intricately produced tracks, recorded by professional artists and bands. The project, dubbed “Out of Our Cells,” was the brainchild of husband-and-wife musicians Aram Sinnreich and Dunia Best, who set out to record and promote music written by people incarcerated in the District, the Washington Post reports. Their verses, which included messages to families, love ballads and protest songs, were a vital form of self-expression and release behind bars. Sinnreich wanted the world to hear them.

The idea for Out of Our Cells came years ago from another community music project, “Out of Our Shells,” that Sinnreich and Best organized during the pandemic in 2021. The couple spent a year recording songs for artists in the D.C. region who had lost access to recording studios and gigs because of the pandemic. In April 2023, they visited the jail as guest lecturers in a Georgetown University prison education program and spoke about the “Out of Our Shells” project from the pandemic. Excited by what they heard, those in attendance told Sinnreich and Best that there were talented writers and musicians in the jail, too. Sinnreich and Best were excited by the idea. They selected songs and poems written by five people incarcerated at the Correctional Treatment Facility, which neighbors the D.C. jail.“This project … it’s not about forgiving or forgetting or valorizing,” Sinnreich said. “It’s about creating opportunities so people can be more than just one terrible thing that they did.”


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