Finding Forgiveness, Kindness, Peace, and Gratitude Inside the Fences: A Summary of Writing Reflections


20th Season of the Oakdale Community Choir – April, 2018


-Prison confines prevent many from enjoying the gifts from God. One can only imagine the soft sand squishing under our toes as the waves come in with spray of saltwater. The quiet beauty from the top of a mountain peak can’t be appreciated from pictures of the views. Some can only dream to see the stars and moon with the coolness of a silent night. The light of the world, Christ, is one of the few peaceful gifts which can be practiced within the confines. It would be a shame if we couldn’t sing and praise God within these walls.

-Peace can be hard to find when we have stress in our life. Sometimes taking on one thing at a time is all we can do. Being around people with the opposite calming energy can help but many times it is easier just to take a few moments for ourselves. In these moments we can remind ourselves what we are capable of.

-The peace that we share is a shining star of light and hope. I do wish one day that things will be ok, a deep wave of peace. I hope one day my mother will have that relief. I wish every day she will feel the flowing air of light in this world.

Why might it be a good thing to take the road less travelled by?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-One might choose to take the path less traveled for the beauty, serenity, peace, or to find a place where few have trod. The road may be rough or tough, but if you make it, the rewards may be spectacular. There can also be drawbacks to taking the path less traveled. This road may not be marked or discernable and lead us the wrong way.

There can be advantages to both routes. However, whatever our road of the moment, we need to keep our eyes open for the beauty and not judge the people on the other path.

-Life is based on choices and we all certainly stumbleupon roads that can alter or impact our lives in a very distinct way. If only we could control every moment, every action, every obstacle- life would be perfect… but then we would all travel the same road and to what satisfaction or experience?


“True forgiveness is the opposite of justice. It is the releasing of a debt, and it is empowering because it releases the toxins of bitterness from our heart. Rather than remaining a victim, it releases us to step out and choose peace.”

How do the ideas of forgiveness, peace, and gratitude relate to one another?

Forgiveness, peace, and gratitude are related in that they involve an intentional attitude. While someone in authority may make us say words to express forgiveness or gratitude, we must choose to do so in order to experiences it. Forgiveness and gratitude flow out of a recognition that we have received more than we have been given or deserve. When we choose to live in that reality, we have forgiveness and gratitude to share, and we are able to find peace.


I don’t believe there is any good reason for not getting along. The key is respecting our differences. We don’t have to all agree but with respect, we can all do better.

Can dogs create a sense of community among humans?

“If your dog loves my dog and my dog loves your dog,
then why can’t we sit under the apple tree?”

-I remember this song from the early sixties, at that time the major social issues were affluence and integration. The analogy is saying, if one dog can get along with another, then why can’t we get along? Why can’t we have peace and coexistence without limitations?

-Dogs, more than any other being, have a special way of creating a sense of connection and community. It has something to do with their way to love unconditionally and expect nothing in return. This makes it so easy for them to befriend anyone without hesitation. I wish humans acted this way instead we are cautious creatures.

Why did you join or return to the Choir?

-I returned for another season in the choir because it is one of the few activities which is intellectually stimulating for a senior. Choir is exciting, exhilarating, and fun to experience the group come together in learning each song. The accomplishment of such work shows that we all can come together to produce memorable pieces of work which provides a feeling of a job well done!

-Before the choir, I saw myself as a drug addict, a “lifer” and a convict. I didn’t like or respect myself, and I never thought that my life would have any meaning or value to anyone other than my family. Now I see myself through different eyes. I’m valuable because I’m a human being. I may never get out of prison, but I can be useful while in prison because I have a voice and I’m capable of using that voice to sing, laugh, and speak out on topics that matter. I know this because of choir.


I find immense beauty in nature. Every hike I go on and every new National Park I explore fills me with awe and respect for nature. Even more common scenery such as towering trees or bodies of water are beautiful, and I feel so lucky to be witness to so much beauty. Although I find these things to be inherently beautiful, the thing about defining beauty is that it changes from person to person. I think beauty is dependent on context. The important thing is not that we all share the same opinions on what we think is beautiful, but rather that we honor others’ truths about where they find beauty, even if it is different than ours.

To me, nature is so obviously beautiful, but on smaller scales there is beauty all around us, which I think the song “Beauty Before Me” is trying to portray. I enjoy singing this song because it is a gentle reminder that we can find beauty in all places if we are open to seeing it. This choir has encouraged me to constantly be searching for the unsuspecting beauty that fill and enriches my life.

Is music functional in your life?

-Music is very functional in my life because it is the only way I know how to open my soul. It is my source of strength in my daily affairs. I draw strength from the music and lyrics of the songs. The music and words comfort me in those moments.

-Experiencing music has brought joy, comfort, and structure into my life. I’ve learned to not only read music but understand the meaning and emotions of the music as well. The choir has allowed me to have positive structure upon my stay here at IMCC.

How can music promote social change?

-I’m learning that music has such great power, which is something I hadn’t previously realized. Music addresses life’s hardships while also celebrating its successes. Music can be used to impact social change, which has been happening throughout history. Being a part of this choir has changed my perspective about social justice, and this was all due to the music we make every week. I’m so glad we get to make music together every week and keep fostering a community of caring based on music.

-The role of music within society is a continual process of learning of how past generations used music in work, oppression, and entertainment. Music has helped groups deal with oppression, war, and prejudism. They had the power to use music in a hope for a brighter future.  So let’s allow song be the catalyst to soothe our souls and change our futures.


“Gratitude is a bubbling spring that keeps our spirits from become stagnant and repulsive to others- like algae scum on a pond.”

Remember a time when you willingly made a sacrifice or when someone else made a sacrifice for you?

-From the top of the stars to the bottom of the Earth, my mother has sacrificed so much of her own life to deal with the mess I made. She sacrificed her own time, money, and effort for me.

It has been 14 years since that day and it has been a grind and pull of her day in and day out, time after time of bad news. She has had  to take calls or be here or there at a certain time to pick up more of my problems. This would have anyone else spinning in their heads or crying in panic. It has been a lot of work for her since that day, sacrificing every day for my freedom and there is nothing I can do but tell her I am sorry for bringing her into this no-man’s land.

– I want to thank Dr. Cohen for her persistence during warm ups, meet and greets, creating and reviewing course work, and bringing in special guests. Thank you for keeping me involved and letting me have the chance to create beauty.

2018 Concert Feedback

-Thanks for the opportunity to attend last night’s concert. It was fantastic like usual, but some of the pieces personally moved me a little more this time.

-I knew it would be a good experience, but I over the moon impressed with what you have done and are doing there. Great stuff!

– I was astounded by the concert today. The work you are doing is incredibly profound. The musicality was so high! I laughed, cried and came away feeling so fortunate to even know you, let alone have the opportunity to work with you. The best musical experience I have shared in in years. Bravo!

-Saturday afternoon was joyous and uplifting – thank you so much for all that you do to make the choir sing so powerfully. I felt honored to be present and to witness and hear.

-The concert was a blessing to my heart. Please by all means please invite me again.

-I feel so privileged to have attended the concert today-what an amazing group of talented singers, songwriters, and musicians! Thank you to all of you who helped to make such a joyful day possible!

-We were all so impressed not only with the quality of music from the choir but the actual program and mission as well. It all goes together. It opened my eyes to many things which is always good to see things from other sides as well.

-I just wanted to thank you for an incredibly powerful music and personal experience yesterday.  I had no idea what to expect but this concert surpassed all my expectations.  What an amazing gift your choir gave all of us.  I know this experience will stay with me for a long time and I will definitely plan to be at the next one and will bring my daughter with me then.   Please share my sentiments with your choir colleagues.  I am so grateful!

-It was such a beautiful moment and overall experience. You should pass out tissues at the door.  I was really surprised by the welcoming and family atmosphere of the whole thing. I forgot I was in a prison. The whole experience didn’t allow me to walk away without thinking about how I viewed incarceration, re-entry, and restorative justice in America. Up until yesterday, it was easy to not think of people in prison as people.  But as they got up and spoke about their experiences and music, you understand they/we are all people. My experiences on jury duty makes me more informed about the justice system. I wish there was a way of doing that for correctional facilities. Also, the artwork was phenomenal!

-What a beautiful event today was. Honestly, I cried more today than I have in a long time– it was all so very moving. You are a beacon.

– I, too, felt like I was part of THE best family reunion. Miss you all, and it was great to see and talk to choir members again!