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Collaborating with Wilfrid Laurier University Press to publish Music-Making in U.S. Prisons

By Mary L. Cohen Date: November 16, 2022 Tags: Blog

Every wrong is the reason to forgive

Forget revenge, Remember

Be Love, be Love, be Love (Michael Blackwell, Sr.)

Incarcerated songwriter, Michael Blackwell, Sr., wrote these lyrics and the Oakdale Prison Community Choir performed them at our last concert themed “Remember: Be Love” in December 2019 before Covid19 shut the program down. The phrase “Every wrong is the reason to forgive” is a central theme of our book, Music-Making in U.S. Prisons: Listening to Incarcerated Voices. Forgiveness and mercy are not part of the U.S. prison systems. Twenty-seven states in the U. S. still have the death penalty as a legal punishment. The sentencing in the U.S. is extreme, and in Iowa where I reside, there has not been a commutation of a life sentence in nearly a decade.

This message about forgiveness and mercy is symbolically threaded throughout the book with the melodic notation to Michael’s song printed on the front cover and at the beginning of each chapter. We were able to use his musical notation through the brilliant collaboration we experienced with the staff at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) Press. Given this was our first book, we were both initially nervous about interacting with our editing staff at WLU. As we began working through the logistics of the book, from preparing our manuscript for reviewers, to the editing process, to the front design cover, to our current stage of sharing the book widely, we have had nothing but positive experiences.

Every WLU staff member communicated clearly and efficiently. Siobhan McMenemy, senior editor of Wilfrid Laurier University Press provided straightforward and thoughtful communication throughout our process. Murray Tong, managing editor, graciously received my “COVID” corrections. I had returned from my nephew’s graduation in Washington, D.C. and contracted COVID. While hunkering away in isolation in my home, I carefully went through the entire manuscript and found multiple places where I wished to make changes. Murray accepted these requests skillfully. John van der Woude, designer, created a beautiful front cover from a painting by formerly incarcerated artist Jason Chenigran. Stuart and I were able to choose between two main cover designs. Lindsey Hunnewell, production coordinator, seamlessly facilitated much of this correspondence. Clare Hitchens, marketing specialist at WLU, has worked tirelessly to share our book widely. WLU staff clearly work as an efficient team, intent on communicating innovative research and ideas to a wide audience for the public good.

Writing Music-Making in U.S. Prisons: Listening to Incarcerated Voices with Stuart P. Duncan was a labor of love. Through our shared research, discussions, and writing, and with WLU support, we’ve published the first book-length academic history and survey of current practices of music-making in U.S. prisons. Our work has shown us the harmful effects of punitive systems within the prison industrial complex and has confirmed and clarified our premise: that music-making in prisons can help transform a revenge-based culture of self-perpetuating pain and violence to a care-based culture of mindful rehabilitation building an awareness of our common humanity.

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