Lacy J. Dalton Rehabilitates 20 Year to Life Inmates with Songwriting Classes
National Endowment for the Arts Helps Fund California Prison Program
One of the biggest hits from Country singer Lacy J. Dalton was 1981’s “Everybody Makes Mistakes.” The singer knows that a slip-up in life shouldn’t be the final straw – that true survivors know how to pick themselves back up again. Dalton is bringing that message to inmates at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California. Each year, from September to June, Dalton – whose other hits include “16th Avenue” and “Black Coffee” – and her band leader, Dale Poune teach songwriting, beginning and advanced guitar, as well as rap to students who are serving sentences at the institution.
The program, which is titled Arts In Connections, will soon be having its’ annual ceremony, which will include a private performance for select prison officials and Warden Spearman. The classes are supported by the William James Association, a national non-profit organization that was founded in Dalton’s hometown of Santa Cruz, whose mission is to promote work service in the arts, environment, education, as well as community development. The WJA Prison Arts Project, in partnership with the California Lawyers for the Arts, is undertaking a $65,000 arts-in-corrections initiative testing the benefits of arts programs for incarcerated persons. It has been launched at several state prisons with funding support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, and several private foundations.
“Our goal is to help our students through teaching them about copyrighting their material, as well as potentially helping them to get their work heard by music business professionals.” One might be thinking the songs that are penned reflect the musical style of a Merle Haggard, given the fact that the singer was once imprisoned at San Quentin. However, she says that the musical styles are vastly different – though no less creative. “Much of what has been written in the past two years that we have established the program is far away from Country Music,” says Dalton. “But it is no less relevant to today’s times – and what they have gone through. I definitely plan on reaching out to the songwriting community in Nashville to help gain their input on the work that is being done at High Desert.”
Participating in the program, Dalton says, has helped to give those imprisoned a sense of purpose – one that will help integrate them back into society when their sentences are completed. “For these people, being able to show that they can make a positive out of a negative situation as they have done is very meaningful. It’s a chance for them to work together, through composing lyrics and poetry collectively with each other. They have made their mistakes, and are paying the price for what they have done. But, it doesn’t have to end there. It shouldn’t end there. An act that they may have committed very young in life – as many of them have – shouldn’t have to define their futures. I believe that each of them has the chance to be rehabilitated, and to make a worthwhile contribution to society, and re-establish their lives.”
For more information about the William James Association, go to www.WilliamJamesAssociation.org.