With a clarinet, saxophone, or violin in handcuffed hands, a group of prisoners were transported in a special armored bus to the national theater in the capital of Peru, Lima.
The purpose—was for the prisoners to play music alongside members of the National Symphony Orchestra. And the inmates had already learned to play the theme from “Game of Thrones” and even pieces from Beethoven.
Peru’s prison rehabilitation program has been offering music lessons for those prisoners who have an ear for music as part of a pioneering program to rehabilitate inmates, who have been convicted of various crimes, such as murder, robbery, and drug trafficking.
The long-term goal is to form a prison symphony ready for Peru’s bicentennial celebration in 2021.
“I never imagined myself playing an instrument,” said Michael Miñan, who is serving a sentence for drug trafficking. Miñan spoke about his uplifting experiences. “The music is something that takes you to unimaginable places. You close your eyes, the music makes you feel better,” said the prison musician, adding that at a personal level, “music raises his self-worth.”
For Luis Reaño, sentenced to 20 years in prison for murder, playing classical music was liberating. “It frees us from the everyday, day-to-day life,” and it “makes you grow as a person,” said 41-year-old Reaño. In his small prison cell, he keeps a keyboard, three trombones, a trumpet, and a bass guitar left behind by inmates who had served their sentence and left the prison.
Peru’s Education Ministry director of musical programs, Wilfredo Tarazona, also the prison symphony director, led the prison musicians in a performance of Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich.
“This is really transcendental in the life of the prisoners, in the life of the orchestra, because it is a way of re-socializing which is an important program we are working on here in prison,” said Tarazona.
About 50 guards kept a keen eye on the prisoners during the music class before they escorted the inmates back to El Callao, their coastal prison in Lima.
Members of the National Symphony Orchestra travel to the prison for a follow-up round of musical collaboration.
Since 2017, Peru’s prison rehabilitation program started music lessons for prisoners, before embarking on a similar national program for youths.
This small-scale prison music program operates in only four of out the country’s 69 prisons.
Some prisoners never learned to read the alphabet, but they learned to read music in jail.
Reaño who learned sheet music from a trombone player, convicted of robbery, said that he was ready to raise his learning to another level.