May 242010

The 7th Step Club inside Oregon Stare Penitentiary does many fine things, both for other prisoners and for the outside community.  Last week they had a rare treat.

oregon Talk about a tough audience: The first guy I talked to at the opera last week had robbed and killed a man with a baseball bat.

The next guy I met had murdered both his parents.

They were among about 120 inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem who were given an opportunity to watch a performance Wednesday night of excerpts from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” put on by students in the University of Oregon School of Music opera program.

It was the first time, as near as anyone could recall, that opera had ever been performed at the state prison, which has operated at its current location since 1866.

Opera, with its exquisitely over-the-top fantasies of death, power, jealousy, unending love and ultimate destruction, turns out to make a perfect foil for men who lost their way, long ago, to the real-life seductions of drugs, alcohol, murder, rape and robbery.

When the music began, the prisoners, who ranged from barely 21 to stooped, graying and wrinkled, sat up straight, watched and listened — hard — to the magnificent music.

The unusual performance was part of an outreach program devised by Nicholas Isher­wood, an opera baritone who runs the program at the UO.

“We take vocal music out to people who can’t make it to the opera,” Isherwood explained to the inmates, who sat primly at long tables in the prison’s old dining room. Each man had an enormous cinnamon roll, fresh from the prison bakery, and milk in a paper carton at his place.

The performers — seven student singers and a keyboardist, with Isherwood to narrate — sang from an informal stage whose only backdrop was a bank of pay telephones and a sign warning in English and Spanish that conversations may be recorded.

“You are our most important audience of the year,” Isherwood told the men. “If there is anyone who would have a really hard time getting to the opera … .”

The audience cheered.

The prisoners were members of the Seventh Step Club, a self-help group that is one of 13 inmate organizations at the prison, which houses about 2,000 men in all.

“This is the first time we’ve had opera,” club president Lee Warren said. “They’re very excited. When we were out running amok and getting in trouble, what were we doing? Drinking! Now we are making changes in our lives. I’m trying to fill that gap with positive stuff.”…

Inserted from <Eugene Register Guard>

7th Step Foundation, PNC (the group that operates this website) partners with 7th Step Club in OSP.  We attend their meetings behind the walls regularly and provide friendship and guidance upon their release.

I do wish that the reporter had concentrated more on the positive things these guys are doing instead of the sensationalism of their offenses.

Thank you very much, Mr. Isherwood and U of O students.