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Hip-Hop Therapy Program Transforming Lives Behind Bars



Image via Robert Cohen, Post-Dispatch

In the heart of Metro East juvenile detention center, a remarkable hip-hop therapy program is taking shape. Harnessing the power of music to rehabilitate young inmates and reshape their lives. Backed by famous music producer Tyrus Armour. This groundbreaking initiative is making waves in the realm of juvenile justice. As Armour puts it, “In here, they are creating art; they are artists.”

How Hip-Hop Therapy Is Bringing Light Into The Dark

St. Clair County Juvenile Detention Center, in addition to the East St. Louis School District, have come together. They work to create the music therapy program. This goes beyond traditional rehabilitation methods. By engaging incarcerated youths through their love of music, the program aims to unlock their creative potential and help personal growth.

“You’d be surprised how much these kids open up when they’re allowed the space to do it in the way they like to open up,” says Armour. Emphasizing the importance of providing a nurturing environment for self-expression. The hip-hop music therapy program offers inmates not only the privilege of studio sessions based on good behavior. Also, they take music and business education classes. In addition, inmates participate in consultations with a social worker to address the challenges they face.

Above all, the results speak for themselves. Of the approximately 20 youths who have participated in the program over the past two years, only one has reoffended. “You can’t incarcerate people and not give them anything and expect them to change,” juvenile Officer Darla Canady says. As well as highlighting the need for new and creative methods in the justice system.

The collaboration between East St. Louis School District 189 and St. Clair County Juvenile Detention Center is part of the Wrap-Around-Wellness program. A comprehensive initiative addressing the trauma experienced by our youth. Through the combined efforts of counselors, psychologists, teachers, and law officers. The hip-hop therapy program operates on a $1.4 million state grant for violence prevention. Altogether, this money goes towards providing the necessary resources for transformation.

In the studio, the inmates immerse themselves in the creative process. Beyond honing their musical talents, they delve into music publishing, copyright law, as well as song structure, and industry news. In the unrecorded freestyle sessions, they release anger and find solace in their shared experiences. Which include moments of lighthearted humor about past transgressions.

However, it is during the recorded sessions that the true power of this therapy unfolds. Encouraged to express their emotions, including grief, violence, poverty, and domestic issues. The inmates learn to open up about their personal struggles. “I release it all in the music,” confides a 15-year-old girl, currently facing serious felony charges. Her tumultuous journey, marked by homelessness, drug experimentation, and exposure to pervasive gun violence, has shaped her perspective.

Despite her troubled past, she maintains her goals of becoming an artist and entrepreneur. Her newfound goals reflect an extreme transformation, steering clear of the criminal justice system. Guiding her, along with other inmates, toward alternate paths is the invaluable work of social worker Chea Wyatt. Who collaborates with Armour by visiting the studio to engage with the youths during recording sessions.

The hip-hop Therapy program at Metro East juvenile detention center has become a beacon of hope. Illustrating the potential of music as a way for change. By fostering creativity, self-reflection, and the development of life skills, this groundbreaking program is molding young lives. As well as providing them with the tools to build a brighter future. As the powerful beats reverberate through the walls of the detention center, so does the promise of redemption and the possibility of transformation.

For more information, check out FMHipHop

Brittany Belizor | Instagram @brittieb_ | Twitter @bbelizor

Brittany is a creative storyteller who has been working across multiple industries for over 10 years, where she has developed a reputation for creating stories that are both thought provoking and engaging. She is determined to set the industry on fire through her words, so stay connected for the ride.

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