These voices offer hope

I am writing this letter in response to comments made by David Legge in his one page commentary contained in the Cayman Net News dated Wednesday, 19 October, which was actually 17 October.

In his commentary, Mr. Legge made reference to the Northward Prison Choir in a very negative manner and I have to say up front that when I called him regarding his comments, he was not even aware that a choir existed at Northward.

He graciously extended his apologies, which I passed on to the choir at that time.

I feel moved to write this letter at this time in light of the above, and in all fairness to the choir members, and also because of the many public comments, both negative and positive, that are being made regarding inmates.

A gospel choir called Voices of Hope was formed at Northward in May and it would be remiss of me not to provide the facts, and at the same time give thanks and praise to them for the wonderful ministry that they are providing to their fellow inmates, various church groups and outside agents who visit, and to the staff at Northward prison.

I have had the privilege to volunteer within the three prison systems (Northward, Fairbanks and Eagle House) for the past year and I have to say that the experience has been very uplifting. Evolving from this experience has been the formation of the 12-member Voices of Hope gospel choir.

I was originally asked by one of the inmates if I would work with a quartet, but for the first practice 14 inmates attended! We had no music for that first practice, but within five minutes I recognised the tremendous talent that was present. For the second practice, we had a keyboard and the inmates had also recruited a super talented drummer, who has remained faithful to the choir.

Since May, the Voices of Hope choir has performed at numerous church services and an awards ceremony held in the chapel at Northward and I know that their music has brought much joy to their fellow inmates and others who hear them. They are practicing for a Christmas concert that they hope to present to all inmates over a two-night period in December.

I venture to say that there are not too many Caymanian families and friends that have not been affected by the incarceration of their loved ones.

Their punishment has already been effected by their incarceration and thereafter assisting with their rehabilitation is what’s important to prevent the high rates of recidivism and to assist them as they return to the community.

I also know that there are victims and their families out there who find it difficult to forgive. The reality is that we are all human beings who are God’s children and who have worth, no matter what we have done.

Our God is a forgiving and loving God and what I see in the members of the Voices of Hope choir and other inmates, is human beings who are lost like many of us and who are searching for spiritual fulfilment. Critics will say that inmates turn to God and the Bible only when they end up in prison. How many of us do the same when we find ourselves in stressful or life-changing situations? It’s a good thing when we do, and even better when we decide to keep Him in our lives, through the good times and the bad times.

Many studies have shown that spirituality plays a vital role in rehabilitation, and it is heartening for me to witness the ministry of Voices of Hope. The tears, the joy, the love and the sharing are all testimonies to their desire to make positive changes in their lives. To witness the unity among different cultures and even language barriers is a joy for me.

There is a ton of information on the Internet regarding prison choirs and how they have affected the lives of so many worldwide. One such story was posted by the Toronto Star in September 2000 titled ‘How DNA became a Perfect Witness’ and told of an inmate who was sentenced to life imprisonment for rape. His conviction was prior to the days of DNA testing and was based purely on the victim’s ID. After serving 11 years it was discovered through DNA testing that he was not guilty. Can you imagine the guilt felt by the victim?

Amazingly, after some time had passed the inmate and the victim were able to meet and talk for two hours while their families waited for them. The inmate was able to forgive her because of his involvement with the prison choir and his readings from the Bible while he was incarcerated.

During those 11 years, his father had always told him that someday justice would prevail and encouraged him to put his faith in God.

Wonderful things happen when we invite God into our lives. There are many famous persons throughout the world who gave their lives to God while in prison, and who now help others through sharing their own stories.

During my time at Northward I have heard many heart warming stories on forgiveness from the inmates themselves. It is my prayer that Voices of Hope will continue this music ministry for many years to come, even though members will change as some are released and others decide to join. I take this opportunity to thank them for their commitment to God’s work. ‘May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’…..Romans 15:13.

I consider myself truly blessed to be a part of this group.

Cathy Gomez

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