“Conducing Hope” tells the story of the East Hills Singers at Lansing Correctional Facility outside Kansas City. The all-male minimum-security choir is the only secular prison choir in the country that performs outside prison gates. The choir is also comprised of singers from the local Kansas City community who serve as musical mentors. But, it’s the passion of the choir’s director that is really the driving force. By witnessing the daunting process of putting on a concert--many of the inmates have never sung before let along in a choir--the impact that the choir has on the inmates becomes evident. They struggle to master the music, learn teamwork and responsibility; engage with the community volunteers and even return to perform as volunteers after release from prison. It’s also a way for them to express emotions in an environment where that is otherwise impossible. The men perform everything from traditional choral to contemporary music to a “rap of redemption”, written by a medium-security inmate convicted of a gang murder. The choir director is dedicated to proving the power of music and showing the men that they can achieve something. More than anything, the sense of accomplishment gives them hope. The public concerts, performed at various venues in the Kansas City area, don’t just serve the inmates, they also breakdown stereotypes. Audiences leave with a very different perception than when they entered. Today, there are 2.3 million inmates in the United States—an all-time high. Two-thirds of those will be rearrested within three years and fifty-percent will wind up back in prison. There's no question that the men who participate in the choir will be released back into society. How they reintegrate ultimately affects everyone. Several former inmates continue to perform with the choir as community member further proving the impact that the choir can have to change lives.
We have already begun the film thanks to a grant by the Kansas Humanities Council. A video is available to view. This additional support will enable us to continue shooting and ultimately, complete the film.
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