Monroe County Jail inmates find inspiration in music

(Mary Goetze is professor emerita of music in general studies.)

By Kat Carlton

Twenty-six-year-old Bloomington native Zepha Ferguson says she’s addicted to spice — an illegal synthetic marijuana substance frequently known as K2. It’s part of the reason she’s currently an inmate at the Monroe County Jail after landing in and out of trouble for several years.

“I’m not just an addict, though,” she said, “I’m a person. I have my whole life ahead of me. … I want to keep going forward.”

Zepha Ferguson, an inmate at the Monroe County Jail, stands left of New Leaf New Life volunteer Mary Goetze. Goetze teaches a songwriting workshop to Ferguson and a group of other women each Tuesday afternoon. Kat Carlton | Herald-Times

Zepha Ferguson, an inmate at the Monroe County Jail, stands left of New Leaf New Life volunteer Mary Goetze. Goetze teaches a songwriting workshop to Ferguson and a group of other women each Tuesday afternoon. Kat Carlton | Herald-Times

Ferguson said writing music during a weekly class has given her hope for moving forward. She’s one of about a dozen women who participate in “Songwriting Workshop,” a class run by retired choral professor and New Leaf New Life volunteer Mary Goetze. It takes place every Tuesday at 4 p.m., during the inmates’ lockdown time.

“We listen to a song; we break it down, and we create our own songs,” said Ferguson. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s just very inspiring that somebody would care so much just to share music with us.”

New Leaf New Life, a nonprofit organization, runs various programs in the jail, including educational and drug and alcohol recovery courses. Goetze began the class with men in May 2015.

“I think the thing I enjoy the most is getting to know them as individuals and watching them open up in the class,” Goetze said.

She’s reached out to local musicians with the hope they’ll produce more of the inmates’ songs. During her first class, she helped a group of men record a rap they titled “Something’s Going Down.”

It begins:

“The phone calls getting shorter and the letters stop coming.

She says ‘Hard to come to see you. Can’t afford you calling.’

I know something’s going on. Something’s going down.

That always seems to happen, when I’m not around.”

The men refer to “Jody,” a slang term common among prisoners and some members of the military for a man who steps in when a woman’s partner leaves or gets locked away. At first, they’re resentful:

“Ain’t it kinda funny that he said he’d send me money,

And instead he’s talkin’ trash and dippin’ in my honey.”

But in the end, the men take responsibility for the actions that caused their prison sentences:

“But deep down in my heart, it’s really me to blame.

If I dealt with the demons, the demons in my head,

I wouldn’t have to deal with Jody in my bed.”

Goetze said most of the songs deal with the inmates’ feelings and incorporate positive messages that revolve around ideas such as responsibility or hope for the future. One group of women, including Ferguson, wrote a response to the men’s song and titled it “Tables are turned.” Similar to the men’s song, it begins resentfully and ends with a hopeful message:

“No more talking on the wall; Baby I’ll accept your call.

We’ve been through it all. We can call it a draw.”

The songwriting class has shifted to now include only women. According to jail commander Sam Crowe, that’s because women generally make up 10 to 15 percent of the jail’s total population and have fewer options than men when it comes to programming. He said there’s been an effort recently to include women in more programs like this one.

Crowe said programs that give the inmates homework or something else to think about outside of class time are vital to keeping them active and productive in positive ways.

“There’s a lot more to managing inmates than just throwing them in a cell and closing the door,” he said. “If you don’t keep them occupied with positive things, they’ll find other things to do — sometimes negative ones.”

Inmate Ferguson said she hopes to take her singing and songwriting skills beyond the jail, once she gets out.

“Sometimes I get to be a leader, sometimes I get to be a follower,” she said. “I enjoy singing; I enjoy just writing a line – a song means something to me.”

© Herald-Times

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