In just one year, the Utah State Prison’s Wasatch Music School has grown from 64 inmate students to 390, says the Salt Lake Tribune. More than 20 inmates serve as tutors who teach their pupils – many of whom have never touched an instrument or set foot in church – how to play a guitar or keyboard inside one of the prison’s chapels. The school is a new example of the oft-controversial philosophy that prisons should rehabilitate, not just punish. “Eighty-five percent of the people here will be [your] neighbors,” says William Sherratt, inmate 30335, one of two organizers of the school.
The program was launched in November 2006 when 18 experienced musicians, all inmates, spoke to Chaplain Ferrell Hill about expanding musical opportunities for prisoners. Once a week, inmates wearing white jumpsuits practice their lessons. With donated guitars and keyboards, at assigned stations, each listens through earphones so as not to disturb the others. During a practice session, one inmate serving time for a sex crime was teaching guitar chords to another young man – a convicted murderer – with a gang tattoo visible on his shaved head. Normally, in the prison’s regimented caste system, a sex offender would not talk to a murderer.