The Trauma Wall
Artists Play Key Roles In Affecting Consciousness - HEALING SOUND OF THE PEOPLE! (Ch. 1/pt. 2)
Many names and details are altered to protect those discussed and keep their identities and loved ones anonymous.
Rikers Island is a 413-acre island in the Bronx's East River and is the location of one of the world's largest correctional institutions. The Rikers Island complex contains ten jails, managing 100,000 admissions annually and 10,000 people in custody daily. Each jailhouse is constructed with dormitories, comparable to military barracks, housing 20 to 80 people and theoretically holding individuals awaiting trial, serving one-year terms, or temporarily detained there before transfer to another facility. One jailhouse on the island houses those in custody who require medical assistance, where my partner DeMarisa Steeley and I met a young man named "Michael."
When we met Michael, he had already been in custody for four years following a horrific crime that began as a premeditated burglary and ended in an impulsive homicide. He and two other men had broken into a house to steal the homeowner's belongings. The trio allegedly stole electronics, jewelry, ammunition boxes, and other valuables after entering the property. They then decided to wait until the resident returned home to force him to open a firearm safe. Michael and his cohort allegedly surprised the man, violently beating him in the head with blunt objects, whipping him across the torso with a belt-like instrument, and dragging him. Michael eventually shot the man twice with a firearm, penetrating his lung and heart, thus killing him. They took the firearms and fled. A few hours later, his adult son discovered the man's body. Michael and his cohort were all arrested within the next few months. This story shatters my heart—a truly horrific act. However, in this work, one must be nuanced, understanding that every story has many different perspectives. And to find the clearest road toward healing, we must consider as many perspectives as possible. Music is one such tool to help clear the pathway.
DeMarisa and I entered the dormitory to introduce ourselves to the guys and hold our first music therapy session with them. Michael was blunt with his first comments, declaring he had no emotions and regretted nothing he had done. He made it a point to inform us that he was just "born the way (he) was born," and that there was nothing we could do to "fix" him. This sort of sentiment is a frequent expression among those undergoing incarceration. It is generally more manageable to cope with the situation if one perceives themselves as sociopathic or incapable of empathy and that there must be some underlying physiological cause of why they wound up here. However, this is rarely the case. We heard Michael, acknowledged him and continued to set up our group session.
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