VH1 has typically been the channel where so called “popular” music is usually aired months after it is actually popular. They’re supposedly the middle-aged American’s MTV. But since October 18, they’ve been airing a gritty television documentary series that has me standing up and cheering that they are willing to put this show on the air.
“Music Behind Bars”, hosted by Dylan McDermott, is a half hour documentary series presented in eight parts. Each episode goes inside a minimum, medium or maximum security prison, and showcases the way prisoners are able to use musical performance as an outlet. It is a decidedly unglamorous portrayal, we find out right away that these men are murderers, rapists, armed robbers, etc. But through music, they are given the chance to change their ways, to rehabilitate themselves.
“Not giving inmates things to do is dangerous. They need outlets. They need ways to occupy their time. Some of the inmates — before they got into music — were difficult people . . .” says a Warden at Graterford prison near Philadelphia. Graterford was where the first episode of the show was filmed.
But victims rights advocates are outraged that VH1 is showing prisoners “enjoying themselves”. “I don’t think they should get rewarded by going on TV. That’s telling the kids go out and murder somebody, go to prison and you’ll be on TV and be able to play in a band. It bothers me. I just can’t see that,” says Mary Orlando. Orlando’s daughter was murdered by one of the members of the band “Dark Mischief” from Graterford. And she has a point, if all this show was about was showing how great these prison bands are.
But the fact is, that’s NOT the point. Most of these bands aren’t very good. They have drummers who can’t keep the beat, or are forced to have auditions because most if not all of the keyboard players suck. These are men who are using this priveledge on the whim of the prison wardens, and any small infraction can cost them the right to use the music rooms. In fact, in one episode, a hip hop group who are recording a video as a project for the prison music program almost have to end production after a prisoner is written up . . . for sitting during an inspection. Rules say you must stand at all times.
So the point is, these aren’t guys who are going to earn avid fans through this show. These are people who are behind bars for whatever reason, and they have to be given some kind of outlet to express themselves. For these inmates, music is their outlet.
So despite what victims groups would like you to think, “Music Behind Bars” is not glorifying the acts these inmates did. They’re sure as hell not giving their blessing to the criminals for their crimes. They’re just showing that music has the power to affect our lives, even if we are killers and thieves in prison for life. I’m glad VH1 has stood their ground and aired this powerful documentary series.
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“Music Behind Bars” airs on VH1 Fridays at 10pm. Parental discretion is strongly advised, as this show carries a TV-MA rating.