a collection of songs demonstrating the strength and wisdom of women who choose to rise when the world would hold them down
In 2016, Susannah Long and Michael Conner held a songwriting class in the women’s prison in Raleigh, North Carolina in partnership with Interfaith Prison Ministry for Women. In the summer of 2019, they held their second class, adding even more inspiring voices to the chorus. Now, many of the songwriters are living free, some of whom have joined the “Conviction Band,” singing their own songs for a better understanding of what leads women to—and through—prison. Below you’ll find free songs from the Conviction Band that we hope will encourage, inspire, and spur you on in your own journey of growth and change.
“Reality” is a spoken word piece about how incarcerated people are perceived by society, family, the media, and themselves, and the struggle to find the reality of who you are in the midst of that. Ronda’s spoken word pieces act as a frame for the Conviction album, guiding the listener at beginning, middle, and end.
God of Every Daughter
“God of Every Daughter” is hymn that was written for and sung in worship at the Hope Center, the prison chapel at North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, and all worshipping communities who want to sing the unsung songs of women who find themselves with their backs against a wall. The hymn sets to verse many of the named women of the Bible who rarely make it into hymnody as well as the unnamed woman who is killed in Judges 19.
He is Worthy
“He Is Worthy” is a song of praise best sung on one’s feet! Veronica served as a choir director and worship leader at the Hope Center and taught the congregation this song within weeks of writing it. She has always encouraged women to “get on your feet” and as the song says “do your dance” knowing that movement, clapping, dancing, and praise have the power to drive back the darkness of forced confinement and separation from family.
Prison Set Me Free
“Prison Set Me Free” names the complicated truth that prison is often a place in which people discover their own power and freedom. It was one of the first songs brought to the group to workshop. We had just done an opening exercise in which Sus gave each person a beat or note to sing. As she pointed at each person to sing, tap, or clap their part, beautiful sound surged up from out of the cacophony. That exercise gave the group the idea for the song’s end later that night.
“There were plenty of times that I felt hopeless, but something else happened in prison. Prison set me free. I know that can be strange for people to hear. This song writing class, the Duke Divinity Classes, Jobstart, worship on Sunday nights at the Hope Center, being part of the Dance Team; they all helped set me free. It was in those spaces where I found myself: my worth, my faith in God, and God’s faith in ME.”
“Daddy” is a song about losing someone you love while incarcerated. Regina lost her father during the songwriting workshop. She brought these words as a tribute to him and asked Susannah to set them to music and sing them for her. Without the ability to go to funerals or gather with family at the death of a loved one, death can seem unreal and remain unprocessed, building up inside of a person and adding to the strain of incarceration. This song is a powerful sign of one way to honor those who have died from behind bars.
He Wore Three Crosses
“He Wore Three Crosses” is a song about the death of a son and a mother’s deep and persistent hope that she will be reunited with her child in heaven. Rebecca tells the story of her love for her child through the image of a necklace that he wore that he made while he was in jail. Rather than finding shame in their incarcerations, Rebecca turns social expectations on their head in this song of prayerful imagination.
“Turn” is a mother’s song about losing custody of her three sons and the haunt and hurt of that indescribable loss. Amber boldly tells the impact of that loss on her own mental and emotional health, describes the social injustices of a court system that refuses to return her kids even after she satisfied its requirements, and finally indicts a God who has promised to turn the hearts of parents and children toward one another while allowing Amber’s children to be taken away from her. This is an example of the types of collaboration that happened in the songwriting class: Amber wrote the poem and Chaplain Jobe came back the next week saying, “Amber, I think I might have a melody.”
When I was in Prison, God Visited Me
In “When I was in Prison, God Visited Me” biblical images take on new meaning as Ronda maps them onto the experience of her two decades in prison. Ronda tells the story of how prison steals her girlhood dream of being a teacher, the years lost to the pain of shattered identity, and her ultimate reclamation of vocation as God reveals her true divine worth.
“The Housewife” is a story about domestic violence and the ways that women push back to create space for themselves in death-dealing relationships. Susannah wrote “The Housewife” as part of a challenge that we all write a song about Jael, the woman who wins a war by driving a tent peg through Sisera’s skull after he barges into her house in the Book of Judges. Jael became something of a class hero, representing the bravery it takes to protect yourself when your home becomes a war zone.
“Love Continues” is a song of praise sung together by every person who sings on the album. This was the first song from the class to make it outside the gates of the prison when Lu was invited to lead Vacation Bible School at a church on the outside while she was still incarcerated. It holds the promise that no matter what one endures, love presses forward.
“Giving God all the glory! Only God could take an ordinary to an extraordinary, allowing spiritual creativity-enhancing my road toward destiny freedom.”
I Choose You
“I Choose You” is a song that tells how the horrors of domestic violence start with promises of affection. It captures the sickening realization that one’s story-book ending has twisted into violence and degradation, and it tells Regina’s story of rediscovering love in a God who chose her with steadiness and extravagance.
“I know my value and worth, just as every single one of you must know your value and allow no one to disrespect, put down, or use you! Jesus was my answer to abuse. His Love blew me away and taught me to love myself. Abuse leads to one of two fates: death or incarceration, and that is exactly how I came to be incarcerated.”
When Job was a Prison Chaplain
“When Job was a Prison Chaplain” imagines what might happen if the main character from the book of Job became a prison chaplain. When Job asks God to give an account for why tragedies happen, the God of Job responds from inside a whirlwind with a song about God’s wild love for the inexplicable creatures of God’s world. This song asks what that God and chaplain might have to say to the types of stories that haunt a prison chaplain’s office.
“Question” is a spoken word piece that commands the listener’s attention back to incarcerated voices. Ronda closes the album by challenging the listener to keep on deciphering the voices that are still behind bars, to let the words that you have heard in this album change you, your perceptions, your politics, and your way of being in the world.
Drop us a Line
Interested in featuring Conviction at your church, school, or in a publication? We can help with that!
Sarah Jobe, Luverta Gilchrist, Loyanne Propst, Veronica Rackley, Alex Treyz, Anne-Claire Cleaver – Vocals
Rebecca Johnson, Ronda Singletary – Spoken word
Adam Barnard – Electric Guitar
Charles Cleaver – Keyboards, piano, electric guitar
Michael Conner – Bass, acoustic guitar, banjo
Daniel Faust – Percussion
Michael Grigoni – Dobro, lap steel, pedal steel
Rachel Kiel – Flute, vocals
Susannah Long – Acoustic guitar, vocals
Patrick McGrew – Drums
Ian Walters – Trombone, horn arrangements
Produced by Susannah Long
Additional production and musical arrangements by Charles Cleaver
Recorded at Arbor Ridge Studios by Jeff Crawford
Additional overdubs recorded in quarantine by the musicians in their respective home studios
Mixed by Charles Cleaver
Mastered by Dave Kampel (Magnetic West Audio)
Cover art by Au’Dasia Newsome, artist portraits, oil on canvas
Package Design by Kate St. John
Made possible by our 292 Kickstarter Supporters and the IPMW Family
Copyright 2021 interfaith prison Ministry for women