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the songs of the inmates at lucasville

During their weeks of filming with mentally ill prisoners inside Ohio's maxiumum security prison in Lucasville, the producers of FRONTLINE's "The New Asylums" were struck by the singing that they heard throughout the prison almost continuously. The inmates' songs were mostly gospel and hymns, but sometimes they sang songs they had composed themselves. The singing was unprompted and often quite moving.

Donny Hall

Jerry Singleton

Donny Hall entered the Lucasville maximum security prison in 1981, convicted of rape, and has had a terrible record of misconduct. He was sent eighteen times to the prison's psychiatric hospital, Oakwood Correctional Facility. FRONTLINE's producers first heard Hall singing at his treatment meeting with the prison's mental health staff. He is known in Lucasville for singing "Amazing Grace." One day, after producer Karen O'Connor finished interviewing Hall at the prison's psychiatric hospital, she asked that he stay a minute in the room so they could record "room tone." As they waited, Hall asked her, "Would you like me to sing?" and he started to sing "Amazing Grace."

Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, Jerry Singleton entered prison in 1987 after being convicted in the stabbing death of a friend during an argument. He is serving 15 years to life for murder; his next parole hearing is May 2012. Although he is very ill and continues to hear voices, particularly the voices of Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, he is a gentle man. "Like many of the inmates, he gets great comfort from singing," says O'Connor. During an informal interview in Singleton's single room cell, he started singing. Like many of Lucasville's inmates he has a church-based connection to music and sings soul and gospel.

 

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posted may 14, 2005

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