Cruise Ships & Rikers Island. Farewell 2013.

December 13, 2013

This past week, I finished my final gigs for the year at Rikers Island in NYC. I went in to the week somewhat exhausted and insecure. It's been a long year. I've told many of the same stories over and over, as well as sang many of the same songs. The challenging part about sharing music in prisons & jails is that you have to be transparent. You can't do a "show" or a "performance". It goes against everything I've learned in my early days. This being said…..honesty and transparency is exhausting. But it matters..& It's worth it…no matter what! We all crave honesty.

As an artist/songwriter….I find myself doubting what I write from time to time. Especially these days. There's no more merch sales. There's no publisher telling me to do a re-write. There's no manager figuring out an angle. My affirmation has to come before I share the music. My affirmation comes from the cause & the heart. I work hard at writing songs for people in pain, BUT….I'm still insecure at times….because thats what creative people do….they question their art…ALOT.

There were a lot of fights/riots throughout the week, which caused "lockdowns" on various blocks throughout the Island. Our first day on Rikers, we were asked to leave due to stabbings.

The remainder of the week went well. We made it out 4 hours before a 48 hour lockdown.  

But here's where it shifted……

Our last day was in the women's housing unit. It's always emotional with the women. Encouraging them in their beauty, and reminding them they are loved no matter what….makes for a long day. I love singing for these women. They are precious…and their stories would rock your world!

I came to the last song of the set…..the last song of the year….a song I wrote 7 years ago in a bar room. A song about being broken…and aching for freedom. As I was singing it…..all I could think was "This is it…hang on….you're 4 minutes away from getting out of here and having a few weeks off".

The Correctional officers took the women back to their cels….except for one women. She sat in the back of the room and wept. When she finally came forward to leave the room…she stopped and looked at me.  Here's what she said: "I've been working on Cruise Ships for the past few years. Whenever someone died on a cruise, their body would be held on the lower level of the boat until we got to the next port. The staff would always stand around the body and sing a song, That last song you played was the song we would sing. Did you really write that?"

Her words forever changed me. As she walked out of the room, she said "This is why God sent me to jail, to remind me that I'm not forgotten." All I could think was…..Me Too!

As this year comes to an end….all I have to offer is this small bit of encouragement: Stay out of your own way. Stay out of God's way. Let God love you at your core. Let the Holy Spirit lead you. Never stop praying. The results will renew you….and allow you to be better at loving unconditionally.

Thank you for walking in this with me & Thank you for your prayers! Peace.

Nathan Lee