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Innovative music class touches inmates at Grafton Correctional Institution

'Unmuted' at Grafton Correctional is a unique blend of classical music, rehabilitation, and community.

GRAFTON, Ohio — The musical program "Unmuted" at Grafton Correctional Institution is a unique blend of classical music, rehabilitation, and community that is currently being led by Rebecca Shasberger and Lalia Mangione, two musicians who do great work through their group Renovare Music.

"Renovare Music tries to bring live music to spaces that don't have easy access to music," Mangione said. "We are classically trained and are used to playing in really fancy concert halls, but realize that that's not very accessible for a lot of people, so we do come to this correctional facility and others on a quarterly basis—and we're here every week—teaching these 13 men to play violin, viola, and cello."

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Shasberger says the men here have embraced the many lessons that come with learning a new instrument. They've even named their weekly class: "Unmuted."

"The most obvious thing is they're learning to play music on instruments that most of them have never had the opportunity to learn to play before," Shasberger said. "They're also learning to work together with people who some of them would not have otherwise spoken with."

For Derek Gardenhire, activity therapist administrator at Grafton, the benefits of of the program are clear.

"A lot of guys [who] come to prison, the majority [of] these men have never played a classical instrument ever in their life," he explained. "The men come, [and] the interest to classical music was unbelievable. What we see is the difference they can make."

And this therapeutic program has made a real impact in these men's lives. They told us through their own words, which 3News is sharing anonymously below:

"I feel that a lot of us guys that are in prison are here for either a broken mind or a broken heart. And for me, the music program seems to help men your mind and your heart."

"You have a group of individuals who generally will probably not even deal with each other, but due to the fact that we all participate in this program, playing music, you know what I'm saying? It brought us closer."

"This is really not the usual environment where you would be playing violin. When your peers see you doing something different, they're like, wow. And they're really interested."

"It brought us together, you know, white and Black, like, and you know, we got love for each other. Now I want to help people."

Those involved say it's been a learning experience for all.

"When I first started coming in to Grafton, I came in with the idea that I was an expert in an area and I was going to share my expertise, but I am constantly learning from them," Mangione said. "They are constantly teaching me."

"There's so much capacity and so much ability in that room," Shasberger agreed. "Even before we got here, we didn't bring them value, we didn't bring them ability. It was in them. They had that already."

Among other programming, Renovare Music also offers a similar weekly class for women at Northeast Reintegration Center in Cleveland. You can learn more about Renovare here.

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