About 20 men lined up to enter the national theater in the Peruvian capital of Lima. In their handcuffed hands were violin, drum set, saxophone and clarinet. By their side stood 50 dark-clothed prison guards who had transported them in a special bus.
The trip was part of a new project to help criminals lead productive lives.
In 2017, Peru started music lessons for prisoners, expanding a similar national program for young people. Four of the country’s 69 prisons have the program. The goal is to create a prison orchestra in time for Peru’s 200th anniversary celebration in 2021.
The men, imprisoned for murder, robbery and drug trafficking, are now playing music from the “Game of Thrones” television show and pieces by Beethoven.
They listened in silence as Wilfredo Tarazona, head of a state music program, called the session between the prisoners and the orchestra’s musicians “an event without precedent.” He added that Peru’s prison service, which normally buys locks and handcuffs, had recently spent more than $150,000 on musical instruments.
Then Tarazona led all the prisoners and musicians in a performance of Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich. The guards kept a close eye on the prisoners during the music session before bringing them back to El Callao, their prison in Lima.
Martín Reaño said the classical music session is an “escape, something out of the ordinary.” He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murder. In his small prison cell, there are a keyboard, three trombones, a trumpet and a bass guitar. The instruments were left behind by others who served their sentences and left prison.
At El Callao, Reaño had joined one of the salsa bands formed by the prisoners themselves. Then, he met a trombone player and others who helped him learn to read music. Now, he said, he is ready to bring his musical skill to another level.
Percy Trujillano is a professional musician who teaches at El Callao. He said a number of former prisoners could not find a job because of their criminal past. But they could earn some money by playing in small orchestras.
Music “is an opportunity to be born again, to live again,” Trujillano said.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
Words in This Story
handcuffed –adj. to have metal rings placed on a person’s wrists usually to prevent their escape
orchestra –n. a group of musicians who are led by a conductor
session –n. a period of time that is used to do an activity like play music
precedent –n. a similar action or event that happened at an earlier time
classical –adj. related to music of the European tradition
ordinary –adj. normal, not unusual