Inmates and prison staff played a concert called "Prison Palooza" at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.

Courtesy of Megan Cherinka

'Prison Palooza' Brings Healing Sounds To Sickest Inmates

Jenna Lane
April 03, 2019 - 12:30 am

VACAVILLE — Therapists at one of California's medium-security prisons are using music to transform the way inmates think about themselves and each other. 

California Medical Facility in Vacaville houses the sickest incarcerated men in the state. They come for treatment of chronic illnesses and may return to other prisons, or they spend their final days in the hospice unit. 

One day last month, several hundred signed up to attend a concert in the gymnasium dubbed "Prison Palooza." Most performers were inmates, playing alongside staff and teachers from a program called Arts in Corrections.

"A lot of us in the unit are dealing with depression, suicidal ideation," inmate Michael Espinoza said. "When music is actually brought to us, and we're actually able to use it, it brings meaning to our lives and shows the potential that we can possibly have."

Forming a band meant finding ways for some big personalities to work together, and this was the first time that music therapist Tim McGinty's patients from a psychiatric unit had performed for such a large audience. 

Music therapy in the prison is therapy first and foremost, according to McGinty. It can involve drum circles, lyric analysis, even karaoke to build social skills.

"To those on the outside, it may look like entertainment, but there's very much a therapeutic process happening inside," said McGinty. "We need more of this in the California state prisons. Up and down the state of California."