ROCHESTER, MN (July 14, 2014) — The unique songwriting ministry offered to inmates at a local detention center by Covenant minister Sarah Monson was the subject of a feature in the Post-Bulletin this weekend.
Monson, who is worship arts minister at NewDay Church in Rochester, launched “My Story, My Song” last December. Since then, she meets with two inmates a week for six to eight weeks and helps them put feelings to paper and turn them into lyrics.
Through the writing, inmates find ways to express themselves in a setting where emotion might be seen as a sign of weakness.
In sharing their experiences, participants are finding a new strength. Monson related the story of one woman who had been abused by several boyfriends, one of whom told her, “You’re just like an apple tree. You’re stuck here, going nowhere.”
Redeeming the insult, the woman wrote “Apple Tree” with Monson. The song’s chorus includes the words “beautiful, sacred, and strong, that is the apple tree.”
“When we got to that line, she just sobbed,” Monson said. “Nobody’d ever said anything like that about her before. I told her, ‘I believe these things about you, or I wouldn’t write it. Why hasn’t anyone ever said that to you?’ ”
Monson said, “The process of creative writing is amazing to me, how it gets people thinking about their life, and who they are. The goal for me, every time, is to find something in their life to hold on to, to humanize them.”
Monson told the paper that after completing her first album in 2013, “I really spent the next few months struggling with ‘what does this all mean? What kind of artist am I?’ I’m fairly eclectic, and I’m not going to play by everyone else’s rules. I’m going to forge this journey in my own way.”
She decided she would “make music where nobody else makes music.” She initially thought she would do a concert at the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center and then perform several more concerts after making connections within the judicial system.
Corrections officials asked that she consider doing something different that would be more life-transformative for the inmates.
On her blog, Monson writes, “My vision for this program is that I would continue building and developing the program. There are opportunities to partner with other artists and writers from the local community in developing writing and artistic skills with detainees. I can’t do this alone and a program cannot be sustained by just one person!”
Monson just started writing her own music in 2011. She began as a way to “work through life,” which included her husband suffering a spinal cord injury in an accident.
Monson recorded her EP “Dragonflies” at the urging of friends and raised $10,000 through Kickstarter to fund the project. The EP was released last September. It is available through her website.