Ashley Furst threw away all of her work clothes before heading to federal prison.
She didn’t think she needed it after serving her 27-month sentence. She assumed that her professional career in communications and marketing was over.
“I had this mindset that I didn’t deserve anything anymore,” she said.
But Furst eventually rediscovered the need for work clothes. She will tell her story – from the bottom of her wardrobe in the trash to her new position as senior manager of the job opportunities program at Responsible Business Initiative for Justice – at The Lived Experience concert.
The Dec. 13 performance, at the People’s Building in Aurora, will feature songwriting and music compositions created by pairs of formerly incarcerated and classical musicians, as well as videos and other artwork.
Participating artists and former inmates hope it will help audiences see the humanity of people who have spent time in prison. The majority of those sentenced to prison will eventually be released back into communities after serving their sentence, and organizers hope attendees will see that these formerly incarcerated individuals can succeed and contribute to society after their release.
“I feel like I have to tell my story because maybe it helps me deal with what I’ve been through, but maybe also I feel a deep need to show people that I I’m not a bad person,” Furst said. “Not all people who commit crimes are inherently evil – there’s usually a lot more to it than that.”
After the murder of George Floyd, members of the classical music group Playground Ensemble felt the need to get more involved in social justice issues, said founder and director Conrad Kehn. The chamber music group sought out a community organization working with people reintegrated after their incarceration to collaborate on a project.
After a few dead ends, the Playground Ensemble found a willing partner in Remerg, a Denver nonprofit that connects people leaving jail and prison with resources.
Roohallah Mobarez, Remerg’s COO and one of the former inmates participating in the concert, chose to tell a story that doesn’t just focus on his time in prison. Instead, it focuses on his father, who emigrated to the United States with Mobarez and the rest of their family from Afghanistan in 1993 as refugees.
In his story, he talks about their life as immigrants and the death of his father. He talks about his youth and tries to reconcile with his father.
“I hope it reminds people of each other’s personalities and their experiences instead of stripping them down and making them this other, this criminal, convict, criminal, delinquent – whatever it is” , said Mobarez.
Kehn said some of his favorite students from his decades of teaching are people who have been incarcerated. One such student spent time in solitary confinement and created a stringed instrument by tying dental floss to his bed frame and using a roll of toilet paper as a slide.
“I believe there are a ton of artists and musicians incarcerated,” he said.
Mobarez found solace in the visual arts in prison. He found a mentor who taught him how to make brushes out of toilet paper rolls. When he moved cells, he often left paint splatters behind.
But working on a musical piece is new for him. He tried to explain some of the melodies and noises he hears in his head to Kehn, who then incorporated the ideas into the song. But the creative process goes both ways — Kehn recorded 15 audio recordings of closing doors on his computer for Mobarez to listen to and figure out what sounded most like closing prison doors.
“Art moves, it pulls the strings of the heart,” Mobarez said. “I love all five love languages and I personally believe that art is the sixth love language – all art mediums. We can communicate on another level.
David Coleman, who was released from prison a year ago after serving more than 30 years, found the process of writing and recording his story to be therapeutic.
“Every time you say it, you realize you’re still going through a lot of what you’re talking about, still dealing with the emotions and the trauma of it all,” he said.
The partnership has also been eye-opening for the musicians, Kehn said.
“We’re all a bunch of private school kids,” Kehn said.
“The difference between me and some of the people we might tell stories with is a combination of privilege and luck,” he said. “How did I manage to get out of it when others didn’t? »
The Lived Experience concert will take place at 7 p.m. on December 13 at the People’s Building, 9995 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora. Tickets can be purchased online at playgroundensemble.org.