Update from Matthew Kennedy. Los Angeles.

I (Nathan Lee) spent the past week in Los Angeles, playing the LA jails with Matthew Kennedy. It was another amazing week for so many reasons. But....I'm only human....and On my way to the airport to head back to Nashville, I looked at Matthew and said....."Do you ever wonder what these guys think after we walk out? Do you think they make fun of us? Do you think this matters?"

This morning....he sent me the following email:

 

September 9th, 2013

This morning I woke up and did my usual routine and part of that was taking my three daughters to school. The day started with a bit of chaos but it seemed to calm itself down as the morning progressed.

Just as I had said good-bye to my kids and was heading home, I received a call from my wife asking me to run by Starbucks and pick up a non-fat late’ for to consume in order for her to function that day. I obliged, then asked Siri on my iPhone where the closest Starbucks was from my current location and she gave me three options, so I picked one.

Arriving at Starbucks the line looked painfully long and I knew I was in for long laborious wait, which tempted me to change my mind and take Siri’s second suggestion of another Starbucks location, but I decided to walk in with the intent of putting a smile on my wife’s face as I handed her the wonderful caffeine boost she needed.

Upon walking in, I placed myself in line, and began the process of seeing my task into fruition. After placing my order I looked around and saw a table with a computer and newspaper placed neatly upon the tabletop, void of a human, so I grabbed the corner chair and turned it around to face the barista in the hopes that this would speed up the process. It didn’t. A couple of minutes passed and an African American man came across and sat down at the table which I had just borrowed a chair from so I quickly turned around asked if it was okay if I sat down with him while I waited. He smiled with smile that came from his soul, gave me the nod and said, “that’s cool bro”, so I thanked him and turned back around. 

If you’re reading this you’re probably wondering why the heck I am going into such detail to describe and explain the events of the day……. well, I call it a divine appointment that God allowed me to experiencein order to encourage and be encouraged. You see, if one single element of this morning was looked over and had not been fulfilled by my actions, what I’m about to tell would never have happened. As Nathan Lee would put it, “I would’ve missed out on a chapter to write in my book”. 

So, to move on, a couple of minutes passed as the guy that had sat down to continue working on his laptop and read the newspaper, called out in a gentle way and asked, “Hey man, do you play music?” I turned my head and gave a response that was pretty generic and said “yes”. To my amazement, something completely unexpected happened at that table, in that moment and it was meant to be. His response took me by surprise as he said, “I saw you and Nathan Lee play at the jail I was at a couple of years ago, it, was awesome!”

Now that, was definitely not what I was expecting to hear but is ripped into my heart and I began to have flashbacks of all the prisons Nathan and I have ever played at and it and not once have either of us ever met an inmate on the outside. As I turned to face him, forgetting about my late’, he began to explain to me how that day had affected him and changed his outlook on life. It got him through his time he had to serve and he remembered the songs we sang and the stories we told. He knew some of Nathan’s music prior to his incarceration, so he was astounded we were there. His life is good now, he told me, and he’s holding onto the truth that he wasn’t forgotten in prison, he means something to our Heavenly Father and one day, a couple of years ago, two guys came to sing songs of hope and told stories that described what real freedom meant.

 

This day, this morning, that specific Starbucks, that very table and that encounter with that man is what put back into perspective what I lost focus on. People matter and that man lifted my hope to new level and walked out of there. He was genuinely happy and I could tell his spirit was at peace.

You see, Nathan Lee and I get to pack our gear up and go home or to the next jail, never really having an opportunity to see where they land in life after time served. Today, that changed.

You ask me why I go where few will even think about going? There’s your answer.

 

Matthew Kennedy

Mothers Day. North Carolina. Rachael Lampa

This Mother's Day, I had the privilege of joining Nathan Lee and "Send Musicians To Prison" on their visit to the Swananoa Women's Correctional Center in Black Mountain, NC. Send Musicians To Prison visits inmates all over the country and offers Healing, Hope and Comfort through the power of music.

Much like my last prison visit, I have walked away changed and renewed. An overwhelming sense of compassion came over me as I identified with these women. Prior to these women serving time for their crimes, was a broken and confused heart that led to their decision.  I know my heart has been hurt and IS hurting.....but Im thankful for the blessing of great people around me, and a loving God to whisper me back in the right direction.  It's easy for friends to be sympathetic towards each other. Recently, I've been giving a lot of thought to how much compassion I have for those whose stories I don't know, and may be tempted to judge.

I believe compassion is underrated in the book of deeds these days. I realize how, by not choosing compassion with everyone I meet, I'm only adding weight to the pain they are already carrying around. I'm almost punishing them by withholding my compassion. This world does enough punishing! Perhaps by being compassionate, we can take a small amount of weight off each others shoulders.

As Nathan Lee and I shared our stories and songs, there was an understood respect and love within the room and it was one of those moments you feel like God wants us to have more of  -

Rachael Lampa

PHOTO: Rachael Lampa & Nathan Lee (Rehearsing in Black Mountain, before the Mothers day event at SWCC)

Pitchess Detention Center. LA. Mens Maximum Security

 "I am here in this room with all of you because I believe you are all valuable and that you are not forgotten"

These were the opening words Nathan Lee spoke when addressing 60 plus men, sitting in a room, waiting to hear some hopeful rockstar come in and sing songs. Nathan's introduction was honest, heartfelt and intimate, something that is probably a totally foreign form of communication to many of the men present. These are men who have made some serious mistakes, and attached to these decisions are some severe consequences. This particular jail was a maximum security holding facility where one would go to await trial for sentences of 10 years to life.

As Nathan begun to sing and tell stories, I saw him reach inward for strength in order to give these men every ounce of what he could muster up....... something beautiful happened. Hardened rapists, murderers, thieves and gangsters began to weep and weep openly without any attempt to conceal their emotion. This was a day that they were not expecting at all. Today, on April 24th 2013, there was no rock star to entertain them, because that is not who Nathan is. Instead, Christ himself was in that room, resting his hand on each shoulder saying "It's okay, you are my child and I love you despite what you think of yourself".

 

I witnessed something beautiful today. A man who is broken and dealing with internal conflict, rose above what was natural and walked in the supernatural care of His heavenly Father. Nathan spoke truth, with no judgement in his heart, and in turn men were connected with their Father in heaven and they felt loved. Tears flowed and emotions were brought out of hiding and I am thankful that I too experienced every minute, with everyone in that room

I'm grateful to be a part of  "Send Musicians to Prison" because of the fact that God has required us to visit those in prison and deliver the gospel. That is the very commission which pumps life into the passion of what it means to be a part of this organization.

I'm blessed..... Matthew Kennedy

BERT CRABBE. NYC.

So I had a pretty heavy experience a couple of months ago. I have a close friend named Nathan Lee. Nathan grew up on the East Coast but has lived in Nashville for several years now, making his living as a singer/songwriter. Nathan’s songs wouldn’t really fit into the “Christian Music” category, but they are filled with stories and questions as deep as the Marianas Trench.

Recently, Nathan made a pretty radical decision career-wise. He began a non-profit organization called Send Musicians to Prison. His full time job is traveling to prisons and playing songs in what has to be the most difficult environment imaginable for an artist. The truth is, Nathan’s always been a little bit crazy but when he started sharing stories with me about playing his songs several stories underground in L.A. County Prison, I was pretty sure he had finally gone around the bend.

Still, it’s a really amazing calling. I’ve been around the block a few times in church world and I’ve never heard of someone doing anything like this. And especially not for a living.

A few weeks later I learned that the warden of the infamous Riker’s Island Prison in New York City attends my church. What are the odds? I approached him and spoke to him a bit about Nathan’s work. He was immediately interested and before long, we had a date on the calendar for Nathan to fly in and do a concert.

I was invited along for the ride. Why? I’m not actually sure. I didn’t ask. I was just excited to get to go! Growing up in New York, Riker’s Island is one of those places that everyone talks about but few people have ever seen. In fact, as large as it is in the psyche of New York, most natives couldn’t even point to it on a map.

The day arrived and my friend the warden (whose identity will remain private) escorted us across the bridge and through several layers of security. It was daunting. The experience game me the distinct impression that I had left the world as I knew it and entered a whole ‘nother reality.

We were taken to an aging gymnasium where Nathan’s friends Clay and Ryan started setting up his piano and PA System. We toured the facility. An escort by the warden allowed us a rare opportunity to see the real thing. We walked among the inmates. I entered a cell and heard the door slam shut behind me. The sensation was indescribable. Spending day after day in a place that small? It was impossible to process.

When we returned to the gymnasium it was filling up. Row after row of orange jumpsuits. Nathan? Visibly nervous but ready to take care of business.

He poured his heart out to these guys. Song after song flowed out of him like sweat. And men teetering on the axis of hope and hopelessness were given a little something to cling to. The promise that there is a God who loves them – despite their mistakes – and that there’s hope for better days ahead.

The inmates were visibly moved by the encounter, and I’ve never been more proud of my friend.

Looking for something good to do with your money? How about you visit his website and make a donation? Better yet – decide right now to do something monthly. What Nathan is doing is an absolute good. And that, my friends, is a rare thing in this world.

Bert Crabbe

Pastor @ -TRUE NORTH COMMUNITY CHURCH

Berts Blog - BERT CRABBE.COM

MATTHEW KENNEDY. L.A. COUNTY

Every time I get the opportunity to go into a prison or jail to share my story, something within my heart is awakened that can only be explained or understood by those who choose to walk into dark places, and take the gift hope. Ultimately, to take the very gift of hope into facilities where few are called to walk on a voluntary basis, Love and Grace are the friends that stick by and never leave.

Hope is defined as “the feeling that what is wanted can be had, or that events will turn out for the best”. So when I pick up my guitar and sing songs that I believe were written to reach into every person’s soul that is sitting within the confines of those four walls, I’m reminded of the word Hope, and what it really means to those who sit before me. I’m reminded that we all bleed the same, we all hurt the same, and that we all make mistakes, which eventually have some kind of consequence.

I’m both privileged and humbled each time I witness how words, carried on the shoulders of music, reach in and touch hearts in a way I can’t explain. The times I have played music and shared stories together with Nathan Lee, will be times I’ll never forget. I’ve seen raw criminals reduced to tears as they are introduced to hope. I’ve observed obnoxious behavior turn helpless in the face of honesty and truth, as Nathan and myself share honest songs and honest music.

There is no band. There are no flashing lights. There are no checks in the mail……………But there is Hope, and it shakes the hand of each inmate as they leave the room. Hope is what walks with them back to their cell, and it restores their faith and the power of change.

This is the only reason why I partner with Nathan Lee and “Send Musicians to Prison” …… Hope.

-Matthew Kennedy

RYAN LAMPA. NYC. RIKERS ISLAND. APRIL 2012

My Brother and I arrived in the late evening to rainy New York’s, Islip airport. We first went to a local church who helps us out with audio equipment, and prepped the speakers, mixer and microphones for the weeks adventures into Riker's Island. I had been there once before with Nathan Lee, so we knew that taking minimal gear was best for hauling into a jail. We got rid of any extra un-needed cables and other audio gear to shed weight, and make our technical outfit as efficient as possible. We would be doing 4 shows in the next 2 days.

We awoke early to make the drive into the city. We arrived the Riker's island check in station right on time, and the check in was thorough, but smooth. The usual nervousness of crossing the bridge onto the island set in, the car ride was fairly quiet. We hit the ground running, setting up in a chapel like room inside the juvenile jail. The chapel smelt of incense from an old catholic church, and had one stain glassed window. We got right to work, and were able to play a few songs before the first "house" of kids arrived. I was surprised by the size of these "juveniles". There must be something in the water here at Riker's. They were riled up when the arrived, and had to be calmed by a guard who demanded respect. Nathan played his music and shared messages of surrounding yourself with good friends who tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear. By the end of their time together, there were hearts connecting.

We then broke down as soon as the inmates left, and rushed to another jail where they were waiting for us before we arrived. Another thorough check in, then the weaving in and out of security check points, bars closing behind us, the opposite bars opening in front of us. We were kindly greeted, but quickly shipped into a gym where approximately 100 inmates were sitting, awaiting our arrival. My brother and I snapped right into it, not a word was spoken passed "no mistakes" as we rushed to set everything up. Nathan took his seat at the piano as started to play. The front row was obviously not expecting what came from this long haired tattooed white guy from Jersey. Though the front row was very distracting, Nathan found his focus elsewhere and continued to play his music and sharing his stories. He spoke of reconciliation and restoration within families. After our one hour together, many inmates came up to share their gratitude and their enlightenment. One gentlemen gave Nathan a note card of encouragement and sited bible verses. Another man even grabbed me before he left to his cell to tell me that "he received the message loud and clear".

We said our goodbyes to the guards, and drove back over the bridge back to our hotel. Exhausted from the day already, we went straight to our room and crashed. I personally fell asleep on the floor face down.

Morning came soon, we sprung back into the van for another 2 jails to play on Riker's Island. The check in process to cross the bridge has now become fairly familiar, but crossing the bridge over to the island will still take some time getting used to. Going through 3 layers of barbed wire fence before even reaching a jail gives a certain feel of being "surrounded" to anyone visiting the island. Kindly we were greeted as we arrived the maximum security jail. It was a longer haul for all the gear, so I felt i saw the most of any jail on Riker's walking through these corridors. We arrived a wide gym with two sets of bleachers on one end. This is not the best layout for a solo singer and a piano, but we made due. To our surprise the maximum security inmates were the best behaved. We had ample time to set up. Fairly quiet, these older men said much, with no words at all. I spotted very distinct characters as I scanned the room. This bunch had a different feel to them. Nathan's voice and piano had a beautiful natural reverb from the room echoing like a concert hall. These inmates settled right in, and were most attentive. Nathan shared again of hope in hopeless times, and though in jail, Nathan reminded them that they were not forgotten. The men left single file, one "house" at a time. The room was nearly cleared, when everyone remaining was asked to stay in the room. There was an "alarm". This meant we all needed to stay in the room for security reasons. The warden came and personally escorted us out of the jail. I caught a glimpse of a 2 layered wall of men with shields and clubs addressing a situation, but could not see what was going on, for we had to hurry out of the jail. We walked through a gauntlet of armored guards, with face masks and clubs. We barely fit ourselves and our gear through the guards who had to rest their backs on opposite walls to let us through. Not a word was spoken as we left the jail. I had never seen so many people fall into place. We came to find out that an attack had taken place between two inmates who were leaving the room we had just been in.

The last jail we played was another wide gym with bleachers. These men were another rambunctious group. Well behaved, but very vocal. We were told to be sure we knew what we came in with and to be sure nothing was stolen from us. My brother and I were tired, along with Nathan. This had been a lot to take in two days, and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Nathan played and shared eloquently. He was even asked to do an encore of a song he had already played about being at peace with his circumstances and choosing to move on. It is an honest song, which I would imagine that particular inmate needed to hear one more time. I thought in that moment that music may be scarce in jail. I take songs that stop me in my tracks for granted. This man wanted to get all he could. We then broke down one last time and hauled our gear out to the van, packed it up, and headed for home.

I saw how honest music played for you has the power to change the air for a moment. As I continue to live in a distracting world, I now realize that our lives can really use interjetions that cause us to reflect on where we are. I saw 4 different scenarios where the same music, the same message of hope brought 4 different interjections into lives that are very different than mine. For those that heard the words about having second thoughts in the last 10 seconds before making decisions that could put you in jail, or those who heard the simple fact that you matter, whether free or imprisoned... I pray they had seeds planted and the fruits will flourish in God's timing.

-Ryan Lampa

-Founder of  PEOPLE LOVING NASHVILLE.COM