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.