For seven years, music has served as a path to healing and community-building for inmates and volunteers at the Oakdale medium security prison in Coralville. The Oakdale Community Choir is a program that brings together roughly 30 inmates, known as “inside singers,” and 30 volunteers, or “outside singers,” for powerful classic and original choral work. They perform under the direction of Dr. Mary Cohen, who began the program in 2009, modeled after similar initiatives in Kansas and Michigan. The choir performs both to audiences of inmates and to audiences of friends and family.
In 2012, filmmaker Daniel Kolen experienced some initial trepidation when he learned that his mother was joining a choir with inmates. He traveled from his home in Chicago to experience her first performance with the Oakdale Community Choir. “It only took one concert,” he says in his bio, “to reorient my view of the prison system and of those incarcerated in it.”
That one concert was the catalyst for The Inside Singers, a documentary about the choir helmed by Kolen. With his background in media production, it was the obvious next step. To aid in his efforts, and to raise community awareness of his initiative, Kolen created an Indiegogo campaign to help cover the costs of finishing the film. Currently with just three days left to go, Kolen is about one-third of the way towards his “flexible goal” of $15,000 (flexible goals receive the money raised even if the campaign isn’t fully funded).
Among the various backer perks for the campaign are an Oakdale Community Choir CD ($15 level), a songbook of original songs written by the choir ($50 level) and a one-on-one Skype conversation with choir director Cohen ($500 level). The funds raised will go towards such post-production necessities as sound mixing and color correction.
The Oakdale Community Choir holds its next concert on Dec. 14, 2016. Interested parties can request reservations on the choir’s website.