By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The music pounded and so did their feet. It didn’t look like a prayer, but it was.
“I said Lord Jesus… Thank you, Father!”
The cry of heavenly gratitude came from an older female in custody at Philadelphia’s Riverside Correctional Facility.
She was watching a troupe of thirty college students from across the country, who came to Riverside with a stage and instruments to shine a light.
“We’re coming up here and saying we’re broken, we’ve had difficult lives, we’ve made bad choices and that Jesus has saved us,” said Hannah Newman, who studies dance with the famed Alvin Ailey studio in New York. But you speak to her, you now her heart strings pull for the suffering.
“It reminds my heart every time, these are people who are forgotten.”
The troupe is called Shining Light, a prison ministry on tour for two weeks, visiting prisons along the East Coast.
As the music filled the gymnasium, where the audience of inmates and staff gathered, Tracey Horvath, dressed in her Riverside blue v-neck uniform, felt the beat.
“What I got from the performance is that we all go through trials, and dramas and tribulations,” said Horvath. And we’ve created a self-built prison and it’s really important to find it within yourself to love yourself, and grow and heal from there. And it’s so powerful how God is.”
For Amanda Cortez, incarcerated for five years now, the prospect of Pope Francis visiting the prison complex in September is moving.
“It shows that people care. Sometimes I feel like people might do it for show,” said Cortez. “But this is love in action. I know about the Pope, but when you see it in action, people coming out and reaching out, what other people won’t do. Wow, it’s very touching.”
In a place like Riverside, the walls are more than symbolic. But today, through music, dance, love and a genuine outreach, those walls came down.
Alicia Singletary has been in custody for a year, pre-trial. “There is still a healing process for me and I’m in the middle of the healing process.”
Just as Shining Light was leaving the stage, after most inmates returned to their floors, Singletary raised her hand and said, “One more thing.”
Earlier in the day, she and a handful of other women learned the performers routine, stomping on the floor with their hands, rising mid-way, then, standing up and lifting their arms, all to the chant, “I do, I do, I do, I do… I feel so good.” Over and over.
The troupe matched the call, the chant, the pounding, the enthusiasm, that allowed the light to shine through the cracks. It was a moment to see the light and believe.