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Catching the Rhythm at Rikers Jail

An intimate look inside a percussion workshop at the infamous jail featuring classic rock drummers Carmen and Vinny Appice
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National Make Music Day, Rikers, Prison
Matt McGinley

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Musical Liberation

Every June 21st, the longest day of the year, thousands of musicians, professional and amateur alike, put on concerts all around New York City as part of the annual Make Music Day celebration. For the second year, the NAMM-sponsored event kicked off with a performance by inmates at Rikers Island as part of the "Rhythm on Rikers" program, which features a group of mostly inexperienced prisoners learning the basics of drumming and playing in front of their fellow convicts. Led by percussionist and Make Music New York's Special Projects Coordinator Amy Garapic, in 2014 the program expanded to feature both male and female inmates, and aims to offer them a therapeutic, creative outlet as well as a new pastime once they're released. To make the inmates' special day even better, veteran drummers Carmine and Vinny Appice, who've played with the likes of Vanilla Fudge, Ozzy Osbourne, the Dio-fronted Black Sabbath, Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, joined the group for the concert and offered up some pointers in a pre-show rehearsal session.

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The concert came as the culmination of 10 weeks of hard work, as over 80 inmates, guards, prison officials and volunteers packed into a small, hot, loud gym at Rikers' Rose M. Singer Center to see the five prisoners – Chichi, Vanessa, Tiffany, Maribel, and Alithia – play their five-song set with the Appices, Garapic and her friends Carson Moody and John Copitts. Even if it was just for an hour, the barriers between convicts, correctional officers and civilians felt non-existent, thanks to a transcendent display of music's power. By Dan Reilly

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