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"Backstage" Lecture Series

Exciting and in-depth lectures by fascinating guests

who all share the powerful life giving force of music.

Songwriting and

Music-Making in Prisons to Create Caring Communities Inside and Outside of Prisons


with Mary Cohen and Arnold Grice

April 1, 2023

The Deanery School of Music

Admission: Pay What You Can



Mary Cohen is an Associate Professor of Music Education at the University of Iowa. She researches music-making and well-being, songwriting, and collaborative communities and is lead author of Music-Making in U.S. Prisons: Listening to Incarcerated Voices with Stuart Duncan. She co-facilitates the International Music and Justice Network: IMAJIN Caring Communities, a group of researchers from 14 countries who meet monthly and collaborate on projects. From 2009 to 2020 she led the Oakdale Prison Community Choir and songwriting workshop where participants have written over 150 songs, and the Oakdale Choir has performed over 75 of these songs, available with the Creative Commons License. She has been a keynote for conferences in Germany, Canada, and Portugal, interviewed by the BBC3 Music Matters radio show, and has over 40 publications in journal articles, book chapters, and conference proceedings. She has implemented ungrading in her college courses is working on a collaborative autoethnography about grading contracts with four graduate students. 


My name is Arnold Grice, I was born on March 4, 1974, in Moline, IL. Even though I was born in Quad City I grew up back and forth between there and Indianapolis, IN. With much of my family living in Indianapolis IN I was introduced to two types of different lifestyles. One lifestyle was the fast pace of the city, and the other lifestyle was the slow pace of a small town. in 1979 I was introduced to Hip Hop this was an inner-city culture which we thought was a phase of Break Dancing, DJing, Rapping, and Graffiti. 

Hip Hop was a culture that was used to keep inner city kids off the streets and out of gangs fighting trouble or any type of mischief. We used break dancing instead of fighting, we used the art of graffiti to express ourselves, and we used Rap music as a vehicle to tell our stories; the DJ was the man that played the music or the person that kept the party going. As I grew up, I won various break dance contests throughout the early 80s, but in 1983 Run DMC to Rap to the corporate world and it quickly became my newfound passion. In the summer of 85 we had a friend move from Queens, NY to Indianapolis, IN and he brought us what we called battle rap. During this time, we were used to digging into the garbage cans and pulling out cardboard boxes and we would use them to practice our breakdancing routines. But when Craig moved to town from New York he always brought rap tapes with some new artist that we had never heard before, music that was played on the radio stations in NY; so, we went from break dancing against each other to having rap battles against each other. 

I immediately fell into this element of hip hop which is the Rap element and I begin to gain recognition from every city or town that I lived in. In 1991 I opened for Ice Cube famous rapper from the West Coast. In 1993 I want to start quest rap category all the way into 1996 when I landed a management deal with Excel Entertainment. My manager would then move me to Atlanta GA where we would attempt to shop record deals; unfortunately, being from the inner streets I was also introduce to a life of crime, therefore my passion, gifts, and talents would always war against my inner demons of alcoholism, drugs, and drug dealing. After blowing a total of three record deals in Atlanta, GA I returned to Indianapolis empty handed and embarrassed where alcoholism would become the dominant voice in my life. After feeding my inner demons of alcoholism, drug dealing, and now womanizing I was rewarded a 35-year sentence and the Iowa Department of Corrections. 


In the middle of my madness, I was blessed and fortunate to meet Dr. Mary L. Cohen. To say that she was a ray of sunshine in a dark place would be an understatement. Mary as well as many other volunteers from the University of Iowa not only rejuvenated my soul but also showed me how to tap into other talents that we're lying dormant. With the help of Oakdale community choir, I began to pick up my love for songwriting the writer's workshop. I gained a new love of writing short stories and poems. after being released from prison I was the first recipient of a music scholarship which afforded me the equipment to produce my own music and give me a workshop to display my creativity I am grateful for Mary Cohen who introduced me to Rishi who is my tutor and helping me become more technology savvy. So, I am very grateful and honored to be here today.   

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