Words can’t adequately convey the power of these very special weeks in our lives! This institution has never experienced what Shining Light Ministries brought to this place. All I can say is WOW, WOW, WOW! God was truly glorified and magnified like never before. I’m going to try and give you an overview of what took place. However, it will not do it justice.
It started off with guys submitting a request to be a part of it, then there was an interview process. These names were then sent to New York University so that thirty names could be randomly selected. On August 29th the thirty men who were selected went through another interview process. You had to choose two areas of interest: voice, drama, spoken word, and dance. Then you interviewed for those two areas. The Shining Light team made the final selections.
I was blessed to be selected for the vocal team. We had the task of learning four songs in ten days. The drama group had to put their piece together, which dealt with a variety of topics: abandonment, death of a loved one, abuse, not being present for your children, love lost, and adjusting to prison life. Some of these pieces brought tears to so many men during the performances. The spoken word team’s theme was Genesis and Redemption. Some very powerful performances came from that. The dance team learned choreography for the four songs sung by the ten-man choir.
The first week started off with eight-hour days. We started with praise and worship, followed by prayer. Then the choreographer taught the steps to three songs, spread out over multiple days. This was one of the most challenging parts for almost everyone. We later found out that the choir wouldn’t have to do the steps, but it was still fun learning them with the entire ensemble. After some vocal exercises, the dance and vocal reams went to another part of the institution. Our schedule was large group activities, team rehearsals, lunch break, team rehearsals, video/small groups, then dismissal. After the second day we were all dead tired, and wondered how we were going to make it. But on the third day we started to really fall into the groove.
When week two came around we all wondered how all of this was going to come together, since there was still so much to do and learn in such a short period of time. When it got closer to the day of the performances, things were starting to shape up. On September 7th they brought in a tractor trailer full of equipment, including the stage and lights. When we came in and saw the three-level stage and lights that were erected, then we knew that this was something very special.
We started practicing on the stage, running through the program, and finding out when to come on stage as well as where to exit. They gave us instructions to hold our stage positions until after the song when the lights fade to black, then exit stage left. This group really had things fine-tuned! The next day the band came in. Up until then we were using recorded sound tracks. That band was no joke – they sounded so good! They had a keyboard player, bass guitar, and drummer. The band’s guitarist wasn’t able to attend, so they used our guitar player, who is very gifted. At this point we went through the entire performance.
So now it’s the day of the performances. We do another dress rehearsal, then two performances, one at 1:30 and another at 6:30. It started with an introduction by the head of this ministry. Then the opening piece was given by the spoken word Team. The first number was the song “Push (Keep Moving)” with the dance and vocal team, which were later joined by the entire ensemble. Next was a drama sketch by the theater team, and the dance and vocal team sang “Set Me Free” by Casting Crowns. Following that was a testimony by one of the brothers in the cast. The next song was “It’s Not Over” by Israel & New Breed, with the entire ensemble coming out near the end. A prayer followed that song, which then led to closing a piece by the spoken word team. The final song was “No Turning Back” by Israel & New Breed. All the performers took their bows, then one person from each team spoke on what this meant to them, and gave encouragement to the audience.
Those that attended did not expect the blessings they received. Even the guards were moved, and couldn’t believe the quality and how professional this production was. We also did one more performance. All of them were packed, and a lot of men came back for all three performances. After the first one, the director had a hard time finding the right words for what we were doing. It was more than a performance – it was worship. There was such a powerful anointing, and we knew that we could only do this by the grace of God. We had to let go and let God do the rest. The seventy hours we spent preparing were not enough time to get it all done by our own strength. That was the greatest blessing of all, as we looked out into the audience and saw Muslims, Nation of Islam, Jews, Native Americans, as well as those that don’t belong to faith group. Men who have never set foot in the chapel, sitting among Christians, enjoying this presentation of God’s grace. They heard the Gospel though song, spoken word, dance, and drama.
We also formed stronger bonds within the cast. I can’t say enough about the Shining Light team, each and every one of them. You could feel Christ through them. They are very, very good at what they do. The production was of such high quality, done with equipment costing about three hundred thousand dollars. The cost for them to do this for us was approximately thirty-five thousand dollars, which is privately funded.
They had us doing things that seemed really silly, but it brought the entire team closer together. Things like passing and throwing an invisible ball, or doing whatever dance you wanted to do. Within our small group, some men shared some very powerful things. There is still a lot of buzz all over this prison because of this show, which had never been seen here before. All the performances were video-taped, so hopefully they will be shown later on the in-house television station. There is an effort underway to get the PA DOC to allow them to show it on their website. That will require a lot of prayer. Until that happens, you can see performances from other prisons on the website www.shining-light.com.
Yours in Christ,
EDITOR’S NOTE: You can write to encourage my friend, Carroll Watkins, at the State Correctional Institute at Dallas, PA. He is a nice man, and he would love to hear from you! You must use a plain white envelope, and you must put his DOC # directly after his name on the first line of the address. You must use a return address, or it won’t be delivered to him…but, if you prefer, you can use my ministry return address: Prison Mentoring, Box 310, Hilltown, PA 18927
Carroll A. Watkins AS 0865 SCI Dallas 1000 Follies Rd. Dallas, PA 18612