Program uses music, the Beatitudes to change inmates' lives - WSMV Channel 4

Nashville program uses music, the Beatitudes to change inmates' lives

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Jesse McCullough says the program has changed his life. Jesse McCullough says the program has changed his life.
Nathan Lee and other songwriters used the inmates' journals to create songs. Nathan Lee and other songwriters used the inmates' journals to create songs.
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

It sounds like an unlikely formula to make a career criminal an honest man, but the combination of a sermon from Jesus and music has created a powerful effect on 50 men in a Nashville prison.

When the national average of criminals repeating crimes is 70 percent, and in the program, the repeat rate is 15 percent, it's going to get attention and it's going to take a few risks.

There are eight Beatitudes in the Bible, and at first glance, none of them seem like a great fit for prison, but to songwriter Nathan Lee, this was perfect.

"The awkward, beautiful part about it all, as we dug into this, look, all right, here's this story about this guy named Jesus, this Jewish hippie, 2,000 years ago on the side of a mountain that preaches this sermon saying, 'Hey, look, if you follow these eight guidelines, my dad says this stuff is going to work for you,'" Lee said.

For two months, the prisoners studied the Beatitudes, which, of course, becomes a study of yourself.

Derrick White said he had spent a lifetime blaming other people for everything.

"What I discovered about myself was that I was a mess, I was a liar, I really didn't know how to love. But since I've been working with the Beatitudes, I've come to love people more. I've come to have a change of heart. Because, like I said, the Beatitudes are powerful," he said.

White had never told any man ever that he loved him and had never even hugged another man, but those days are over.

"From who I was to who I am now, people wouldn't even probably recognize who I am," he said. "And it's because I reached out."

Jesse McCullough went to prison once and came out covered in tattoos, meaner than ever. He shot a man and came back. But this time, he stumbled into Men of Valor and the Beatitude study.

"I think that's the first time I felt love. Love is hard for me, man. I grew up in a broken home. Love for me was watching my mom get tortured by my father, and then, in turn, being tortured by my mother. Love for me was pain. And sometimes love for me from Jesus is pain, but it's a different kind of pain. It's a pain bringing me revelation and truth and showing me, hey man, there is a better way to live," he said.

All of this pain went into journals, 50 of them total, and behind it all, there was a big surprise.

Lee convinced eight songwriters to write eight songs based on these journals.

"Most of these journals are heavy. There's lot of heartache. You can feel it when you open the envelope. This is putting a melody to someone else's story," Lee said.

And from those eight artists, those 50 prisoners and those painful, embarrassing, hopeful journals, eight songs were created.

Channel 4 heard them for the first time, maybe the only time, on one amazing night in a CCA prison on Harding Place.

"I would say the one common thread from the artists and these men is pain. If you're ever coming from a place of pain, love someone else, because in pain, there can be real healing in that," Lee said.

It was mesmerizing, but is there a benefit? Can songs and a famous sermon change men?

"Absolutely not. God can change lives, and there's guys that'll leave here with a 100 Bible verses memorized, but it won't matter because they won't live it. So, if God's word invades a guy's heart, man, absolutely," said Curt Campbell with Men of Valor.

The idea is to make a record from the night of the concert featuring all eight songs.

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