On October 5, 2018, Grammy award nominee Lauren Daigle visited Stateville Correctional Center to perform both for and alongside the men who are incarcerated. A well-loved contemporary Christian artist, Daigle has recently broken into new career territory with her album Look Up Child debuting at number 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. Visiting Stateville, however, was a groundbreaking event all its own. A maximum security state prison, Stateville has strict rules regarding visitors and gatherings.
Vickie Reddy, executive producer of The Justice Conference, was able to organize the event with the assistance of Stateville’s chaplains. Reddy is the first free student to be enrolled in the master of arts in Christian ministry—a degree program offered to the men at Stateville through North Park Theological Seminary’s School of Restorative Arts.
The hurdles to such an event taking place at Stateville are part of what made the concert significant to the men. “They are used to the worst being expected of them,” says Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, director of the School of Restorative Arts. “For imprisoned and free individuals to be able to come together in worship—it was humanizing for all of us.”
Reddy, Clifton-Soderstrom, and two alumni of the School of Restorative Arts were able to attend the concert which included Daigle performing with her band as well as a joint performance with the Stateville Gospel Choir.
Performing alongside Daigle was especially meaningful to inmate Ryan Miller. Upon her arrival, Miller shared that a couple of years prior he had experienced a vision in which he was singing with Lauren Daigle. In his vision, this was the beginning of a revival.
Daigle closed the concert with the Gaither hymn, Something Beautiful, a song which speaks of brokenness transformed into hope and healing.
After the performance, Daigle was given a tour of the facility, including the panopticon. Commonly referred to as the roundhouse, the building is a cylinder consisting of 4 floors of cells facing inward to a central tower. This design allowed a minimal number of guards to observe prisoners on every side. Despite concerns regarding inhumane conditions, the panopticon at Stateville remained in use until 2016; it was the last of its kind in operation since the 1990s.
The opportunity for Daigle to meet the men, witness their surroundings, and worship with them fits directly within the larger vision of the School of Restorative Arts, which aims to not only provide education and hope to the students inside the prison but also to provide a connection to those outside, to allow both sides to see each other, to build understanding and community.
Both the restorative arts program and Lauren Daigle’s visit have been received warmly by Stateville’s administration, and all involved in organizing the event hope to continue these opportunities for community building.
“North Park being here with us is the most important thing happening at Stateville.” says Assistant Warden of Operations Nicholas Lamb. “It’s giving hope to so many. People who aren’t in the program yet are going to want to be after this event.”
Senior Chaplain George Adamson summed up what the day meant to him. “So what can I say but the Lord bless you. To see the men worship has always been my dream. The power of the Holy Spirit was evident on the stage . . . it was so worth it to see the men who basically have nothing and little hope become energized and let go for a brief moment . . . Please thank Lauren for me and on behalf of the men. This will be talked about for a very long time.”
All photography by Karl Soderstrom