Medina County Jail choir getting noticed, inspiring female inmates

MEDINA, Ohio - There's a group of Medina County singers you've never heard of, and odds are you'll never see them perform in person, but the choir is gaining attention and changing lives - especially their own.

"It takes us out of ourselves for a few minutes and it lifts our hearts," said Sue Jarvis, the Medina County Jail chaplain.

The MCJ (Medina County Jail) New Day Choir began forming last December after eight female inmates were videotaped performing Christmas songs.

Jail officials decided to grow the group into an all female choir in an effort to build their self esteem and faith.

Robes were donated to the choir and the program is run at no cost to the county.

For Cheryl Phillips, it has been a magical, melodic difference maker.

Phillps, 43, of Brunswick, struggled with opiate addiction for several years after the death of her father and ended up in the jail for shoplifting and a probation violation.

"I feel like I haven't belonged to anything, and this has given me something to belong to, and I also found faith again," Phillips said.

The choir practices five days a week and sings spiritual songs, including "Chain Breaker", "I Will Follow Him" and "What Faith Can Do."

One church group has already visited the jail to watch the choir perform, and a second group has scheduled a visit. In addition, jail officials are considering taking the show on the road.

"If the ladies that are in choir are qualified to leave the facility because of classification issues, we may take them somewhere to maybe some local churches," said Lt. Dean Lesak.

Lesak said the Buckeye State Sheriff's Association is not aware of any other organized choirs at county jails throughout Ohio.

"These girls can be having a terrible day. They could have gone to court. They could have gotten bad news from home, but they can come to choir and sing," Jarvis said. "I think it's probably one of the best things we've done in a long time in terms of making people have a purpose and a moment outside of, 'I'm just here doing time.'"

Jamie Matthews, who was arrested on drugs charges, is awaiting a prison sentence, but until then, she's enjoying singing in the choir.

She believes the experience will help guide her once she's released.

"The words of the songs just really touch my heart and just makes me realize the mistakes that I've made and how far I've come since then," Matthews said.

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