Female inmates incarcerated at San Francisco County Jail No. 2 celebrated Mother’s Day early Tuesday with a live musical performance and live album recording by a Bay Area singer-songwriter and advocate for incarcerated women.
The incarcerated women, many of whom said they were mothers, watched and listened to a performance by Oakland resident Naima Shalhoub, 33, and her band at the jailhouse today.
Shalhoub’s performance comes exactly one year since she started facilitating music sessions with a group of women in the jails. Many of the women at the performance sang and danced along to her songs as she performed.
Many of her lyrics, such as “San Francisco jail doors opened and we walked right out” and “coming back home” resonated with the incarcerated women and moved them to cheer and clap.
Shalhoub, who has a master’s degree in postcolonial and cultural anthropology and is a self-described community organizer, said her decision to teach women inside the jail stemmed from a desire “to not just understand statistically” but understand women’s relationship to incarceration on a personal level.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said in a statement today, “Naima sings from her heart for the poor, the incarcerated and the oppressed.” The women in the audience were dressed in orange jail clothes and sat in chairs in front of Shalhoub and her band, which consisted of a stand-up bass player, a pianist, and a drummer, as well as a musician who played the oud, tabla and guitar interchangeably.
The songs performed by Shalhoub today make up her debut album, Borderlands, which she expects to release on iTunes this summer.
Shalhoub, who is a Lebanese-American, shows off her Arab roots with references to the bulldozing of olive trees by the Israel Defense Forces and vocals that she said are partially inspired by the famous Lebanese singer Fairuz.
Inmate and San Francisco resident Tameika Smith, who is also 33 years old, participated in an open mic session held following Shalhoub’s performance today and read two of her 150 poems.
Smith said she has been in jail for 28 days today, but that this is her 92nd time in jail since she was 18 years old.
When asked what has led her to return to jail so many times, she said it “has to do with self worth and drug abuse.” Smith said she’s been using drugs, including crack, since she was 18 and that all of her arrests relate back to her addiction.
While in jail Smith’s three children, ages 12, 11, and 2, are with various family members and growing up without their mother, she said:
“I don’t blame anyone but me.”
She said she has been hearing Shalhoub sing for the past year and that is helps her not feel hopeless about her situation.
“Recidivism,” Smith said, “can be stopped.” She said she is currently working on the eighth chapter of her autobiography, working towards obtaining her high school diploma and attending meetings to help her overcome her addiction.
Shalhoub has told the women in jail No. 2 that she plans to give half of any and all profits from her debut album to re-entry programs that will help support incarcerated women.
After having spoken with incarcerated women during classes about where they think the money should go, she said it’s clear it needs to go toward getting recidivism numbers down.
“What I heard the most is that there are re-entry programs that support them” by helping them gain access to housing and jobs.
Shalhoub said she is trying to better understand how these incarcerated women feel in order to better support them.