HOUSTON — Kanye West and his choir of 100 singers pulled off a pair of performances inside two Harris County jails on Friday afternoon. Three days later, inmates and Harris County Sheriff's Office employees are still talking about it.
"It’s a tremendous impact. Beyond the lights, beyond the circumstances, beyond the ceremony, there were people there that showed they were broken and were very excited that God met them where they were at," said Don Savell who leads the H.C.S.O. Chaplaincy program.
Each performance spanned 45 minutes. About 400 male inmates witnessed one show and 100 females inmates were moved by another.
Savell said emotions ran deep. He still remembers the tears that rolled down the face of a female impact as West brought his latest album, a series of Gospel songs, to life.
"You could just see the brokenness in her life," Savell said. "And she bowed down and the tears began to flow. And you could just see the impact and the life-changing moment, that defining moment right then."
That moment brought the retired Harris County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant turned chaplain to tears.
"So beyond that initial impact, what’s the follow-up?"
It's the question Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and five full-time chaplains asked themselves as soon as the award-winning rap artist and his team left the county jail.
"Even Kanye himself said this is not a show. This is a mission."
Since Friday, chaplains have been building on that once-in-a-lifetime experience that some are comparing to Johnny Cash's 1968 performance at Folsom Prison.
The chaplains are working with inmates who are now open to seeing a new perspective. Teams of county employees are connecting inmates, many of whom are awaiting trial, with faith-based ministries and mental health resources.
"It was phenomenal," said Jennifer Herring who runs the jail's re-entry programs. "I’ve never seen a Kanye performance, but you felt like you were at a church service. Everybody in the room was crying. Everybody in the room was praising God. Hands were lifted and people were giving their lives to Christ. It was actually wonderful."
"And it just takes a willing heart and a passion to do this type of work," Savell said. "To go into a very dark place and bring light."
In addition to the full-time staff, about 200 civilians volunteer with the sheriff's chaplaincy program. After West's performance, Savell is hoping more people step up to volunteer.
"We all have the opportunity and the ability to do something."
While those of us on the outside continue to weigh in on West's county jail performances, folks on the inside are using the moment to kick-start meaningful change.
"Out of the group that was there, just imagine the one or the two that might get changed," Savell said. "That, when they go back out in the community, they may look back at that moment and say, I remember that day. I remember that day when my heart was touched and my life was changed."
HOW TO VOLUNTEER WITH THE H.C.S.O. CHAPLAINCY PROGRAM:
In order to qualify as a Harris County Jail Volunteer Chaplain, you must meet the following criminal background requirements:
- Volunteer applicants may not have any convictions (felony or misdemeanor) for crimes against a person or delivery of a controlled substance (i.e. assault, battery, manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance, possession w/ intent to deliver)
- Volunteer applicants must be 10 years removed from the conviction/disposition/release date of any felony convictions pertaining to property (i.e. theft, burglary)
- Volunteer applicants must be 3 years removed from the conviction/disposition date of any other Class B misdemeanor.
If you meet the criminal background requirements, then you may send an email to email@example.com. An email will be sent to you detailing the interview and application process. Or, you can call 713-755-5325.