SOS Incarcerated Voices: Why They Wanna Cage Us

“Sing Out Strong: Incarcerated Voices” features ten songs based on texts by incarcerated writers, set by diverse composers.

“Why They Wanna Cage Us”
Based on text by James Soto
Music by Del’Shawn Taylor
Featured Art: “No Touch Torture (To Death)” by Moyo

Brandon Bell, baritone
Nathan Ben-Yehuda, piano

Premiered on November 20, 2021
They tell us to live on minimum wages
That’s outrageous.
Put us on public aid so our mama can raise us,
That’s supposed to save us.
We learn to survive, life don’t phase us.
But when we hustle in ‘dem streets
They wanna cage us.

When we see the police kill one of us
It enrages us.
But if they don’t kill us,
They wanna cage us.
The world’s lockdown for a virus
Just another way to cage us.
If they really want to save us,
Don’t enslave us.

Abolish 13th Amendment – don’t try to cage us.
Free us from incarceration,
Give us true liberation,
Like free higher education.
Black and brown bodies locked up in cages
When will the system change for us?
Unchain us!

Somebody please tell me why they wanna cage us?

About the writer:
I am a Latino of Mexican-American and Indigenous Meso-American descent. I grew up on Chicago’s South Side in the Pullman neighborhood and later as a teenager I moved to Brighton Park. AS an adolescent, I would go to a cultural/community center called Centro Del Barrio located around 96th and Commercial. There I learned about Mayan and Aztec history. They also taught us about social movements and I participated in distributing flyers to boycott agricultural produce in support of Cesar Chavez’s Farm Workers Union.

This exposure to the colonization and exploitation of the Indigenous Meso-American people and their descendants instilled in me an awareness and desire for activism. The classic struggle of the under privileged working class versus the elitist corporate state.

I have always enjoyed reading and studying. I am a prisoner advocate and prison abolitionists. I taught myself the law and legal procedure on my own, mainly through trial and error. Over the years I’ve managed to become proficient with the law and its many nuances. I’m proud to say I’ve helped out numerous caged humans with a variety of legal issues, and have had great percentage of successes.

Currently I am a student in Northwestern’s Prison Education Program (NPEP). The program provides and Associates Degree in partnership with Oakton Community College and the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Sciences conferred by Northwestern University. I hope to continue my education and earn a Law Degree which I want to use to advocate for real public policy changes to the criminal justice system.

About the composer:
Del’Shawn is an award-winning musician, author, arts equity advocate, and educator. As a soloist, he has won awards from competitions such as American Prize and the Metropolitan International Music Festival, while making solo debuts on national and international stages. As an emerging composer, Del’Shawn has spent much of the past year composing works that elevate the voices of unsung stories of African Americans and other marginalized communities. He has premiered new works in various workshops with ensembles such as Wichita Symphony Orchestra and the Julius Quartet and with commissions from opera and art songs organizations like the Thompson Street Opera Company and the Cincinnati Song Initiative. DelʼShawn the lead composer for the musical adaptation for the award-winning book “Stars in the Sky,” based on the stories of the first African American flight attendants. It will have a professional reading in NYC later this year. As an educator and children’s book author, Del’Shawn passionately works with community arts organizations to ensure that children regardless of socioeconomic background have access to the transformative power of the arts. He serves on the DEI Board Committee of the South Bend Symphony and the DEI Board Committee of the Thompson Street Opera Company.


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