October was a long, wonderful month! I put 17,000 miles on the Prius;
slept in flea-bag motels and four-star suites; played living rooms,
churches, bookstores, large music halls and even a minor league
baseball stadium! I met so many great people, and had warm reunions
with old friends! I really couldn’t imagine a better life for myself
at this point!
Thank you for caring about my songs enough to make all the fun
OK, now for the upcoming gigs…
I’ll be in Baltimore, MD on Nov 15, Virginia Beach, VA on Nov. 16,
State College, PA on Nov, 20, and Rock Hall, MD on Nov 23!
Also, I will be doing my annual benefit concert for Camp
Dreamcatcher, a therapeutic summer camp for kids dealing with
HIV/AIDS, on the night after Thanksgiving at Jamie’s House of Music
You can get info on these and other shows on my web site’s schedule
Work on the new CD, Poor Mans’s Diamonds, is going great! I’m
continually humbled by the talent and generosity of my friends! The
album is being produced and recorded by my friend Harvey. (Seasoned
Philadelphia FM listeners knew him as “Harvey in the Morning”).
Folks like Kris Kristofferson, David Amram, Pat Wictor, and so many
others are helping me with singing and playing chores to add a
richness and depth to the arrangements. I also honestly believe this
is the strongest collection of songs I’ve ever assembled. I’ve been
doing songs like Malala, Bury Me with my Guitar, Kintsugi,
Songer-Singwriter, and For the Birds in my shows during the past few
months and I can tell by the reaction of audiences that we’re on to
something really good! I’ll let you know when we have a release date
For those of you who haven’t stopped reading yet (you’ve obviously
got too much free time!) I’m including below the text from a recent
article I was asked to write for a newspaper called Peaceworks about
my New Beginnings prison work at the Howard R. Young Correctional
Institution. My experiences volunteering with offenders have
convinced me that we need to do a lot more for our post-release
population in the state of Delaware! Down the road I will write here
about how you might help with our New Beginnings, Next Step program!
New Beginnings by John Flynn
“This group is about changing the way you think! Feel me? It’s
about finding a new way of doing things, for real, for real! It’s
about taking a hard look at the decisions you’ve made; accepting
responsibility for your actions; and doing the work to become
With these words, shared last week with me and
a group of nine offenders in the Multi-Purpose room of the Howard R.
Young Correctional Institution, a man in his late-fifties who has
spent the majority of his adult life in prison eloquently summed up
what I was having a hard time describing.
I had been asked to write a short article about the work I do as a
volunteer with a program called New Beginnings. But I’d been ducking
After eight years of (now) twice weekly visits to the prison that
Wilmington residents know as Gander Hill, I shouldn’t have been
stuck for the language. But how do you put into words the humility
and courage you witness when men who are desperate to change their
lives ask you to help them do it? How do you describe how unequipped
you always feel for this work, or how much richer your life has
become because of its struggles, lessons and rewards!
I wasn’t sure I could even try.
I guess New Beginnings is, at its heart, a support group.
Brother David Schlatter, O.F.M. founded it at Gander Hill about 20
years ago. With its Franciscan roots of inclusion and compassion,
New Beginnings respects all loving sacred traditions. Our group has
welcomed Christians, Jews and Muslims as well as men who have no
particular religious affiliation. (I always tell my guys to be the
best “whatever-you-ares” that you can be! I would much rather
someone be a good Muslim than a bad Catholic!)
As originally described to me by Brother David, New Beginnings is
about “tooling-up” men for a big job. As David put it-- “If a man
is going to build a bookshelf, he needs to draw up a plan. He needs
to take measurements, and figure out what supplies and tools he’ll
need to tackle the project”.
The work of mind, heart and spirit must be approached the same way.
New Beginnings is sort of a trip to the interior hardware store.
It is also about creating a community of reinforcement and
accountability. The prison environment is not always accepting of
those who have grown weary of “the game” and its requisite attitudes
and postures of menacing indifference. To speak in an unguarded way
about his disappointments, guilt, fears, dreams or aspirations in
today’s general prison population can open an offender to derision
and contempt (or worse). New Beginnings seeks to create a safe place
and time within the prison walls where men can explore positive
alternative courses and nourish hopes for better future lives
without fear of cynicism, judgment or blowback.
There are no video cameras, no correctional officers, no reports
filed in New Beginnings. There is really only one hard and fast
rule-What is said there, stays there!
(I do tell the guys I'm free to brag about them!)
How it works is simple. We take turns. We talk. And we listen.
One of my co-facilitators for this past year, Thomas Gallagher, is a
college professor who remarked to me after his second or third visit
with us that you seldom witness in the world these days the kind of
deep, active listening that goes on in our group. In New Beginnings,
we preach that listening is one of the most basic and powerful
expressions of human respect. Respect is a commodity that is in
short supply in prison. Our guys not only appreciate being its
recipient, they also savor the realization that they possess the
power to bestow respect’s attendant and healing dignity upon others.
Since we are mostly all better at fooling ourselves than others, the
men in our group are also called to respond with honesty to what is
shared in the circle.
Recklessness, overconfidence, and arrogance are not tolerated. There
is too much riding on the need for clear-eyed understanding of the
obstacles ahead. The challenges these men will face upon leaving
prison are all encompassing: physical, social, economic, spiritual…
The list goes on!
Mike Tyson used to say, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit”!
That’s why we’re constantly pushing within the circle, “What if”?
“What then”? “Talk about it”! Contingencies are examined. Backup
plans encouraged. Great emphasis is placed on being able to
prioritize; to distinguish needs from wants. Learning from the past.
And examining in depth what constitutes to each member the meaning
of the word “success”!
We even have a tradition called a “beat down”. It’s kind of a
loving exit interview, where guys share with a group member who is
about to leave prison their own brutally honest (often funny, and
always affectionate) observations and assessments of his “game”,
with all its strengths and weaknesses. They tell their departing
brother where they see his greatest chances for success and what
they perceive as his greatest risks of failure. These “beat downs”
are taken quite seriously. The men “keep it real” because- quite
literally- lives are at stake. We celebrate each man’s departure
and mourn every man’s return.
Originally, when Brother David approached me about volunteering at
the prison, I declined. I was frankly a bit in fear of the idea. Not
for my physical safety, although I am somewhat claustrophobic and
the idea of going inside those walls did not appeal to me! My real
concern was that I wouldn’t be of much use to anybody once I got
there! That nothing in my background or education would be of any
real value to the men that I would encounter! After all I reasoned,
I’m not a counselor or a psychiatrist! I’m not a social worker! I’m
a folksinger! A singer-songwriter for God sakes! (There probably is
no more useless vocation when you get right down to it!)
But Brother David changed my mind. He assured me that the men who
would seek me out at Howard Young would not be doing so to have
their sentences shortened. They would not be doing so because it
would mean serving some kind of easier time. (New Beginnings is the
only program in the prison that is not incentivized. We offer no
rewards for participation.) These men would be hungry. And more
than a bit weary. They would also have more than their fair share of
a desperately hard earned kind of wisdom! All I had to do was to get
them to realize this and, maybe, little by little, share some of it
openly and honestly with each other! Brother David told me that,
when they did this, miracles would occur!
He was right!
I’ve seen men take some amazing chances. Putting themselves at risk
and making themselves incredibly vulnerable in order to help almost
total strangers. I’ve seen tears of compassion fall from eyes that
have seen too much blood, too much despair, too much hopelessness.
I’ve been taught the meaning of the word gratitude by a shy young
man who would, within a few months, be gunned down in a drive-by
shooting. I’ve been honored by the trust of men who have known
abandonment and betrayal from so early an age that they have learned
to try to head it off its sting and ache by (almost) deliberately
sabotaging their own chances for success in life. And I’ve learned
about resiliency of spirit from men who have refused to give up on
the slim but real chances that they can truly author wholly new
endings to the final chapters of their own lives, although almost
everyone they’ve ever known has already closed their books. People
don’t believe me when I tell them that some of my spiritual advisors
are serving time, but it’s true!
I’d like to thank Pacem in Terris for its offer to help with our New
Beginnings program in its ongoing efforts to keep men from returning
to Delaware’s prison system; and especially in its offer to help me
to examine how these efforts might be amplified and expanded upon
Next time I’ll write to tell you about our new program- New
Beginnings, Next Step!
© Flying Stone Music
Most of this stuff was typed by a songer-singwriter, so please
excuse typos and double check all info!
To host or help bring John to your area
Joann Murdock at the
Artists of Note Agency at 630.557.2742