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Women in prison stay connected to their kids with lullabies

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By JESSICA HOLDMAN, The Post and Courier undefined

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — In the lyrics of a lullaby, Brittany tells her two children, "just know my love goes on no matter where you are."

Having just given birth 12 days earlier to her second child, a girl who she named Ke'ziah, mother and daughter are separated as Brittany is incarcerated at South Carolina's Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institute in Columbia.

The lullaby, which Brittany has worked with musicians from the University of South Carolina to compose, is how she's bonding with her babies even though she can't be physically around them.

Brittany is one of four participants in the university's inaugural session of Lullaby Project, a program developed by Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute.

Lullaby Project "pairs new and expecting parents and caregivers with professional artists to write and sing personal lullabies for their babies, supporting maternal health, aiding childhood development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child," according to the program's website.

The University of South Carolina School of Music, under the guidance of cello professor Claire Bryant, is now a partner in the program. Bryant said she hopes to continue offering the program within South Carolina Department of Corrections facilities, as well as expanding the program to homeless shelters in the Columbia area.

"The goal is to provide an artistic experience to connect the parent with their child," Bryant said.

"To give someone the opportunity to write a piece for their baby, it's an emotional experience," Bryant added. "They are separated right now from their children, so it's a sad situation. But this brings hope to that situation I think."

Inside the notebook where she has composed a lullaby to her 8-month-old son Jamis, Alexis has tucked pictures of the newborn.

"He's what motivates me here, to get home to him," Alexis said.

Alexis decided to participate in Lullaby Project because it allowed her to reach out to Jamis.

"I don't think anybody would turn that down," she said.

Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said metal and walls may stand between the women and their children but that does not break their bond.

"They're not around and they're not available for their children as parents should be but they're trying," Stirling said. "I think it's amazing they stepped up and wanted to do this."

It also builds experience for the music students who participate, Bryant said, empowering them as artists to interact with the broader community in which they live.

"Music connects us," she said. "This is a reminder of why we play music in the first place."

Next, the musicians will record the lullabies the women composed. Those recordings will be be made publicly available on the Lullaby Project website.

The university and the Department of Corrections also hope to play the recorded lullabies for the women's children. Stirling said the prison has video visitation and would like the mothers to be able to see their children's reactions to the music.

Ashley said her fiancé has helped her stay in touch with her five children daily, including her 2-month-old daughter Isabelle, while she has been incarcerated. In her lyrics, she tells them the separation "is only a moment."

"Feel my arms around you, you are the best of me," she sings.