Ohio orchestra performs at prison to bring ‘hope and peace’: ‘Meaningful, important work’

Fifty members of an Ohio orchestra recently performed a “Patriotic Pops” program for an unexpected audience: inmates at a local prison. 

The performance of June 30 was actually several years in the making, Elizabeth Brown-Ellis, executive director of the Lima Symphony Orchestra, told Fox News Digital in an email. 

“The Lima Symphony Orchestra began our Healing Through Music program in 2018,” she said. “The original goal was to bring the healing power of music to people struggling with addiction and mental health.”


The June 30 performance marked the first time a full orchestra was permitted to perform at an Ohio prison, and possibly the first time anywhere in the U.S., Brown-Ellis said. 

The orchestra originally played at area hospitals and shelters. It is based in Lima, Ohio. 

Shortly after the Healing Through Music program began, a chaplain at the Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution (AOCI) contacted Brown-Ellis, asking that the program come to the prison as well. 

The Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution is a mixed-security prison located in Lima with about 1,400 male inmates. The prison complex is “essentially two different facilities with one campus,” she said. 


Since 2018, members of the orchestra, though not the entire orchestra, “have performed dozens of times” at the facility, Brown-Ellis said.

“We started with a string quartet, but now we have hosted cello soloists, brass ensembles for the holiday and woodwind groups,” she said. “We purchased a 40-piece drum set and regularly host drumming circles in both facilities, bringing the inmates into the creative process.” 


Shortly after the Lima Symphony Orchestra began these visits to the prison, “we dreamed about bringing the entire orchestra to AOCI,” she said. 

In Feb. 2020, plans were beginning to take shape for a “full-orchestra ‘Patriotic Pops’ performance” that July — but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that. 

Ambitious plan is reignited

Finally, over three years later, in Oct. 2023, the Lima Symphony Orchestra and the AOCI began to discuss a performance once again. The plan was to bring 50 musicians to perform a one-hour concert, she said. 

“Our sound man used equipment the prison already had, and two of the inmates ran sound with him,” she said. 

men watching a performance

“The performance was largely a repeat of our other two ‘Patriotic Pops’ programs that weekend with some notable exceptions,” she said.

The first of these was a piece of music called “Halls of Justice,” composed by a musician named Kevin Kohler, a former inmate at AOCI. 

Kohler was paroled in 2021 after serving an 18-year sentence. 


“On the third anniversary of Kevin’s parole, he was able to return to AOCI as a guest to hear the premiere of his piece,” Brown-Ellis said. 

The second difference was the choral accompaniment at the end of the program, she said. 

The Lima Symphony Orchestra was “joined by a 100-member men’s chorus from AOCI, who sang ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ as our orchestral musicians played.” 

“We want people on the outside to see us as people, too. We love music like they do. It moves us. It lifts us up.”

One of those singers, Jeff Hawkins, reflected on the experience in a statement provided by the Lima Symphony Orchestra. 

“We want people on the outside to see us as people, too. We love music like they do. It moves us. It lifts us up,” he said. 

Making the concert happen “was not an easy feat,” Brown-Ellis said. It required “many layers of approval” from officials at the prison and with the Ohio Department of Corrections. 

a shot of all participants in the event

“Each person had to have a background check and sign a media release form” and more, Brown-Ellis said.

“We also had to provide an inventory of everything that would enter the prison – every piece of music, every instrument and case, etc. All of this was pre-approved.”

Additionally, there were “numerous meetings to discuss rules and protocols” around the performance, and the Lima Symphony Orchestra had to comply with “very strict guidelines” regarding what could be filmed or recorded from the performance. 

“It was a lot of work on our end, but I know the true efforts were with the Ohio Department of Corrections (ODC) to allow this historical event to happen,” Brown-Ellis said.

Brown-Ellis said she hopes that the Lima Symphony Orchestra will be able to return to AOCI – but that it is not up to her. “We have already begun discussing plans for next year, but the decision will be made by ODC personnel,” she said. 

In the meantime, the Lima Symphony Orchestra will keep doing its smaller ensemble performances, she said. 

prison chorus with orchestra

“People often comment [on how] fortunate the inmates are that we bring music into the prison,” Brown-Ellis said.

She said she disagrees with this — saying instead, “We are the lucky ones.” 

“Every single musician who has performed at AOCI, whether as part of the full-orchestra performance or the ensemble groups, has told me how this experience transformed them. It is the most meaningful and important work we have ever done,” she said.

“The musicians,” Brown-Ellis continued, “are so respectful and listen so attentively,” and the inmates “invite us into their home, they share their stories and they open their hearts to us.” 

split of man conducting and other men watching

During performances, “I often look out to see the men close their eyes and allow the music to transport them to another place and time,” she said.

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“We have brought them hope and peace, and they have given us even more.”

Fox News Digital reached out to the Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution for additional comment about the performance and any future performances. 

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