“Redemption Songs”:  Founders Personal Story

Our “Redemption Songs” Program is perhaps the one closest to my heart because of a significant part of my and my family’s life story.  

During one of the most impressionable periods of a young girl’s life, I was eye-witness to an explosive turn of events that would forever change the course of our lives.  When I was 9 years old, my family was hurled into a media frenzy after the downfall of my father’s stock and commodities firm he had built from Southern California into an investment empire around the world.  After a fiercely high profile trial, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  Thrown into a new world I never would have imagined or chosen, I spent the next 12 years visiting my Dad in prison… and getting to know the man I had never truly known growing up.  

The entire trajectory of my once-idyllic life path cracked in one instant, and swung into foreign territory that I would spend over the next decade navigating.  I would never be the same again… but it would take about a decade longer to discover that in picking up all the broken pieces there were blessings scattered everywhere.  For my dad, for me, and for the space I would one day create for so many others. 

If you could tell a story of my relationship with my Dad with just a few images alone, the ones on this page would be a poignant start.  Whenever I tell that story in words of my Dad’s and my relationship (as I do quite a lot when I speak for The Beat of Life), I usually share that I didn’t really know my Dad prior to his being incarcerated. He was jetsetting around the world for my first years of life, building the financial behemoth and mega-kingdom that would set him squarely in a place where he was forced to reckon with the soul and relationship-crushing costs of his choices.  

But when he was arrested at the beginning of what would eventually be a 12 year prison sentence, for some reason 9-year-old me became determined to get to know him through writing letters, including hand-made “Fun Books” (you know, so he wouldn’t get too bored in there)… and hand-written song lyrics.

There was so much I didn’t understand yet back then. But I DID have even a child’s understanding that he had a brokenness and it fueled my little heart into instant compassion.

And the one thing I DID know about my Dad was that he absolutely loved music.  I sensed from as long as I can remember that it was his language.

Thanks in large part to him, I grew up listening to the classic rock songs of Elton John, Abba, Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers (okay, not all rock) and the like. The few times he was around he blasted them all as loud as our record player or his little red Porsche would play them.

So as I watched my Dad’s and my family’s lives explode overnight, these deep songs cut into my young soul… and I used them to communicate with my Dad and try to break into his.

This letter excerpt was from one of my first of what would become hundreds, fresh after his arrest and the media swarm on our doorstep was already beginning:

“I wish there was something a little kid like me could do… but gee, I’m only 9 !!…”  Accompanying this letter were the lyrics to songs I had handwritten out, like Candle In The Wind. “And I would have liked to have known you, but I was just a kid, your candle burned out long before…your legend ever did.”

For awhile I wasn’t sure if anything I was writing was reaching him at all. Still I wrote my letters and sent song lyrics incessantly.  As I grew, I began to ask him questions and challenge him and made him mad sometimes.  But I forced myself into his life.  And I also forced my belief in his ability to be redeemed into his heart… even as I knew he didn’t yet believe it himself.  

I begged God for years before I ever saw it in my Dad.  Once I was old enough, I relentlessly drove up the California coast praying and crying out to God for his soul in the middle of the night.  

And for every one of those 12 years, I sent the message to my Dad over and over and over again, as loud as I could scream it in my letters, stories, essays, and songs:  I KNOW WHO YOU REALLY ARE.  And I KNOW YOU CAN GET BACK TO THAT MAN AGAIN.  I BELIEVE IN YOU.  

And slowly the prayers were answered and there were little signs. And letters in return. And so began the redeeming of our relationship. Letter after letter, song after song, our relationship grew until one day, years later once he was finally free… I realized all that tenacious pouring into him had rewarded me at last with the father I’d always wanted.  But not just a father.  With the man I had hoped to see in him.  Restored.  Repentant.  Renewed.  Alive like I had never seen.  Better than I’d ever known him to be.  Redeemed. And I came to realize that it was that child’s innocent even if seemingly “undeserved” faith in his humanity being restored that eventually gave him faith in it too.  It’s impossible to know what he would have become in a world that had turned entirely against him if I too had given up, and thrown him away for good.  But I have a pretty good idea what would have happened.  

Because in in my work now at The Beat of Life, I’ve seen how our belief in redemption for each of these souls lights them up.  They start to believe too.  And as they believe, so they shall be.  And from there, that kernel of faith growing again within the soul of man… well, that’s the seed for genuine redemption to begin.  

Today I shake my head in sheer wonder that decades later this little broken father-daughter pair, brought back together with a little help from the power of faith, words, and song, would lead to what I get to do today for others.

I don’t remember it, but my Dad told me that during one of our very first prison visits, I looked at him and said,      “I don’t know you” …and it broke his heart because he knew it was true. Close to end of his sentence, we took the photo at the left at one of his final prison destinations, a prison camp in the California desert.  I found that photo several years after he’d been out – and we’d been able to continue to build an incredible bond once thought impossible – and  gave it to him as a gift, inscribed with the words, “I know you now.”

A full-circle moment for me during one of my own personal co-writing sessions for a “Redemption Songs” program.  (A rare occasion now as I am usually scurrying around running the show, but in the early days I got to jump in as a songwriter.)  My co-songwriter happened to be named Jerry, the same name as my Dad… and we happened to be writing with an inmate who wanted to write a song for his young daughter.  And I  happen to not believe in coincidences but in those sweet divine God wink moments.

Taking it all behind bars…

Those incarcerated within the system are perhaps some of the most intensely stereo-typed and yet often misjudged or misunderstood population groups. Many see no hope for these still-human souls.  But the truth is that the majority of these individuals have finally landed in a place where they are desperate and hungry for change, and just need someone to come along and inspire them to believe that they can.

Because of my life experience, my view of incarceration was naturally vastly different from the majority.   I never developed the stereotypes that the majority of people often have about prisons and inmates and “what kind of people are in there”.   I just saw the humanity and humanness of them, because my Dad was one of them.  So I just saw… people.  I got to know my Dad’s friends in there – people with humor and talents and good hearts and things they loved and histories that brought them there… and people that were also someone’s son or daughter or mother or brother or father.  Just like mine.    

As I visited prisons and correctional facilities of all sorts and levels (everything from local jails to maximum security facilities to prison camps) throughout those twelve years my dad was incarcerated, some profound realizations struck me: the realization that yes, there were some individuals that had committed heinous, unspeakable crimes.  But there were others too, and these “others” actually outnumbered the former.  There were white collar criminals; there were some who had addictions or mental illnesses undiagnosed their entire lives; some who had faced astronomical levels of abuse or domestic violence; some who got caught up in that wrong crowd; and even inmates that it was later discovered were wrongly convicted and had been doing time or most tragically of all executed for a crime they never committed.  Some inmates were there for less serious crimes that many commit, but they simply were the ones who got caught.  And so vastly many of the inmates I saw were there in large part because of a horrific cycle of poverty, abuse, addiction, gangs, and so forth that they were born into and grew up and got stuck in… and that but for the grace of God, that could be me or any one of us in there.

I saw that these human beings enter into the system and become a number and are completely stripped of their humanity, which to me was one of the most heart-breaking things about the prison system.  They get assigned a number, which literally becomes their new name.  It’s the name you write on the paperwork when, as a family member or friend, you go to visit them; the name you write on the envelope when you send them a letter; the name that is often called out for their daily count or mail call, and often printed on their orange or tan solid-colored prison uniform.  But they aren’t just a number to those who love them.  My Dad was not a number to me.  And they shouldn’t be a number to any of us.

Prisons are seen in society as a place of punishment and whether we admit it or not, often as a place where we throw people away in our minds, considering them lost, hopeless souls that we have to just find a place to put away from “the rest of us”.  On the contrary, I believe that for many of these souls, prison can actually be a place where God and healing can do some of its best work… because I’ve seen it happen.  I’ve seen it happen by witnessing my Dad’s extraordinary transformation, as well as the incredibly special relationship I was eventually able to build with him – which I truly believe would never have been at all, had he not been incarcerated.  And I’ve now been witness to story after story testifying to the same in this glorious work I get to do.  

And so, the goal of “Redemption Songs” is to transform these places from one of and all-hope-is-lost condemnation to redemption.  Returning the inmates back to their humanity by telling and reclaiming their stories, finding that which can be salvaged and redeemed – and instead of just regret and pain, creating insight, meaning, and even something beautiful from them.  

I hope my story bears witness to the truth that sometimes these darkest of places in our lives  – yes, even prison – can actually be the very place where the light breaks in and souls are finally set free.

Read more of my story on our Media page, featuring cover feature stories in The University of San Diego Magazine and The American Jail Association Magazine. See it here!

OR… Read the whole story in my upcoming book!!

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:

I’m writing my debut book!!!!

Redemption Song: Your Brokenness is Your Gold

I’m writing my debut book!!!… The one I’ve been dreaming about writing since I was like five years old and was obsessed with books and reading and told everyone I wanted to be an “arthur” when I grew up. 

Except I had no idea that I’d one day be writing the story of my own life, my family’s lives, and the back-story of why I founded a non-profit organization and began the craziest but most incredible journey of my life.  But I AM.  And now I’m inviting you all to be a part of THIS journey throughout my writing process… and all the way through to the book’s release.

Although I hint at it whenever I speak at events for The Beat of Life, most people don’t know my family’s entire story – or you know what we now refer to in the media as the “false narrative”.  It was a long time ago and thankfully decades before social media crashed upon us, but it was a front page and nightly news story for years.  But it is intricately woven into the story behind The Beat of Life – which began with the story of my family’s brokenness as well as the story of my own.  And perhaps most importantly, the story of why I chose to use my life to reach out to all my fellow brokenhearted and downtrodden souls in this world.  

A lot of people have tried to tell versions of it.  There are other books and plenty of pieces written about my Dad, who was the centerpiece of the story, and at one point my family was even offered a movie deal.  But I told my Dad years ago, before he passed away, that I would one day write the “real story”.  And a redemptive one, though at the time I didn’t know what that story would be.    

While it is a tale of our family’s and my own darkest trials, devastations, and often despair – the good, bad, and unfiltered raw and ugly – it is also one of hope and the redemption of it all.  

As I share as honestly as possible a lifetime of brokenness and the subsequent road to redemption through my great vision of the launch of The Beat of Life (of which I also promise to share all the highs and lows and everything in between), my greatest hope is that someone, maybe one of you, might read this and be inspired to press on.  And maybe, like me, to realize that your own brokenness can actually become one of the greatest gifts you can offer to a hurting and desperate world… that it can actually become your gold.  

There are many messages within my story, but one of the strongest I hope readers will take away is this: that the most broken areas of our lives or our selves are not curses or liabilities. They are actually loaded with buried blessings. First, for ourselves, as they have the power to teach us things we would never learn and take us down profound journeys we could never go down and transform us into extraordinary things we otherwise could never become. And then after they do those often miraculous workings in us, they become one of the greatest gifts we can then offer to a hurting world… so we can be of use and service to humanity in a way we also otherwise could not ever possibly be without them. 

Your brokenness is where your GOLD is. 

And that’s really all my story is, and the one I now take to the world. . 

But wait… there’s more.  (Always.)  Because the story of The Beat of Life is not just my own.  It is the story of my comrades in arms that got in the dirt of it all with me so that it could rise into the powerhouse it is… and it is the story of the scores of those we have served at The Beat of Life through the power of music.  

And so, Part Two will give you their stories, too… in their own words.  Hit songwriters, inmates, those battling mental illness, and youth battling their own broken worlds, and more.  They talk about mental health, addiction, abuse, incarceration, disabilities, loss and grief, fractured families and senses of self, and prejudice and poverty.  They talk about any and all kinds of brokenness and each one shares their inspiring stories of how their own personal adversity and trials have become a gift, both in their own lives and in how they are now able to interact with and serve others in the world… in one that needs their inspiration more than ever before.  Finally, they weave in how the life-saving power of music inspired and helped make their own golden stories happen.

Just a few of those faces…

… and more

We invite you to follow us for the journey ahead and sign up for the updates on when the book is ready to pre-order.

Functioning as multiple-purpose pages, here is where I hope to build the community of readers and like-minded souls who are not only interested in the upcoming book, but perhaps in sharing your own story of redemption. 

SO – Follow me, and you’ll get all kinds of behind-the-scenes updates, sneak peeks, special offers, and maybe even a cameo in the book if you throw me an extra awesome idea when I need one!  🙂