The classical group pairs with people who have served time in prison to create music that explores incarceration, rehabilitation, and hope.


Ashley Furst disposed of all her business before turning herself in to federal prison.

He didn’t think he needed them after he served his 27-month sentence. He spent his professional career in communications and marketing.

“I have this mindset that I don’t deserve anything anymore,” he said.

But Furst eventually found the need for business clothes again. He will tell his story — from shedding his underwear to his new position as senior program manager of employment opportunities in the Office of Justice Initiatives — at The Latin Usus Concert.

December 13, in the Aurora People’s Building, will combine writing and music compositions created by a pair of formerly incarcerated people and classical musicians with videos and other works of art.

Artists and formerly incarcerated people participating hope it helps the audience see the humanity of people who have been incarcerated. Most people sentenced to prison will eventually be released back into their communities after serving their time, and the hope managers will see is that these once incarcerated people can be successful and contribute to society after release.

“I feel like I need to tell my story, because maybe it helps me deal with what I’ve been through, but also maybe I feel a deep seated need to show people I’m not bad,” Furst said. “Not everyone who commits crimes is inherently bad – it’s usually a lot more.”

After the killing of George Floyd, members of the classical music group Playground Ensemble felt like they needed to get more involved in social justice issues, founder and director Conrad Kehn said. The chamber music group asked a community organization working with people re-entering society after incarceration to collaborate on the project.

After a few dead ends, they found a volunteer partner in the Theater Ensemble RemergeA Denver non-profit organization that connects people leaving prisons and jails with resources.

Roohallah Mobarez, left, and Conrad Kehn and between the King Center in the field of Aurea in the composition of Kehn's music, which composes Mobarez's voice and narrative about his life in Afghanistan and to the US and his relationship with his father in Nov.  20. 2022. The combined score will be performed live at the Live Use Concert in December.  (Photo By Kathryn Scott/Special to The Denver Post)
Roohallah Mobarez, left, and Conrad Kehn and work inside the King Center on Golden Campus in Denver in a musical composition by Kehn that combines Mobarez’s voice and narration, Nov. 20. 2022. (Photo By Kathryn Scott/Special to The Denver Post)

Roohallah Mobarez, director of operations at Remerg and one of the formerly incarcerated people participating in the concert, wanted to tell a story not only about his time in prison. Instead, he focused on his father, who immigrated to the U.S. with Mobarez and the rest of his family as refugees from Afghanistan in 1993.

In his story he talks about the life of the immigrants and the death of his father. He speaks of himself as a younger man and seeking reconciliation with his father.

“I hope it reminds people of each person and their experiences not to rob them and make someone else that label of felon, condemned, criminal, delinquent – whatever it is,” said Mobarez.

Kehn said some of his favorite students from those decades of teaching are incarcerated people. One of those students stayed in solitary confinement and created a string instrument for the dental room by tying down fluff and using toilet paper as a slide.

“I think a ton of artists and musicians have been incarcerated,” he said.

Mobarez found solace in visual art in prison. He found a mentor who taught him how to make paints out of toilet paper rolls. When he moved the rooms, he often left the paint splattered.

But the musical work is new to him. He tried to explain some melodies and noises he heard in his head to Kehn, who then incorporated the idea into a song. But the creative process continues both ways — Kehn saved 15 audio recordings of closing doors on his Mobarez computer to listen to and determine which ones sounded most like prison doors sliding shut.

“Art moves, pulls the heartstrings,” Mobarez said. “I love five languages ​​and I personally think that loving art is the sixth language – all mediums of art. We can communicate on another level.”

Conrad Kehn, left, and Roohallah Mobarez perform inside the King Center on the Auburn campus in Denver during a musical composition by Kehn that combines Mobarez's voice and narrative about his life in Afghanistan and the US on November 20, 2022. (Photo By Kathryn Scott / Special to The Denver post)
Conrad Kehn left and Roohallah Mobarez inside the King Center on Aurea Campus in Denver in a musical composition on Nov. 20. 2022. (Photo By Kathryn Scott/Special to The Denver Post)

David Coleman, who He was released from prison a year ago after serving for more than 30 years, he found the process of writing and remembering his story to be therapeutic.

“Every time you tell yourself, you know you’re still going through a lot of what you’re saying, but it’s all injected with emotions and trauma,” he said.

The company also has an opening for musicians, Kehn said.

“We’re all a bunch of private school kids,” Kehn said.

“There’s a difference between me and some of the people who do storytelling with privilege and luck,” he said. “How did I slip when others didn’t?”

The Lived Experience Concert will take place on Dec. 7 in the afternoon. 13 at The People’s Building, 9995 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora. There is nothing to be Buy online at playgroundensemble.org.



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