Brianna Wu

Unique Jones and Magali Fernandez sat facing each other in the back of a truck parked next to the New Haven Correctional Center. Microphone raised, Jones asked, “What does liberation feel like to you?”

“Chains falling,” Fernandez replied. “Doors opening, wind. Laughter in the wind.”

Jones, a student at James Hillhouse High School, and Fernandez, a city employee, were participating in Sounds for Liberation, an audio project developed by Artspace New Haven that was broadcast on Oct. 14 and 15 as part of the City-Wide Open Studios series. Sounds for Liberation commentates on the conjunction of the jail and the Goffe Street Armory, two institutions that share a city block, by examining the fracturing and isolating nature of mass incarceration and its effects on the surrounding community.

On Saturday, a small crowd gathered around the Sounds for Liberation truck, decorated on one side with musical notes, birds and fractured images of men behind bars — the artwork of a Correctional Center workshop participant. Under a gray sky, attendees listened to live interviews with community volunteers as well as pre-recorded spoken word poetry, musical pieces and personal testimonies. All of the media were designed and developed by members of the New Haven community, including students, correctional officers, residents and detainees.

Maria Gaspar, the lead artist behind Sounds for Liberation, explained that she wanted to “use art as a way to talk about the institution of incarceration,” with a concentration on the various meanings of liberation. As she was conducting workshops for the project, she discovered that neighborhood figures, notably detainees, could tell them “what liberation isn’t.”

“That’s what they felt like they knew more about, than what liberation is,” she said.

Youths who worked on Sounds for Liberation shared their experiences living in a neighborhood with a correctional facility in interviews with the News.

Devon Smith, a classmate of Jones at Hillhouse, said he views the presence of the Correctional Center as a force for both good and bad.

“On one hand, kids might see that and be like, I don’t want to end up like that,” Smith said. “But they also have to see so many people coming in and out.”

Ella Wiggins, whose house is directly across from the correctional facility, offered space in her backyard as parking for visitors to Open Studios on Saturday. In her 18 years on Hudson Street, she said, the noise coming from the jail has diminished, although some persists.

“We really don’t like it, the yelling and banging,” she said. “It’s bad at night.”

Ranasia Manning, a teenage resident of the neighborhood, said she “really liked” the audio project, citing the spoken-word poetry as her favorite element.

Participants in Sounds for Liberation interviewed by the News said they were pleased with the project.

Jennifer Lopez, a student involved in the project since its conception, said she was “really happy with the result.” As a youth worker on the project, she was given an audio recorder and prompted to tape sounds that reminded her of liberation. She sang and played the ukulele and flute.

“I chose jazz,” she said, “because it doesn’t have rules like classical music. It’s fluid, like, it’s up for interpretation, and that reminds me of liberation.”

In a live interview for the performance with Smith, Jones said that by working on Sounds for Liberation she learned how to get people to “open up” and talk to other people. Smith responded that he already liked to talk, but said the project helped him learn to talk for a “good cause.”

Among the contributors to the project was Nyaysa Moye, a classmate of Jones and Smith. She said she wrote a poem for a friend who’s been detained for three months in the Correctional Center. Moye said she hopes for his release in a month, but knows that he may be incarcerated for years if sentenced.

Asked to recite her favorite line from the poem, she said, “Freedom and free him.”

Brianna Wu |