In this follow-up Frontiers, we revisit the Lullaby Project at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River.

Some of the highlights:

  • Lullaby Project 2017. Hiland inmates hear recordings of the lullabies they wrote for their children, with help from local artists who put their words to music and recorded the songs on a CD. 

  • Angels from Heaven. A look at the life of a lullaby and some of the surprises it brought to Shawn Muese’ Fesagaiga, who took part in the Lullaby Project last year as an inmate. She called her lullaby “Angels from Heaven,” because that’s how she thinks of her children. Shawn is now out of prison, and we got to meet three of her angels from heaven. They’re proud that their mother returned to Hiland this year, not as an inmate, but as a mentor and performer in the Lullaby 2017.

  • Conversation with Dean Williams. KTVA’s Emily Carlson talks with the Commissioner of Corrections about legislation to roll back some of the prison reforms passed last year in Senate Bill 91. Williams also talks about the impact of Alaska’s opioid crisis on the prison system, as well as the five heroin overdoses which took place at Hiland during a 24-hour period on Nov. 1.

One of the amazing things about working on Frontiers is that we get to spend some time with those who tell us their stories. And the stories of the Hiland moms aren’t easy ones to share.

Last year, photojournalist Will Mader and I spent a lot of time at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and got to know some of the moms.

We had a chance to follow Shawn Muese’ Fesagaiga’s lullaby -- from its painful birth to its moving public debut -- when it was performed at a concert held at Hiland with backup vocals from a Samoan choir. 

That lullaby continues to live on, as we saw when we visited her at the New Hope Safe Living Home, a transitional housing program for female inmates, run by Alaska Correctional Ministries.

Shawn says this program has helped to prevent her from returning to her old life as a meth addict. She says she’s made a list of her triggers -- and wants everyone in the house to watch out for them, so she doesn’t relapse.  

Diana Palin manages the home. Her own struggles with addiction were in the headlines when her famous sister, Sarah, was running for Vice President. Now she helps others get their lives back on track.

Diana knew Shawn when they were both in treatment and says she shows all the signs of someone who will succeed in finding a new life.

Shawn’s children are allowed to visit – and this is the side of the equation that most of us do not see – how children are affected by their parent’s incarceration. I was profoundly moved by the power of the bond between Shawn and three of her sons, despite her five years in prison.

A year ago, the project was just an idea.

Shirley Mae Springer Staten, a longtime Anchorage community activist and director of the Keys to Life Alaska program, knew she had to bring it here -- when she first heard a story about a Carnegie Institute Lullaby Project on National Public Radio.

She said, “I dared to dream big.”  

And the dream keeps getting bigger. Next year, she hopes to start a lullaby project for fathers in prison.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Lullaby Project, here’s a link to the Keys to Life website.

Also, here’s a link to last year’s Frontiers program on the Lullaby Project:


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