Making a Difference: Lawrence students perform for inmates

A Lawrence University student plays the piano at Oshkosh Correctional Institution, March 7, 2018. (WLUK/Mike Moon)

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WLUK) -- A program between Lawrence University and Oshkosh Correctional Institution is making a difference for both students and inmates.

On Wednesday, Lawrence University music student Nicholas Suminiski performed in a somewhat unusual recital.

"I felt that they were very receptive and very interested in what I was doing," Suminski told FOX 11 News.

Suminski was one of five Lawrence students who played for a group of inmates at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution. He told us he is typically playing for a grade, or critique, so simply sharing his art is refreshing.

"To come here and perform for real people who really appreciate the music is a very different experience," said Suminski.

And it's clear the music had an effect on some of the inmates. Derek Wanner in particular.

"Actually, probably about 10 years ago I started listening to classical. My grandmother always said it's good to have culture and stuff like that," inmate Derek Wanner told FOX 11.

Some of the students played their own compositions, while others played pieces by famous composers like Rachmaninoff and Chopin.

"I feel happy. I don't know, I really enjoyed it. Every piece was great. Rachmaninoff is one of my favorite composers and I also like Chopin," said Wanner.

The school and prison started these programs three years ago. The warden told us it's a benefit to the inmates.

"They're learning something. We have a lot of inmates who really have an appreciation for music and it really gives them a change to kind of delve into that too," explained Warden Judy Smith.

The professor who runs the program says it has a profound effect on the students too.

"Remember that, that everybody is complicated and that, for whatever reason they may be in prison, that doesn't mean that we can't communicate," explained Professor Cathy Kautsky, who is the chair of the university's piano department.

"It shows that you can connect to people across a lot of different boundaries and, maybe, we're not all so different," added Suminski.

Wanner told us us he agrees completely.

"We are human, we do enjoy experiencing culture and learning. So it's something I appreciate every chance we get to do this," he said.

The program began as a once-year piano recital. Now it includes other performances like jazz.

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