Larry Joe, who found his music behind bars, now inspires others
Larry Joe voluntarily turned himself in to police in South Africa, then found music in prison. He's turned his life around and now preaches against drugs and gangs.
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Cyril Van Wyk, the warden for Douglas Correctional Center, says that the guards immediately could tell that Larry Joe was different from other prisoners. On the outside, he was lean and tough-looking. But soon they noticed his voice, singing in the exercise yard. And they started asking him to sing at prison events.Skip to next paragraph
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Songs that Larry Joe had written in solitary confinement left crowds spellbound, according to Mr. Van Wyk. The moment Larry Joe opened his mouth, he turned into someone completely different.
"He's not a hardened criminal. He's very humble," Van Wyk says. "We miss him. Not that we'd want to have him as a prisoner. But it's his spirit – his cellmates still talk about him."
A chance encounter helped to set Larry Joe on a new path. At a concert in the prison for World AIDS Day, Larry Joe was on stage, warming up the crowd before the main act, a successful South African band called Freshlyground.
The band's keyboard player, Aron Turest-Swartz, was entranced by Larry Joe. He stayed in touch, and after leaving Freshlyground to start a career as a music producer, Mr. Turest-Swartz helped Larry Joe record an album, "Crazy Life," inside the walls of Douglas prison.
Now released on parole, Larry Joe mixes paid performances with motivational speaking, talking at prisons and schools about his journey from crime to positive creativity.
At the Herzlia School in Cape Town, Larry Joe recently held students enraptured. "This is a story that grabs kids, and they want him to do well," says Mark Helfrich, head of curriculum development at United Herzlia Schools, who attended Larry Joe's talk in late March.
At a time when popular culture glamorizes crime, Larry Joe is doing just the opposite, and the message strikes a powerful chord with students, Mr. Helfrich says.
"This was a story of a guy making good. I was amazed by the impact that he had on our kids.... It's a story that has to be powerful when so many kids in our country have so little hope."
Larry Joe's rehabilitation is an example to other prisoners, says Gustav Wilson.
"As a prisoner, he wanted to make something of himself. He didn't give up on himself," says Mr. Wilson, acting regional director for Northern Cape Correctional Services. "He can have a powerful effect on others because he can tell a story of his life to music."
• To learn more go to larryjoelive.com