Why do he and his fellow musicians, including Jake Hoffman and Josh Rollson, both multi-instrumentalists, do it?
"We're not looking to change the world, nothing like that," Svendsen says. "People who are in prison tend to be low achievers, and for lots of reasons, so this is something that they can succeed at.
"It helps to show them a better side of themselves. They may or may not pursue music any further than just this project. If it only helps them to see that there's more value to who they are than their (criminal) record and their issues, that's good enough for me. And I think it helps us as society . . . That's the real purpose of the CDs. It's to hopefully help the public to hear what these people have to say. And to give these people who happen to be prisoners a voice. And to get people to think about people who are incarcerated."
Svendsen and Hopkins both make the same central point when talking about why programs like this are most important: All of the prisoners "will be released at some point," Svendsen says. "They're coming back. They're going to be a part of our community one way or another."
"We need to give them tools to be productive members of society," Hopkins says. "That is my goal. My goal is to work myself out of a job. It will never happen, but I'm working on it."
According to the participants, and those who oversee them, the program helps. "For me to finally be able to say I wrote a song without being drunk or high, or for that matter to remember what I wrote and how I played it, was a huge thing for me," writes Matt "Irish" Moscillo, part of P6 and the Windham Philharmonic and the frontman for two long and winding metal ballads. Having spent three years homeless, often ignoring his family's attempts to help him, he calls making the disc "one of my life's personally proud moments. For once I was sober and clean, playing my own as well as contributing to other's music."
"I looked forward to it every week," writes Justin Rowell-Savage, another Philharmonic member, who contributes the goofy, punk-lite "Lithuanian Drinking Song." "Being able to come together with a group of people I've never met before and create beautiful music."
Are the CDs comparable with the better locally released discs here in Maine? Of course not. They're recorded in a prison, with less-than-ideal equipment, and the "bands" are thrown together quickly with large variety in talent levels. Svendsen says he sometimes purposely selects applicants for his program with no musical ability whatsoever, just so they can have a new experience. There's a lot of rough around the edges.
But there's no doubt this discs are humanizing, as intended. The is a lot of anger and depression and regret on these albums, but also silliness and wit. The vocals, even when they are weak, are often tinged with vulnerability. There are no big radio singles here, but there are things to think about.