Traveling throughout Poland now is a group of musicians who come from a rather unusual background. The band, Paragraf 64, is comprised entirely of current prison inmates that combine metal with hip-hop. They are part of a service program aimed to rehabilitate prisoners through community service. I had the opportunity to see this band perform live here in Warsaw, and it provided an interesting insight into the way these men are treated within the Polish corrective services.

Paragraf 64 was first formed in 2008. It’s current composition has been together since 2013. The name comes from the 64th paragraph of the Criminal Code which concerns recidivism, or the tendency for someone who has been convicted of a criminal act to commit another criminal act. The band’s mission is allow members to publicly apologize for their crimes and make amends though constructive community service.

The band is organized and supported by the Sławek Foundation. This group assists prisoners and juvenile detainees by supporting reintegration into society and supports convicts’ families. The foundation runs job training programs and offers psychological counseling and legal assistance. The funds to buy instruments and recording equipment was more than halfway covered by Paragraf 64’s members themselves, and the rest was provided by crowdfunding and album sales from their first record called My Guardian Angel.

The four current members of Paragraf 64 are all currently incarcerated at a prison located in Strzelce Opolskie, a small town to the west of Kraków in the south-west of Poland.

The concert I attended was hosted at the Academy of Special Education, a university for various pedagogical fields of study. I only knew the building and room number the event would be in, and after inevitably getting lost in the wrong building on campus, I eventually found the right place. In a hallway I saw a few people wearing Paragraf 64 t-shirts, and I followed them into an “aula,” or lecture hall.

When I entered, the event had already began with a panel of speakers at the front of the hall next to where the band would soon play. It was, of course, entirely in Polish, so I only understood a few things here and there, but I could understand that they were discussing the band, the program, and their purposes. After a short introduction, the group began to play. They have four members: a drummer, bassist, guitarist, and vocalist, and a second vocalist that raps on a few of the tracks. The audience members were mostly university-aged students, and it seemed like most of the room was having an enjoyable time.

I first noticed that the bass player was one of the men I saw earlier in the hallway. I was so surprised that the guys that participate in this, all active prisoners serving lengthy sentences, are actually able to walk around freely in the facility. In fact, I didn’t see a single police officer in the room, at least not obviously in uniform. It was amazing to see in action the amount of trust that they had built within the program; they do seem quite genuine in their motives for forming the group and in their message for society.

Although these band members still have considerable time left on their sentences, it’s great that they have the opportunity to give back to society while serving that time. This venture gives them and everyone involved a unique chance to develop practical work skills in recording and performing, gives them confidence and something to work for and achieve, and thus, hopefully, gives them a jump start on the rehabilitation and reintegration process back into Polish society.

You can find more about Paragraf 64 on their Facebook page, including information about tours and performances.

One of their more recent hits is Mój anioł stróż or “My Guardian Angel,” which is a ballad to mothers and an apology to their mothers for how their lives turned out.

Text to “My Guardian Angel”

Odkąd pamiętam zawsze przy mnie byłaś,
Po jasnej stronie życia za rękę prowadziłaś,
Umiałaś przewidzieć mój niepewny krok,
W twoich ramionach byłem bezpieczny gdy zapadał mrok,
Lekiem na mój płacz był Twój ciepły głos,
Z Twoją kołysanką nie straszna była noc,
Dzięki Tobie serce moje bije i chce żyć,
Twojej wielkiej miłości nie zastąpi nic:

Tylko Ty; w całym świecie fałszu:
Tylko Ty; bezinteresowna:
Tylko ty; w całym zakłamniu:
Tylko Ty; miłość mimo wszystko!

Gdy nadeszły złe dni próbowałaś mnie obronić,
Ale to memu sercu brakowało silnej woli,
Tylko ty byłaś przy mnie przez najgorszy czas,
Nawet gdy cała reszta nie dawała mi już szans,
Dziś już znam i doceniam wszystkie twe starania,
I wiem, że nie łatwo jest kochać takiego drania,
I dlatego jeszcze bardziej jestem wdzięczny Ci mamo,
Że jesteś przy mnie przez te wszystkie gorsze dni:

Tylko Ty; w całym świecie fałszu:
Tylko Ty; bezinteresowna:
Tylko ty; w całym zakłamaniu:
Tylko Ty; miłość mimo wszystko!

Właśnie Ty, tylko Ty
Ubrana w białe sukno
Jak anioł przy mnie stałaś
Traktowałaś jak swe bóstwo,
Nie było kochać trudno,
Choć trudny mój charakter
Prawdziwa miłość Twoja
bezinteresowna zawsze
Miałem w Tobie matkę
I codzienny oddech życia,
Choć bieda doskwierała
Nie zabrała mi dzieciństwa,
Bo byłaś zawsze blisko
W mym sercu pozostanie
Twa miłość, ta nad wszystko,
Nad wieki wychowanie.

Tylko Ty; w całym świecie fałszu:
Tylko Ty; bezinteresowna:
Tylko ty; w całym zakłamaniu:
Tylko Ty; miłość mimo wszystko!

Aniele mój, stróżu mój,
to dla Ciebie te słowa,
Nigdy nie będę w stanie
Ci za wszystko podziękować,
lecz mimo to,
chcę tylko byś wiedziała,
jaką wielką miłość memu sercu dałaś:

Tylko Ty; w całym świecie fałszu:
Tylko Ty; bezinteresowna:
Tylko ty; w całym zakłamaniu:
Tylko Ty; miłość mimo wszystko!

Tylko Ty; w całym świecie fałszu:
Tylko Ty; bezinteresowna:
Tylko ty; w całym tym szaleństwie:
Tylko Ty; miłość ponad wszystko:
Tylko Ty!

One of their most popular songs is Deja Vu, which is a bit harder in style:

– Text by Callie Rades, a senior at Stetson University majoring in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. She is currently studying abroad for an academic year in Warsaw, Poland in the Security and Society program at Collegium Civitas. Find more by Callie here.

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