Country Music artist & Nashville actor Mark Collie was recently name as Corizon Health's Music Therapy Ambassador. He will be working with Corizon's behavioral health team to develop evidence-based best practices for integrating music into group counseling sessions into two Tennessee State Prisons. (1 Mens and 1 Womens prisons). His goal is to bring hope and inspiration to those who may have no hope left through music and faith.
He is picking up the legacy of his mentor and friend Johnny Cash and coming full circle - from performing at Brushy Mountain for inmates (with Tim McGraw and many other big names), to going to spending time with inmates and teaching them music as shown in his documentary "The Mountain" and now he is launching a prison music therapy program.
Collie will be working a pilot program focused on inmates diagnosed with a variety of mental illnesses such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety, and Substance Abuse Disorder has launched at two Tennessee correctional facilities. The initiative will involve groups receiving a trauma-focused curriculum with music activities to highlight teaching points from the program. During weekly sessions, Collie will lead music expression through a variety of techniques including songwriting, singing and playing musical instruments.
The program was inspired in part by Collie's recently released documentary "The Mountain", which premiered on the Blaze and DISH network last year in conjunction with the re-release of his critically acclaimed live album recording Mark Collie & His Reckless Companions: Alive At Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary (Eagle Rock Entertainment). The album was originally recorded in 2001 live for the inmates at Brushy Mountain, carrying on the legacy of Collie's friend and inspiration Johnny Cash.
Q: Mark, thanks for doing this interview with us. I grew up listening to your music so this is such an honor. Let's start from the beginning, how did you get signed to MCA Records?
I had been struggling in Nashville for a number of years trying to break in as a writer artist, and it had a little success, but nothing to write home about. And then in 1988, I was playing a showcase for some of my songs in a place called Douglas Corner Café. Tony Brown and Bruce Hinton of MCA Records came to hear me perform and met me as I came off stage after the set, and offered me a recording contract. In fact, they were so excited about it, and I was too, that they asked me to sign a napkin until they could get a contract over to my manager. That's how I got signed.
Q: Over the course of the next few years, you got quite a few hits and hit albums. And you got Deborah Allen and even Carlene Carter singing with you on record. What were some of the highlights for you then?
There are so many highlights in the early days and all through the years that I have been blessed to have a music career. Certainly, recording with artists like Deborah and Carlene was a great privilege, but I also working with Tony Brown and all the great iconic hit makers in Nashville was a highlight but having my songs play on the radio was a lifelong goal and certainly a highlight. The first time I started hearing my music on the radio, that allowed me to tour and get to know and meet many of my heroes like Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard and The Oa Ridge Boys, so I guess you can it was all my dreams coming true, in those days.
Q: You also began your role as a producer where you have produced records by Christian artists such as Kyle Sherman and Horn Family. Are you still producing albums for other artists?
I do produce, I still enjoy working with new and developing artists, and I enjoy working on that side of the microphone. Working with Kyle Sherman and the Horn Family allowed me to have a chance to collaborate and write a variety of songs including gospel songs. I'm very proud of that and I look forward to having a chance to do it again, but we're pretty busy with the other thing we have going on right now.
Q: Being a Christian publication, we like to know about your faith. When and how did you come to know Christ?
I was blessed to be raised in a home with a mother and a grandmother who prayed. They taught all of us, my brother and my sister and I, the ways of the Lord at an early age. I came to know Jesus as a young man. I'm very glad that it's been a wonderful walk, well it is still, today.
Q: You also have a passion for prisoners where you have developed a training program for them. Tell us more about this ministry?
I'm currently working with Corizon Health, they're a health provider for inmates in prisons around the country, and they do such a great job. They asked me to come take part with them and bring music therapy in particular, into the mental health areas of the inmate population. I'm trying to do my part to bring, what I believe, is the healing power of music and song to inmates struggling with anything, from PTSD to opioid addictions, depression, and try to help prepare many of them for reentry back into society. It's just so important and I believe we're making a really positive difference.
Q: Last year you also released "Alive at Brushy Mountain" which was not only recorded in a prison but it was also inspired by Johnny Cash. Tell us more.
Alive at Brushy Mountains was a where I began working with inmates and getting to know them and trying to help make a difference. Merle Haggard was an inmate at San Quentin when Johnny Cash came to perform there for the first time. Merle shared with me how much it meant to him and how it helped him to find hope to refocus his life. I thought if I took my guitar to Brushy Mountain I might be able to inspire someone with a song or a visit or just a kind word, trying to help them find the hope and faith to turn their lives around, and find a better way of life. So, that's where I began at Brushy, and it was a long and enlightening and sometimes a struggle, to get the Brushy Mountain project done, But anytime I felt like I didn't know what I should do, the next day I'd always read Acts 16: 25 in the Bible about Paul and Silas and it inspired me to keep seeing this through.
Q: What's next for you? Personally, I would love for you to make a Christian music album! Is that something you've thought of doing?
What's next for me? I'm currently writing songs for a new album, and we hope to have that ready by spring of 2018. And yes, I love gospel music and I look forward to when I have an opportunity to make a gospel album. In fact, that's on our list for next fall. But if you all pray for me on that end, maybe I'll write some songs that'll make a difference there.