Stang '08 using music therapy to help maximum security inmates

Release Date: 9/10/2013

It's hard to imagine Amanda Stang, a petite young woman standing right at 5-feet tall, commanding a yard full of Level 4 maximum security inmates, but that's exactly what she's doing as the newest recreation therapist at California State Prison-Sacramento (CSP-Sac) in Folsom, Cal.

Stang, a 2008 Ozarks graduate, specializes in music therapy, using musical intervention techniques to help inmates with mental health disorders.

"CSP-Sac is just up the road from the iconic Old Folsom Prison where Johnny Cash performed and recorded his famous live 'At Folsom Prison' album." Stang said. "That facility is a lower, minimum-medium security prison, whereas CSP-Sac is a Level 4 maximum security prison. This facility is home to a majority of the state's mental health inmates. The inmates with whom I work are all diagnosed with some type of mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression."

Originally from Albuquerque, N.M, Stang graduated from Ozarks with a degree in music and a minor in psychology before going on to earn a master's degree in music therapy from University of the Pacific in Stockton, Cal.

"I was first introduced to music therapy by Dr. David DeSeguirant, who was the choir director and music professor at U of O my freshman year," Stang said. "I was interviewing him as a source for a paper about music education, and he mentioned an interest in music therapy. I had never heard of music therapy and immediately began questioning him further. After becoming more acquainted with music therapy as a profession, I knew exactly what it was I wanted to do with my life."

According to Stang, music therapy is an incredibly gratifying career choice.

"Watching the results of music therapy interventions I've designed and implemented actually benefit my clients is an indescribable feeling," she said. "I've been lucky enough to receive help with accomplishing my own life goals and knowing that I get to pay that forward by helping others achieve their goals in development, communication, cognitive processing, motor functioning, and many other areas of functioning is all I could ever want. Knowing that I may have helped at least one person each day at work is the most rewarding experience I've ever had."

Stang's duties at CSP-Sac include facilitating groups focused on leisure activities, lyric analysis, spirituality, coping skills, and music theory and application. 

"The types of goals we work on through therapy tend to be focused on impulse control, anger management, coping skills, expressive and receptive communication, interpersonal skills, reality orientation, relaxation skills, and cognitive processing," Stang explained. "My day starts with a one-hour morning group held on the yard. Yes, the actual yard. We bring out guitars, sports equipment, and magazines. The inmates can participate as they choose. This is a very loosely structured group and meant to provide the inmates with some leisure activity as well as relaxation."

Stang also works with different levels of inmates.

"The groups range from Extended Outpatient Program inmates, who have mental health disorders but are well-behaved, to Administrative Segregation, or Ad-Seg, inmates who have gotten in trouble while in prison and are awaiting verdicts in the jail within the prison. There are also solitary confinement, or PSU inmates, who have been found guilty of a committing a crime within prison and are now housed in the prison within the prison," Stang said. "The Ad-Seg and PSU groups are interesting because each inmate is confined to a therapeutic module, an individual metal cage about the size of a telephone booth, and must participate in the group through limited means."

Stang admits to a certain amount of nervousness when she accepted a position in such a secure facility, but she put aside those fears in order to help those who most needed her skills.

"I have experience working with a forensic population in a state hospital, a psychiatric hospital in San Antonio, so I already had an understanding of what it's like to work in a locked down facility," she said. "However, the prison setting takes that locked down procedure to a much more intense level. Walking into the prison is always a daunting experience, but I feel very comfortable and confident that my fellow recreation therapists, as well as the guards, will protect me should any type of violent or dangerous situation take place."

Stang also understands that her expertise is needed in this population.

"I'm highly interested in working with the mental health population. More specifically, I am interested in working with patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), as well as other neurologic disorders. I am most interested in working with veterans. However, prisoners also often suffer from these disorders, and I can gain excellent experience working with this population," she explained.

In no uncertain terms, Stang credits Ozarks with her success both during and after her undergraduate work.

"Ozarks prepared me for working hard and maintaining a healthy balance of confidence and humility," Stang said. "I wouldn't be where I am without University of the Ozarks. I couldn't be happier with the direction my life has taken and the career choice I made. I worked extremely hard throughout my college years, but I also received an enormous amount of help from others. My ultimate goal has always been to give back all that Ozarks gave to me. I'm so thankful to all my professors and various other staff who pushed me. Without them, my dreams would never even have been realized, much less accomplished. Ozarks will always hold an important place in my heart."