“Terminal” song

Background of “Terminal”

The idea to write Terminal began when Cody and I became roommates in May of 2019. For years
I have wanted to learn how to play guitar. I bought one 10 years prior which sat in the corner of
the cell collecting dust. So, when Cody moved in, I thought there is no better time to start learning.
In the beginning he began teaching me basic chords which did not last long before we decided to
learn “The Best of my Love” by The Eagles. That only lasted a few weeks before we decided we
wanted to write our own song. We tossed around a few ideas on what the song should be about
before we settled on Terminal. The idea for Terminal came from a little piece I wrote on the
bottom of the same page the lyrics are on, which is labeled “The Origin of Terminal.” Before Cody
and I became roommates, I wrote this piece for Carrie, a friend of mine who works at the University
of Drexel. She was writing an article about life without parole, aka Death by Incarceration (DBI),
and she asked me to write something for the article. So, this is what I came up with.

When Cody moved in, he read it. One day, amid trying to figure out what we were going to write
the song about, we discussed a Ted Talk that the women from State Correctional Institution Muncy
did. Most of the women in the Ted Talk are serving a DBI sentence. At the end of the Ted Talk they
sing a song called “This Is Not My Home” which became a rally call for people serving DBI. So, we
said we should write our own rally call song for people serving DBI. Cody mentioned the piece I
wrote for Carrie and said we should title it “Terminal.” And so that was how the idea got started.
We agreed to work on the song in the 7′ x 13′ cage we are housed in. We got together every week
on Mon., Wed., and Fri. during head count at 11:30 am — 1 pm. Cody sat on the toilet and I sat
on the steel stool right beside my bunk as we drank coffee, bouncing ideas off each other.
At first, we threw around ideas about what the core of the song should be about. We agreed it
should be about redemption which we believe is an inherent Right that is being denied to people
serving DBI. As you can tell, the opening lyric is about redemption, “Get up when you fall, that’s
what they always told me.” Each verse is strategically thought out. The 1st verse is about what led
up to the harm; the 2nd, the events after the verdict is handed down and the transformation a
person goes through while incarcerated; and the 3rd is calling out the unjust hypocritical criminal
legal system.

The lyrics were not only inspired by each of our experiences, but also by people in history who led
nonviolent movements such as Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), and Ghandi. Examples:
“…systematic stones cast down…” is from the parable Jesus told about the woman accused of
adultery. In the parable, a group of men had a woman surrounded ready to stone her to death for
adultery. Jesus walked up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at
her first” (John 8: 7). No one cast the first stone because it would have been hypocritical to do so
because they were all sinners. So, they let the woman live. The lyrics, “denial of REDEMPTION
anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is a word play on a famous quote by MLK, “Injustice
ANYWHERE is a threat to justice everywhere” (emphasis mine). And “…until they die, and we all
go blind…” comes from Ghandi’s quote, “If it were eye for an eye, we’d all be blind.” We chose
these 3 people because of, not only their nonviolent approach, but in many ways their movements
are still relevant and in progress today.

All in all, it took about 5 – 6 months before we were able to get all the lyrics and music finished and
rehearse it enough to be able to perform it together. Since then, we have done many different
individual and group performances.

Our goal for the song is to have as many people as possible hear it to bring awareness around DBI
sentences and the criminal legal system. Once people are educated, our hope is that it will spur
them along to take action to do something to change the system. We decided to record the song
hoping it will greatly help in this endeavor. So, please enjoy and share with as many people as you

Through a friend of Cody, we were able to get Terminal recorded. Philadelphia-based musician
Andrew Lipke performed guitar and vocals. He really enjoyed working on this and wanted to
express his support for the cause.

Origin of “Terminal”:

Life without parole (LWOP) is like having terminal cancer. It is a death sentence without a cure. You may try a few rounds of chemotherapy (the years of futilely fighting in the appeals courts), but you know the chances are slim to non to get any reprieve. Your loved ones desperately sit by your side wanting to help in any way, but they don’t know how. They helplessly watch you wither away slowly from the cancer (the traumatic and stressful years of being incarcerated) until you finally succumb to your condition. One of the differences between terminal cancer and LWOP is with cancer the pain and suffering ends quickly, with LWOP it is a slow torturous death of 30, 40, 50+ years. This is why we call it by its true name, death by incarceration (DBI). -Robert LaBarr


By: Robert LaBarr and Cody Stuhltrager
Get up when you fall, that’s what they always told me
destructive patterns drawn, got caught up in the fold
blind and reckless paths, fusses burning slowly
destined for a crash, mourning and confusion
I wish these wounds would heal
But it’s terminal, a spiraling distress, a never answered why?
terminal, it’s one life laid to rest and another cast aside
it’s the end of the line
The gavel falls, the sentence quells the cries for vengeance, yet we dwell
on fragments of potential, shattered, born, and battered by this hell
frozen places house the memories of the lives before these crimes
frozen faces, online pages, locked in cages until they die
now tell me why
until they die
and we all go blind
terminal, screaming out for love, but no one hears me cry
terminal, nothing is enough, no matter how hard I try
still it’s the end of…
The way things were, we can’t go back, seasons pass, but still within my mind
you have been right here with me, all these years I’ve spent inside
the sleepless nights, the tears I’ve cried, I’ve put to work these weathered hands of time
ensuring that you won’t get left behind
ensuring that your memory’s kept alive
terminal, we’re screaming out for mercy, but no one hears our cry
terminal, nothing is enough, no manner how hard we try
Denial of redemption anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, but they say their hands are tied
the cycle is sustained by suffering, to balance death they bury one alive, people in despair
systematic stones cast down distort the justice they claim to provide, moralities collide
paralyzed progress, caught in no man’s land, this burden we can’t bear, doesn’t anybody care
That with one eye for an eye
little pieces of us die
so let’s abolish DBI

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