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The Nathaniel Project

The Nathaniel Project, Mutual of America’s 2021 Community Partnership Award Winner

Last year, Erik Blicker and Glenn Schloss once again teamed up with Jeff Schwartz of Primalux Video for Mutual of America’s Community Partnership Award video. In 2021, that prize went to New York City’s own Nathaniel Project. Launched in 2000 by the Center for Alternative Sentencing & Employment Services (CASES), the alternative-to-incarceration program (ATI) serves people with serious mental illness facing prison time for felony charges. For decades, the incarceration system in the United States has served as a last resort for individuals with mental illness. There are more people living with serious mental illness detained in jails and prisons than being served in psychiatric treatment centers. With little access to mental health services in their communities, resources only lessen once detained.

As a result, prison is often an especially traumatic experience, with many individuals experiencing increased violence behind bars. Upon release, they struggle to land on their feet and recidivism amongst people with mental illness is high. Working with the city and the courts, The Nathaniel Project identifies people indicating psychiatric distress. CASES works with the client and their defense attorney, develops a treatment and community reintegration plan, and defers sentencing pending a 2-to-3 year treatment period. With specialists ranging from medication, to housing, to employment, and more, CASES’ state-licensed Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team starts work with the client.

“They mention showing the world ‘the person behind the person’ through this program, which I loved. We often say we’re writing ‘the story behind the story’ when we score. Pulling that person out, that ‘light in darkness’ theme, was paramount.”

Erik Blicker, composer

Jeff started, as he usually does, with pre-interviews with members of the organization via Zoom. With CASES in New York, travel wasn’t as much of a factor, as with 2020’s organization. That being said, due to COVID restrictions and case numbers in the city’s prison system, setting interview times was the main challenge. As production was finally wrapping in late September, Jeff took an initial theme idea to Flavorlab Score. “The vision of the organization focuses on that light of a brighter day. A future where these people live their best lives and through public health we achieve public safety,” explains Jeff. “But they start out in really compounding dark places. Mentally in turmoil, in need of meds, facing imprisonment, so that light in darkness had to be our theme.”

Drawing on some of the benefits of last year’s remote sessions, Glenn and Erik cut together a demo for Jeff to cut to in post. Later that fall, the three reunited to record. “I could really leave it in their hands, but being with them is too much fun,” explains Jeff. “It was a blessing being in the room together again,” echoes Glenn. The homecoming for the trio started with honing the reggae sound. They miked up the kit to get the right thump, utilizing plenty of SM57s, added in some nylon guitar, and brought in Judd Nielsen to lay down the bass. With the instrumental set, powerhouse vocalist Keith Fluitt laid down the top line. Long time collaborator and Bruce Springsteen backing vocalist, Cindy Mizelle, joined in on harmony.

Adding the final flourish, audio engineer Eric Stern sound designed the tick of a prison cell door into the snare. From here, Flavorlab Sound finalized the video mix.

Keith & Cindy in the studio

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