Impact

Myles Bullen: Musical Healing Beyond Prison Walls

Myles Bullen: Musical Healing Beyond Prison Walls

Creativity, connection and community…

That’s what encompasses the work of Myles Bullen, a Native American musician, poet and performer from Portland, Maine—and one of Music to Life’s Northern New England Accelerator participants.

Over the past few years, Bullen has performed in schools, prisons and recovery centers around the world. Just last year, Bullen finished a 90-day tour across 33 states, documenting a journey on Instagram as he performed at 50 shows. 

For Bullen, performing and having a message resonate is just as important as teaching people to use music to express their own struggles. Through tours, Bullen has built relationships by directly connecting with communities by sharing art and leading creative writing workshops. 

“Music is my main therapeutic practice. Writing, recording and performing for me, is a creative exercise that opens me up to healing and healthy expression,” Bullen writes on his site

Bullen’s more recent work—developed through Music to Life’s Accelerator—involves a partnership with University of Maine professor, Robert Burnheim to create “Survivor Stories”—a 15-week residency with prison inmates on writing and performance. Myles describes their work as “an act of harm reduction” and “offering healing and modalities and tools to the people that are in there [prisons], while they’re in there.” 

After his first introductory performance at the prison, Bullen remembers, “We had a three-hour circle conversation where we all just talked about healing, about trauma, and about law, and about injustice. It was just amazing.” 

Having witnessed the impact of this one session, the Maine State Prison Warden asked if Bullen and Burnheim would teach the same workshop to the prison guards.  

The two had plans to launch Survivor Stories as early as this summer, but when COVID-19 struck, things took a whole new turn. “Since quarantine, I lost my grandfather, and my father and 4 tours. Just in the first week of March,” Bullen shares. 

Despite these tough losses and the cancelled shows and events, Bullen is fearlessly navigating the virtual world, striving to continue connecting with communities in need. So far, that entails shifting Survivor Stories to an online model for the fall, and teaching three creative writing workshops a week, thanks to Zoom. 

Coping as an independent musician in the middle of a pandemic has many challenges. But what sets Bullen apart from many others is a desire to be a part of meaningful change through music and activism. “I’ve realized I’m not chasing after a million individual people. I’m actually just trying to communicate that what I’m saying is worthy of a million ears to one person.” 

The Accelerator program empowers activist-musicians like Bullen with opportunities for professional development while also amplifying their impact through collaboration and community involvement.

Bullen is set to perform at Music to Life’s next virtual house concert on September 13. Grab your seats here!