The doors at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary have been closed for seven years, since 2009. However, once upon a time, the facility was a place that you didn’t want to enter if you were in the Volunteer State. The maximum-security prison was home to some of the South’s most hardened criminals. And, in 1999, it brought Mark Collie one of his artistic triumphs.
It was at that point that the singer – known for such 90s hits as “Born To Love You” and “Even The Man In The Moon Is Cryin,” – began to film a documentary of what life was really like at the Morgan County facility. In doing so, he got to know many of the residents there, and as you can guess, was moved to music. The singer recorded a live album there, but had to wait well over a decade for that to see the light of day, due to a shift in the focus of the music.
Originally released to the public four years ago, the album – Alive at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary – now is being released the way Collie originally envisioned. The music is there, but also the DVD documentary that showcases what life was like for those incarcerated there.
“It’s a tremendously good feeling to know that the story is finally being told,” the singer told Sounds Like Nashville. “I think it’s great that people will have the chance to see the documentary, and they can understand my reasoning for doing this, and my purpose, and hopefully some good will come from it.”
Collie has never been a prisoner, but just like Johnny Cash before him, he recognizes that it’s a very thin line between freedom and behind bars. “That’s a true statement, and as the old saying goes, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ We’re all one misstep or miscalculation from finding ourselves in an unforgiving and other place. Part of my reason for doing this is that I believe we all deserve one more second chance, which I believe comes through the Light and the Truth that is our Lord. If you can share that story through a song, maybe a light could be turned around for the better. I’m just glad that I had the opportunity to do it, and to see it through, it’s my hope that it will start a conversation that will lead to something positive.”
In making the project, what memories does Collie have? “I think back to the interaction with the prisoners, and that very first visit to the prison,” he said of his first trip there almost two decades ago. “I look back on that footage from then, and realize how much I’ve changed in fifteen years,” he says with a laugh.
The singer also promised that brand new music is around the corner – relatively soon. “Now that this record has had its’ day, and the documentary is out there, I am writing a new studio project that we are going to start recording this winter. That will be a new place for me, one that I haven’t been in a while. I’m looking forward to it.”
Collie has also enjoyed quite an impressive acting resume over the years, with perhaps the most high-profile gig coming as “Frankie Gray” on Nashville. Collie jokes that he went from being liked to being scorned just like that. “At first, everyone loved me because my character was Deacon’s AA sponsor. But, as the story began to turn and twist, I became the most disliked guy on the show. A lot of the ladies at Walmart would tell me to quit being so hateful to Deacon. Somebody out there has to be the bad guy, so I guess it’s me,” he says, adding that more acting looms in the future.