Prisoner of Conscience

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25 minutes



Treble Voices (SSAA)


November 12, 2015 by the Quince Ensemble at Constellation Chicago in Chicago, IL

commissioned by

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Prisoner of Conscience


I didn’t think this piece would be relevant.

Kendall A and I believed that writing a piece about the arrest and trial of Pussy Riot came three years too late: three years after Vladimir Putin was reelected despite widespread accusations of vote-rigging; three years after Pussy Riot released “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away”; and three years after Pussy Riot was put on trial, deemed “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International, and sentenced to serve two years in a penal colony.

A year later, Vladimir Putin signed a bill imposing jail terms and fines for insulting people’s religious feelings.

A few months before Kendall and I completed this work, Pussy Riot quietly made the news again in 2015 by releasing their first song and video in English entitled “I Can’t Breathe,” which is named for the last words that Eric Garner said eleven times as the New York City Police held him to the ground in a chokehold. This was also one year after Russia annexed Crimea. In their music video, Pussy Riot used the cigarette brand “Russian Spring,” which happened to be the same phrase used by supporters of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

And in 2016, a month before the U.S. presidential election, Pussy Riot released “Make America Great Again,” which implored that we “let other people in, listen to your women, stop killing black children, make America great again.”

In an era where there are rumors of Russia meddling with a presidential election and the White House doling Fake News Awards, I now know that the protection of our most basic right—free speech—is always relevant.

The fight is still on.


In this work, I too have tried to hold true to the following philosophy, as related by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in her closing statement at the trial:

Pussy Riot are (Alexander) Vvedensky’s students and heirs. His principle of the bad rhyme is dear to us. He wrote, “Occasionally, I think of two different rhymes, a good one and a bad one, and I always choose the bad one because it is always the right one.”

I see this work largely as street art, a crude homage to three heroes unjustly incarcerated, fighting a corrupt system that unfortunately at times bears a little too much resemblance to our own in the unequal distribution of justice and the willful ignorance of people to the cries of the downtrodden. The graffiti I paint here may fade with time, but I hope the legacy of these three brave women carries through it.

My source for the translations of the excerpts of the closing statements:

Kendall A

May 8, 2015

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