Melissa Etheridge Plays Prison in 'I'm Not Broken' Series

Image via Paramount+ (slightly posterized)

The loss of her son Beckett Cypher in 2020 to a Fentanyl overdose has dominated Melissa Etheridge's life ever since. She wrote about it at length in her 2023 book Talking to My Angels and made it the centerpiece of last year's one-woman Broadway show, Melissa Etheridge: My Window.

Now, the singer/songwriter from Kansas has taken the next step with her two-part series at Paramount+, Melissa Etheridge: I'm Not Broken. It's based on letters Etheridge received from five inmates at ther women's Topeka Correctional Facility, most of whom are serving time on drug-related charges and have had addiction problems. Etheridge, who grew up within walking distance of the famous federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, could relate. She even performed there as an up-and-coming 12-yerar-old singer with the Bob Hammill Variety Show in 1973. So did Johnny Cash, who was known for his prison concerts. Moved by the letters, Etheridge reached out to the prison's warden Gloria Geither, asking if she could meet with the women.

Andrea, Cierra, Jessica, Leigh and Krista - all white - join Etheridge at a table in the prison and spill out their stories. Most are addicts, had childen very young and were abused. (Krista killed a person in a drunken car accident.) They're all happy to be heard by a celebrity like Etheridge. The plan is to stage an outdoor concert at the prison where Etheridge will perform a new song based on what she's learned from the women.

Etheridge spices up the series with personal anecdotes about growing up in the Sunflower State. She visits her old high school, has a meeting with Leavenworth Mayor Jermaine Wilson, a former felon himself, and off camera raises the issue of "getting medical cannabis legal" to Ty Masterson, the Republican president of Kansas' Senate.

Leigh on Melissa: "We're grateful she gave a shit."

Etheridge also discusses her 2017 marijuana possession arrest at the U.S./Canada border and explains: "I was a vocal cannabis advocate. For 10 years I talked about how cannabis helped me with my cancer. This was the only time I was ever arrested."

She firmly believes plant medicines can help end the addiction to opioids, adding:

"We have to take another look at psychedelics and legalize them for medical purposes. It would absolutely change our country."

Beckett got hooked on opioids after a snowboarding accident. His addiction literally snowballed from there.

"I can't save anyone," Etheridge tells the women. "I couldn't save my son."

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Her goal with the women and the concert is to inspire the prison population of more than 700 to improve themselves while inside and have hope for better lives when they get out.

Rather than build to the concert, live song clips, including hits like "I'm the Only One" and "Come to My Window," are shown throughout. The series peaks with Etheridge's new tune, "A Burning Woman," which refers to the "I'm Not Broken" show title. Afterwards, Etheridge is relieved and proud of her effort. Inmate Leigh sums up the feelings of all the women who participated in the series and attended the concert: "We're grateful she gave a shit."



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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.