Thank you for the Music

Posted: August 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’m at the Jackson Correctional Institution (JCI), a facility in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS).  The individual who runs PRC went on vacation so I can’t really do anything on this now.  It also happens to be my birthday today.  This is my second birthday in custody, the first while I was in the Waukesha County Jail (WCJ).  Let’s hope it’s the last!  I’ve decided to tell you about what I do 3 times a week.  JCI has a “hobby” program and its weighed heavily on music.  In fact, JCI is said to have the best music program in the prison system.  Inmates can send in a request to go to the Music Center in one hour blocks and practice a musical instrument, get basic instruction in an instrument or work as a band with other inmates.  They provide pretty good quality guitars and keyboards to play on.  As I noted earlier, I play keyboards and I managed to land a spot in a band.  At my assigned time, I sign out at the guard station and walk down to the “Levis” unit.  I check in with the guard.  I have to wait in line because this unit also hosts indoor rec and most inmates come to this building for that.  Once done, I go to the Music Office to sign in.  The inmate staff that work there are in charge of scheduling and music room cleanup.  They’re pretty impressed with their own power as they know we have to go through them to get a practice room.  As a result, they are pretty popular with the people who get what they want but really unpopular with those who don’t.  After signing in, I go to the big practice room.  Currently I’ve been playing with 3 guys who can hold their own.  The drummer is professional level, and is a Led Zeppelin addict.  The guitar player is quite talented, but he’s still a lead guitar, which means he’s got an ego and plays at high volume.  Every lead guitar player, I’ve played with worth is like that.  The relationship between keyboard and lead guitar players can be a tense one but the secret is to let the lead player do whatever he wants and keep your mouth shut!  They can be sensitive and getting a new one can be tough.  It’s much like being married!  Of course, I’m kidding.  The bass player is pretty good.  I was at a slight disadvantage because they purchased guitars and can practice in their own cells.  I could have bought a keyboard but I just didn’t have the money.  As a result, I’m winging it at practice.  I was never good at that as I’ve always been a very rehearsed musician.  But I’m learning!  Our vocal, well he gives 110%.  I wouldn’t take him on the road but at this level its fine.  Certainly better than me!  We’ve played songs such as “Whole Lot of Rosie”, “Crazy Train”, “Comfortably Numb”, “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Rainbow In the Dark”.  We get the lead sheets from people who mail them to us.  Two years ago all the bands did a concert for the inmates and its hoped that will happen again.  But primarily it is for fun.  It’s good for me too because I’m trying to keep my skills sharp.  At ten minutes to the hour the inmate staff waved their arms to let us know to shut it down.  We packed up and talked about music we were playing.  The conversation could have been had by a bunch of guys on the outside having a jam session instead of a bunch of convicts.  Normally the conversation at that time between inmates is about hate next meal and who is hustling who.  But for a moment you forget you’re in prison.

Next week I start with a new band.  They are a little more my speed.  They play a lot of Christian music and originals written by band members.  They don’t have near the talent level as my current band.  But I suspect I’ll enjoy it more.

I’m sure many of you wonder why inmates are provided such “luxuries” as music instruction, practices, instruments and facilities to play in.  I suppose you would prefer us to be locked like animals in cages all the time with no rec, music or jobs.  After all, aren’t we supposed to be punished while we are here?  I’ll ask you, do you think that will prevent  inmates from being returned to prison when their sentences are complete?  What happens to animals in captivity when released into the wild?  The skills they need to cure for, feed and protect themselves are gone.  If humans don’t return the to captivity, they will die.  Nothing is gained, in fact more will be lost, in incarceration without rehabilitation, that allows inmates to retain and add skills prior to release.  More thought is given to how an animal will survive in the wild than the inmate in the world.  The resulting cost to the inmate and to society is overwhelming.  For these reasons I say thank you for the music and other programs that are designed to keep inmates from coming back to prison.  I wish there were more.

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