Our History

In 1978, The Clash released the song, "Jail Guitar Doors." The song tells the story of the imprisonment of their fellow musician Wayne Kramer. In 2007, to honor the life of Clash founder, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg launches an initiative in England to provide musical equipment used to rehabilitate inmates serving time in Her Majesty’s Prisons in the United Kingdom. His initiative is named for that very same song, “Jail Guitar Doors.” In 2009, Wayne Kramer partners with Billy Bragg to found Jail Guitar Doors USA. Together, their combined effort continues the mission for prisoners in America. The circle is unbroken.


( click Photos To enlarge)

Our Vision

Jail Guitar Doors USA believes our country’s human and financial resources should be dedicated to education and ending poverty, the primary source of crime. We support public safety. We believe in accountability in a civilized society. We believe the punishment should fit the crime and that one is sentenced to prison as punishment, not for punishment. We believe in reform and that if we expect more of offenders and empower them with the necessary tools and resources they need to change, most will choose to change and not repeat offend. We work for better implementation of best practices in ways to treat non-violent offenders and minimize prison violence. We believe prisoners provided with the musical tools to create songs of their own can achieve a positive change of attitude that can initiate the work necessary to successfully return to life outside prison walls. Creating music, along with other educational and vocational programs, can be a profound force for positive change in a prisoner’s life. Our goal is to aid the ‘correctional’ aspect of corrections that can only come from a regenerated belief in ones future as a positive, contributing member of society

Inside Prisons:

We seek opportunities to produce out-reach events and programs, in cooperation with prison officials, that bring musical instruments and education programs to the prison population. From our experience, we know that music can give voice to deep complex feelings in a new, non-confrontational way.

Outside Prisons:

We produce events and campaigns that raise funds for our work and awareness for prison reform issues and solutions. We seek to work in coalition with social service partner organizations to advance successful ex-prisoner transitions back into the community after incarceration.

In the spirit of justice and public service, Jail Guitar Doors USA supports and encourages others to join us.

Testimonials

"…What a privilege it is to play music. I feel like a human being when I play." "I have seen this equipment work miracles in the lives of convicts, it's the coolest thing to watch. Our concerts bring pure joy to so many faces as well. It's an honor to play."

Thayne J., Florence, AZ


Dear Wayne,

We're all still talking about the wonderful performances put on by the Jail Guitar Doors concert on the 24th. It was a spectacular event for so many of us, and none of us will ever forget it.

All of the performers were amazing, and the song selections were perfect. Folsom Prison Blues, Knocking on Heaven's Door, and, of course, Kick Out the Jams, all of these and all of the rest set a perfect tone for a perfect day. Even the weather cooperated, and even if our power system gave you all the fits, the sun shone down on a moment that allowed us to transcend the barriers that separate us from the world, from our friends and families.

One guy that I've known for more than 30 years, a guy that was with me back in Folsom Prison when we actually had concerts from local bands, came up to me at the conclusion of the show with tears in his eyes. He told me how he'd been unhappy to learn there'd be a concert on the yard. Too much noise, too much commotion for him. But the whole thing left a profound emotional impact on him that choked him up and softened his heart to the kinds of feelings that men in prison aren't encouraged to experience.

Another guy, a tough character very vocal in his opinions, told me that for a couple of hours he wasn't in prison. You could tell by the look on his face that that freedom, that period of time when he wasn't confined, had left a powerful imprint on his heart.

I heard from numerous other guys how much they had been impacted by the performance. And it wasn't just the girls, although it was surely some of that, frankly, and not surprisingly. I think it boils down to a couple of fundamental things about human beings. For one, all human beings are moved by music, it is one of the few commonalities that all of us share in every culture and place throughout history. We are all touched by music in deep and profound ways that go back to our very origins.

Just as importantly to this experience though was that, for those couple of hours, we were human beings enjoying music performed by talented artists. And it's the human being part that matters the most, I believe. Prison tends to deny humanity to prisoners. We are crimes, and bed spaces; inmates to be shuffled around like chunks of matter devoid of sentience. But knowing that a group of talented artists took the time out of their lives to come and entertain us sent the inescapable message that prisoners long to hear. "You are human beings, just like us, and we care about your welfare." That's bigger than just about anything else I can imagine.

So, to all of the performers, and to all of the many people whose labors offstage made all of that excellent music possible, I offer you a heartfelt and sincere thank you. Everyone here, from the men on the yard, to the guards and the administrators, all of us appreciate your kindness and your exceptional talents. And, maybe there's something very profound in that, too, that all of those disparate groups of people were listening to and enjoying the same music. That's an experience of shared humanity. That's important in ways that are hard to express but easy to understand. What you did, what you are continuing to do, makes a real difference in real people's lives.

Take the best of care and strive to be happy. Peace…

Ken H., Lancaster, CA

""…Personally, I've never seen ADC Staff move so quickly to do something purely for the benefit of inmates as I have seen with your donation. Literally, the very next two days we divided the equipment up for our unit, North unit, and Globe's unit. We inventoried the equipment, and brought it down to the band room. We were accessing the gear immediately Wayne, which is unheard of in this system. My students are able to learn and practice more and all the bands use the equipment every day. I have to give my props to Co. II Shawn Anderson, Lieutenant F. Hirsch, and Deputy Warden S. Morris. They have all really followed through on facilitating access and creating opportunity for us here."

John F., Florence, AZ

"So its been a while since you were here and I wanted to write and let you know how it was going. My name is Jesse and I'm an instructor and a student. The whole music program means so much to me. I know I don't have to tell you what it's like to need to bring music to life, and every day I am grateful to have the means to do so.

Our classes are going great thanks to the equipment you brought us. We can now have students play through head phones, which has made a world of difference. Everyone in the music program is dedicated. Not only to the music, but to the ideal that we do have worth and choices to be positive, not only to ourselves, but to others around us. A lot of that stems from the way you all treated us. Your kindness and doing for others has inspired and motivated me and many others. Thanks again for planting those seeds."

Donald G., Florence, AZ

"Mere words can't begin to express how much I/we appreciate what you and Jail Guitar Doors have done for us here at the Florence Arizona State Prison! This whole experience has been mind boggling to say the least! I have so much to say and hardly know where to start. I was honored to have the chance to speak with you at the end about music and what it has meant to me since the age of seven. Something happened during our conversation between you, inmate White, the Lieutenant, and myself. You saw what transpired when you asked the Lieutenant about what music did for us inmates. There is a slogan here in the Arizona Department of Corrections that states, "Staff/Inmates don't cross the line." These signs are posted in different areas around the yards in the system. I'm not saying that a line was crossed, but uncharted waters were certainly navigated by what Jail Guitar Doors did for us that day! I know that you saw and felt the sincerity of our hearts at that very special moment between staff and inmates talking about how music breaks down walls between human beings no matter what color or status! I have been incarcerated in Arizona for 13 ½ years and have never seen anything like what transpired on that day! February 17, 2012 is certainly a monumental day that will always be remembered, not only in A.D.O.C., but in the hearts of each individual who was a part of that amazing event."

Jimmy W., Florence, AZ

Our Stories



Wayne Kramer

During the time I served in federal prison, music was the one thing that connected me with life on the outside. Music also connected me with my life on the inside. It gave me refuge. The hours I spent studying and practicing were hours that my energy and attention were focused on improving myself. I was putting in the work to change my situation for the better. I was trying to be prepared for the day when I was released back to the “free world.”

I was fortunate to be incarcerated at a time in America when rehabilitation was a genuine part of corrections and was supported with budgets and staffs who knew from experience that the only way to reduce recidivism was for prisoners to learn new skills and attitudes as tools to help them become contributing members of society. Not only did I grow as a man, and a musician, but music also allowed me to be of service to my fellow prisoners while I was locked up. Our prison band performed regularly for events in the facility and we even played outside the prison in community outreach events that were a benefit to all.

To sit alone in a room with a guitar to try to figure out how to say to my friends and loved ones that I had made mistakes, but that I was grateful for them not throwing me away, was a giant step for me. I know the power of music to benefit a life that looked hopeless and was rescued and reformed.

That same process continues to help me to this day.


Nick ‘Topper’ Headon

The Clash, Drummer

To see Jail Guitar Doors come to fruition is absolutely beautiful. It was great to meet these guys. When I was in prison myself, many years ago, I was lucky enough to have access to a guitar, which belonged to the prison vicar! I know how much it helped me get through it.


Paul McDowell

Governor (Warden),
HMP Brixton, England

Jail Guitar Doors made a real difference to the atmosphere at the prison. It isn’t just the guys who are on the project. The program has made a difference. It’s like a wave that sweeps out across the prison, changing how people feel about the place. It’s been a major success and inspiration in Brixton Prison. It’s down to the people who have been involved over the last 18 months to keep on making the effort, because, the truth is, most of it may well go unnoticed. I think it’s going to be really tough to change the minds of the media and the public who have a very, very different view as to what should be happening to prisoners in prisons.


Billy Bragg

In early 2007, I was looking to do something positive to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Joe Strummer when I received a request from a local jail. Malcolm Dudley, a drug and alcohol counselor at nearby Guys Marsh Prison in Dorset was utilizing his skills as a musician to set up a guitar class as a means of engaging prisoners in the process of rehabilitation. Borrowing a guitar from the prison chaplain and repairing an old nylon-strung instrument found in a prison cupboard, Malcolm began to make progress with the inmates. However, he soon became aware that their development was being held back by the lack of available instruments on which to practice between sessions. He wrote to me asking for help.

I immediately grasped the potential of Malcolm’s work, knowing from my own experience how playing guitar and writing songs can help to process problems in a non-confrontational way. I bought half-a-dozen acoustic guitars and had them spray-painted with the titles of Clash songs.

Having delivered the guitars and hearing from the inmates themselves about the positive effects of the work, I wondered if there might be other people like Malcolm in prisons across the country, willing to do the work, but held back by a lack of instruments. At the NME Awards in March 2007, I announced the formation of Jail Guitar Doors to find such people and meet that need.

I am pleased to say that the first person in the room to walk up to me with an offer of support was Clash guitarist Mick Jones. Since then, JGD has donated instruments to more than 20 prisons. I’m asking musicians, particularly those of you who were inspired by the Clash, to raise funds to help inmates take the first steps towards rehabilitation.

Prison has to be about much more than just locking people up. We want people to be able to move on from their situation and reconnect with the outside world, and my hunch was that playing an instrument – particularly a guitar – could help that.


Gene Bowen

Road Recovery

I sat with prison officials today at Sing Sing Prison. In the course of the conversation, I discovered that an unofficial house band formed as a result of the Wayne Kramer outreach event. I asked if I could meet with the inmate musicians and was transported to the education building located near where our event was presented (Tappan Block).

The smiles on these guys’ faces, still glowing from May 2nd, was incredible! The inmates told me how that day inspired them, giving them so much hope to keep on — and the recording continues to provide them with a point of reference and inspiration in times of doubt.

An inmate ran down the hall and asked to speak with me. He introduced himself as Billy, and told me that since his entry into Sing Sing 15 years ago, he has had no contact with any family members. During this time his siblings had children who are now in their early teens. Word about Wayne and friends showing up and jamming at Sing Sing reached his family, which caught the interest of Billy’s nieces and nephews who asked their parents, “Who is Uncle Billy and how does he know all these rock stars and when do we get to meet him?”

Billy wanted me to let everyone know that because of what happened on Saturday, May 2, 2009, he now has his family back in his life and they visit him regularly! He shook my hand firmly and said, “Tell everyone you all gave me back my family. I will never forget what you did for me!”

I stood there frozen in place, speechless...


Dr. Lesley Malin

Sing Sing Correctional Facility

Dear Wayne,

I want to thank you on behalf of the staff and inmates of Sing Sing Correctional facility for your efforts for the “Unofficial House Band” (UHB) and for our fledgling music program.

Your donation of your amp was thoughtful and unexpected. The inmates in our music program were grateful beyond words to receive a gift from you. Gene also told is that this amp was meaningful to you, which makes it extra special to us. We could see that it was lovingly road used! As we do not have the funds to provide any instruments, your donation is essential to the expansion of our music program.

The UHB plays at many facility events such as graduations, volunteer recognition events, and cultural events. The band members attended the Road Recovery event in May and were excited by the performances and deeply moved by your candor with them. All who were there that day, staff and inmates, know that we were witness to something special and life altering. Most importantly, I know that the members of the band and all the inmates here are humbled and honored that somebody such as you on the outside cares about them and is supporting their efforts to transform their lives. We believe, as does Road Recovery, that music is an important tool that can be utilized in dealing with issues of recovery and incarceration.

Again, thank you for your kind donation to Sing Sing. We look forward to again working with you, Margaret, and the U.S. arm of Jail Guitar Doors. You are both welcome to visit us again at any time.

Very Truly Yours, Dr. Lesley Malin
Asst. Deputy Superintendent


Keon

Inmate, Her Majesty’s Prison
Pentonville, England

Jail Guitar Doors is giving us the opportunity to express ourselves through music, through poetry. It’s just amazing. We find that with the whole prison routine, it’s just very monotonous. There’s no change and so when we have someone coming into prison and they bring instruments and encourage us to write and encourage us to express ourselves through song and poetry and rap and all those things, it’s something totally new. I just felt like I didn’t want it to stop. I didn’t want to stop singing. I’m in the right place.


Tom Dudley

Artist/Instructor at
Sing Sing Prison

Somewhere in Late 2008 or early 2009 Gene Bowen asked me to help him make contacts for Wayne Kramer to speak at a prison, After we both put our heads together the connection was made and a show was performed by Wayne and a host of friends at Sing Sing Correctional facility on May 9th 2009.

When Gene discovered the Unofficial House Band at Sing Sing he contacted me again to put on a show there with the inmates. On April 9th 2010 we put on a full production show with over 20 participating inmates that wrote 11 original songs in all different genres. Some of these inmates had never really socialized or played together before this show. There was a domino effect that occurred from that show that still resonates to this day in that facility.

Little did I know that I would still be part of this program four years later. I have watched the growth and self esteem it has given this group and others around them. This is not just a music program it is a program that allows the inmates the ability to express all of their emotions in a healthy manner and share it with others. I have seen it have a healing effect in connecting families. I have also witnessed the sincerity of the music that tells stories about forgiveness, pain and suffering but also about hope and redemption.

Links of interest

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