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.
"…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.
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."
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.
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.
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...
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,
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.
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.
“I’m back teaching songwriting at Twin Towers County Correctional Facility DTLA as part of Jail Guitar Doors… …Let me tell you how uplifting it feels to play and write songs with these guys. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel so good. Do it for yourself.”
As the warden of Valley State Prison, I am very grateful that Cody Marks and Jail Guitar Doors were able to come to the prison and perform for the inmate population,” he said. “I truly believe that the inmate population enjoyed the performance. These types of activities are vital to the successful rehabilitation of the men housed at VSP, as they distract from the daily stressors associated with prison life.”