Jail Guitar Doors – Week 3
This is the third part of a seven part series chronicling my time volunteering with Jail Guitar Doors.
I’ve been a heavy metal fan my entire life. Sometimes I wear that fact on my sleeve and at other times I’ve apologized for it. But the truth is, I love insane guitar playing and heavy metal has some fantastic guitar work. Not all of it, and I’ve gotten more selective over the decades, but a lot melts faces. US thrash metal pioneers Slayer was a band I listened to at a very young age. In fact, I had to hide albums like Haunting The Chapel, and Reign in Blood for fear of parental intervention. Known for always pushing the edge of topics and music that are controversial, Slayer continues to create brutally heavy music.
Preamble aside, I made the mistake of watching the newest video by Slayer, ‘Repentless’ over the weekend before I went back into George Bailey Detention Facility to work with the inmates on guitar. Maybe I am getting old, or maybe the video caught me off guard, but even I felt a little squeamish at the extreme violence. The music video is set in a fictional prison (not a jail) and basically follows a riot outbreak where the inmates slaughter each other in graphic detail.
WARNING – DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED. WE HAVE FREEDOM OF CHOICE IN THIS COUNTRY, AND YOU NEED TO EXERCISE YOUR CHOICE NOT TO VIEW THIS VIDEO IF YOU THINK YOU MIGHT BE SHOCKED OR OFFENDED IN ANY WAY.
Slayer – Repentless (OFFICAL MUSIC VIDEO)
So where am I going with all this? There is a stigma that comes with talking about or working in the jails. Maybe not when you’re in uniform, but as a volunteer. I can say that during my experiences going in out of the jails and prisons I have rarely felt scared or threatened. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, and I’ll get to those times in a moment, but overall I don’t worry about about my personal safety that much.
As far as Jail Guitar Doors goes, we work with inmates in the Honor Dorm. All of the guys are low level offenders, meaning mostly non-violent drug offenses. Since most have short times left on their sentences, and no longer have the substances coursing through their veins they all seem ‘normal’ to me. However, I have a tendency to see the world through the eyes of a few tours. What is normal to me may not be normal to little old lady who walks her mini poodle down the manicured streets of San Diego.
Now that being said, there were a few times I was absolutely scared. The two times I most vividly remember were when I was touring the federal corrections facilities in my early 20’s. These incidents happened on memorable days as they occurred on my very first day performing inside a prison and my very last day as well. It reminded me of a warning to journalists who venture into active war zones. The news reporters who get shot are the young ones who are too reckless and the old ones who become careless.
My first day with Tommy Thomas and the STAA Revue was when I was really nervous to go inside. Tommy was blind and needed someone to escort him when we traveled. He always insisted that he walk. On this particular day, I made sure I was never more than a few feet away from Tommy. Yes, he needed my help, but I think it was I who needed his more.
My last day was the other time I was scared for a moment when working in the prisons. It was a bad combination of reasons that all came together to create a situation that I carelessly put myself into. First, I had been in and out of prisons on and off for over three years and had gotten to used to casual banter with the inmates. I also was more cavalier about going off by myself. For example, if we needed to get something out of the van. Second, we were performing that day in a processing facility. It housed criminals from all walks of life and severities of crimes. That meant that guy with a DUI would be mixed with murders and rapists. Many were fresh off the street and still very raw. So, this last day of the tour on a thawing March day, I was walking across the yard as inmates moved in the opposite direction. They were heading to the cafeteria for lunch and were divided amongst themselves in smaller groups. Towards the end of the line there was a duo of stragglers. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but the subject was about food. On this particular tour we ate at McDonald’s on a sickening frequency. For reasons stated above, I felt the need to vent about this to the inmates going to lunch. One of the inmates gave me a 1000 yard stare and said something like ,”Try eating the shit they feed us“. He had totally caught me off guard, and I knew instantly I was alone inside a federal prison. I hastily made my way back to the area where we performing and told no one about the exchange. Never let down your guard, even for a second. Lesson learned.
One such prison I played at kept a display of confiscated ‘shivs’ or homemade prison weapons. I’ll never forget this lethal museum of death. Men, angry men, with tortured souls and unlimited time on their hands had crafted masterpieces of death. Razor sharp toothbrushes, random bits of metal filed to a point and wrapped in layers of masking tape, and many many others all had been confiscated from the inmates. There was still other times where inmates try to pass you notes, or try to get personal information about you. This is a big-time no no.
So is the threat real? Absolutely. There are some bad dudes in there, and they are locked up for a reason. Do I worry about being trapped inside a Slayer-esqe prison riot? Not quite. I volunteer my time for my own reasons. It’s not a choice that everyone will agree with. Some people help others in their own way. I choose to do that one chord and riff at a time.
Copyright © 2015. C. Lougeay
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