Jail Guitar Doors – Week 4

Jail Guitar Doors – Week 4

This is the fourth part of a seven part series chronicling my time volunteering with Jail Guitar Doors.  Jail Guitar Doors USA is a group of volunteers who use music and guitars for inmate outreach programs across the USA.

Week 1 – Click Here.

Week 2 – Click Here.

Week 3 – Click Here.


I had to skip one week working with the inmates.  After a rotation off,  I returned to the San Diego Country jail for my fourth session of Jail Guitar Doors.  There was a noticeable boost in the inmates’ energy this night.  It may sound contradictory to talk about inmates having ‘good morale’, but that is exactly what it felt like.   I took up one of the hard plastic chairs at the back of the classroom and waited for the inmates to fill in the chairs around me. The guys all filed into the tidy classroom and signed on the roster sheet.

As they got out the guitars and began to socialize amongst themselves, I heard a story about one of our inmate students.  Larry, the heavyset inmate who struggled with the A major chord in my previous blog, wasn’t there yet. I quietly hoped he wasn’t one of the guys who had quit the class during the week I was absent.  The other inmates told a story about Larry giving a wicked air drumming concert in the kitchen at lunch that afternoon.  Apparently he was (is) fan of the Russian rock group The Scorpions, and was belting out the famous 80’s hit ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ while pounding invisible drums.   Does this seem like a jail to you?  Sounds more like a typical class clown at the back of the bus on a school field trip to me.

One of the inmate teaching assistants knew the iconic opening riff to “Rock you Like a Hurricane’, and started to teach it to the others in the class.  The cat was out of the bag and soon half of the class was rushing to see who could master the five power chord progression fastest.  This is actually a great song to teach beginning guitarists because all the chords line up with fret markers on the guitar.   Larry came to class tardy and immediately heard the group at the back of the room playing his song.  He needed no prodding and found that his stage was waiting.  Joining the mishappen oval of inmates, Larry ripped into the opening lyrics of ‘Hurricane’.   Much to the approval of the other inmates, who began to cheer him on the more animated he became.  The energy was infectious and the groups of inmates who normally keep to themselves all kind of joined into the fun.


There was another change to our group that evening.  Myself and JGD San Diego leader, Rob B., were joined by a third volunteer.  Janelle, “J.P.” is an guitarist, student and volunteer with a similar volunteer program known as Guitars for Vets.    If she was nervous to go into a corrections environment you couldn’t tell as we went in.  Although she did mention that she had to think about her outfit before driving down to the jail.  (Note: Standard protocol for female volunteers dictates a more strict dress code.)

Before class started JP finger picked her acoustic guitar and showed some deft ability on the instrument.  She preferred alternate tunings and would capo up while tuned to DADGAD (or something similar). Once the inmates arrived JP worked one on one with an image for most of the 90 minute class session.  While it was business as usual for most of the men in the class, a watchful eye could detect the class silently investigating the female in the room.  I didn’t get the feeling of malice or harmful intent, but more of curiosity.  The only woman most of the these guys see is a nurse, occasional therapist or other jail worker.


Copyright © 2015. C. Lougeay

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