Jail Guitar Doors – Week 5

Jail Guitar Doors – Week 5

This is the fifth 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.

Week 4 – Click Here.

Although this is the fifth article I have penned about my time volunteering with Jail Guitar Doors, it takes place during the seventh week of an eight week course.  I did not attend the orientation night with the inmates and I had to skip one week with inmates for a last minute rehearsal.  Which got canceled anyway due to musician’s car troubles, but that is a story for another night.  This week brought two noticeable events. First we had another guest joining myself and JGD USA organizer Rob B.   It was Robin Henkel, the well known San Diego dobro musician.  The second remarkable event of the evening was discovering a wave of violence had struck the jail during the week.

I admired the large column of clouds that was illuminated by the setting sun as drove down Otay Mesa Road.  I had a lot of time to watch the magnificent display as I literally got stopped at every single red light on the 10 mile long straight away.  As I arrived at George Bailey Detention facility, I saw someone waiting there.  I had never met Robin before, but it was obvious who it was.  Almost immediately we were joined by JP and Rob and the quartet made our way into the jail.  Behind the bullet proof glass in the waiting room were the same two nice ladies.  There was a bucket of Halloween candy to accompany the feaux-cobwebs and paper cut out spiders.  I talked my way into a box of strawberry Nerds candy and some sweet and sour candy.  JP ate all of the sweet and sours and didn’t bother to offer any to us!

We progressed through the multiple series of double locked doors, chain link fences and gates.  While we signed in and waited for an escort to the classroom area, I learned that had been a streak of violence in the jail.  There had been several fights in the yard and more in the dorms.  Allegedly it was stemming from a inmate tax collecting issue.  Some of the inmates were extorting others for taxes, and there were inmates who didn’t want to pay.  I don’t know all of the details but that is the basic story that I confirmed with some of the inmates in the class that evening.

While none of the guys in our class were directly involved in the violence it still effected them.  Stricter rules about movement were in effect and the guys had to line up single file to be marched across the yard into the class.  They arrived and the happy go lucky attitude of the previous week was definitely gone.  They also could not leave the class when they felt they had enough.  All the inmates in the class had to stay the entire time.  The beatings and fights had taken their toll and although no one really seemed to outwardly show any signs of being affected by it, the tension hung in the air.

Most night when the inmates come into the classroom they go straight for the guitars.  This night we had set a mini concert stage for Robin to do a presentation.   They made a semi circle around him and his 1937 Dobro.  The loud metallic resonator guitar caught their attention.  Robin used his thumb picks and cracked metal slide to give a short presentation on country blues, rhythm and other topics that came to him in the moment.

Robin Henkel, San Diego Blues Guitarist.

Robin Henkel, San Diego Blues Guitarist.

My old buddy Larry was throughly impressed having never seen a resonator guitar before.  He couldn’t figure out how it was so loud.  Finally, unable to curb his childlike excitement, Larry shouted out into the classroom that, ‘That is loud as shit!”  The special concert with Robin and Larry’s unintentionally funny comment gave some levity to the class…. and the guys needed it.  If only for a moment, they could escape from the reality of jail.  Just a memory of a time before they were locked up, and a reminder what freedom they will have when they get out.

One of the inmates in the class, in fact, will be getting out this week.  Some have more time on their hands.  I learned that the youngest inmate in the class, at age 23, has been incarcerated for two years and has another 13 months to go.  He is a decent guitarist and a leader in the classroom.  Two or three of the other inmates join him each week and he helps them to learn.  This is type of team building and independent thinking that JGD San Diego leader likes to see.  It gives him hope that the program will gain the support of the Sheriff’s Department desire to continue and even expand the program.

For more information about Jail Guitar Doors USA and how to get involved visit:




Copyright © 2015. C. Lougeay

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