Thursday, October 15, 2009
Anyone doing work around the sick criminal injustice system in this country--especially the prisons--should be amped at this news. Jail Guitar Doors, a program initiated by Billy Bragg in the UK to get guitars and musical instruments to prisoners, will be making its way to the US too!
Bragg's program has already proven effective in Britain, providing prisoners with a musical outlet they might not otherwise get. And in fact, he's already had something of a test-run of it Stateside with a prison in Maine. He has also been in talks with officials at Rikers in New York. Now, with the MC5's Wayne Kramer (who himself did time for possession back in the '70s) behind the project, plans are in the works for JGD to fully take on the US prison system.
On the surface, Jail Guitar Doors might just seem another charity--until one takes into account the individuals behind it. Billy Bragg, as folks know, is known for nothing if not his left-wing politics. Given that the charity was named after a Clash song, it's only natural that Mick Jones has also been involved. And of the surviving members of the MC5, Kramer remains the most unapologetically outspoken and politically engaged.
Furthermore, this is a project that puts prisoners at the center. Here in the US, one in every 100 adults is under some kind of supervision of a correctional institution, and over 2 million are locked up, mostly for non-violent offenses. The US is one of the last industrialized nations that still executes its prisoners. Draconian "three-strikes" laws hand down 25 year sentences to young men for doing nothing more than stealing a piece of pizza. In times like these, if anything is needed, it's for someone to acknowledge that prisoners are more than just statistics, or some threatening "other" to be locked away; they're human.
That is essentially the soul of the JGD project. The interview below was done last week with Bragg and an ex-con named Leon, who since being released has performed at several Jail Guitar Doors events. This particular performance was at the premiere of Breaking Rocks, a documentary by Alan Miles on JGD. That people like this can be given a voice through this project is indeed encouraging.