Music charity opened by legendary rock musician seeks to give inmates direction and compassion
By John Vibes,
Musician Wayne Kramer of the classic punk rock band MC5 has started a charity with a group of friends that is bringing new hope to inmates through music. The group is touring various prisons throughout the country, giving free concerts and leaving instruments behind for the inmates to use and practice with themselves. In addition to bringing music and instruments to the inmates, the charity is also seeking to raise awareness about the desperate need for prison reform in the United States and across the world.
The charity has been around for about 7 years, but Kramer has an even longer history of using music to bring awareness to important issues.
Tom Morello, lead guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, cites MC5 as a major influence, especially in the realm of activism. In one interview Morello said that, “The band MC5 were the forerunners of punk rock, they also injected radical politics into music, something I know a bit about myself.”
However, like many artists and musicians, Kramer led a rebellious lifestyle and oftentimes found himself on the wrong side of the law. His most well known encounter with the police inspired a famous song by The Clash, and the story became a legend in the punk scene for ages.
In 1978, The Clash released the song, “Jail Guitar Doors.” The song tells the story of the imprisonment of their fellow musician Wayne Kramer. In 2007, to honor the life of Clash founder, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg launches an initiative in England to provide musical equipment used to rehabilitate inmates serving time in Her Majesty’s Prisons in the United Kingdom. His initiative is named for that very same song, “Jail Guitar Doors.” In 2009, Wayne Kramer partners with Billy Bragg to found Jail Guitar Doors USA. Together, their combined effort continues the mission for prisoners in America. The circle is unbroken.
Jail Guitar Doors USA believes our country’s human and financial resources should be dedicated to education and ending poverty, the primary source of crime. We support public safety. We believe in accountability in a civilized society. We believe the punishment should fit the crime and that one is sentenced to prison as punishment, not for punishment. We believe in reform and that if we expect more of offenders and empower them with the necessary tools and resources they need to change, most will choose to change and not repeat offend. We work for better implementation of best practices in ways to treat non-violent offenders and minimize prison violence. We believe prisoners provided with the musical tools to create songs of their own can achieve a positive change of attitude that can initiate the work necessary to successfully return to life outside prison walls. Creating music, along with other educational and vocational programs, can be a profound force for positive change in a prisoner’s life. Our goal is to aid the ‘correctional’ aspect of corrections that can only come from a regenerated belief in ones future as a positive, contributing member of society
Although Kramer seems to have left the drug scene behind and taken a new path, he is still very critical of the drug war and speaks out against prohibition.
“This war on drugs has been going on for 30 years. And we can go out on any street in America and buy better quality, cheaper heroin and cocaine today than we could 30 years ago,” he said.
Speaking in a recent charity event at a prison in Los Angeles, Kramer spoke of his time behind bars, and how he discovered that art and music can profoundly improve someone’s state of mind in such a difficult situation.
“The environment of prison is designed to strip self-respect from you, strips you of your dignity. Tells you, you have no value in the world. Being able to create art, to make music, says, ‘Hey, I do have value here.'” he said.
“I’m an ex-offender, and I’m a musician, maybe I could serve as some kind of bridge there. Some kinship to the tens of thousands, and then the hundreds of thousands, and now the two-and-a-half million people just like me that are serving time in America’s prisons.” He added.
If you want to help, please contact Jail Guitar Doors USA here: firstname.lastname@example.org.