It’s about 10am and I just got back home from one hell of a crazy last few days. What an adventure to say the least. We are all so exhausted and worn out from these last few days, but I couldn’t wait to write about this…
We left Friday morning for Salem, OR so we could get to the Oregon State Penitentiary, a maximum security prison by Saturday at 7am. I love this drive up the US coast. I also hate it. It’s a beautiful drive but I hate being in the van for that long. We drove 19 hours straight. As we got closer and closer to the prison where we were to play two seperate concerts that day, I became apprehensive about our decision to play a maximum prison. I knew we would be playing in front of male inmates, some of who had killed, raped, and seriously hurt other people. Besides the obvious fear for our safety, I felt like it was almost morally wrong to entertain human beings that had committed such awful acts of violence. I struggled with the feeling that I was doing their victims a disservice by brightening their assailants’ day, and it made me nauseous.
We made it the prison grounds a little earlier than expected, so we went to the McDonalds down the street and had some coffee and breakfast. Jonny Law had woken up from the back of the van saying that he felt really sick with a fever and a really bad sore throat. He was sick for the remainder of our trip. I felt really bad for him but he powered through each show as if he wasn’t sick at all. We went to the prison, but they said to come back later around 10am, so we passed out in the van. Despite the coffee, I immeidatly fell asleep. We were already exhausted and had not even played our first show yet. We had driven 19 hours straight and it is very difficult to get any kind of restful sleep in the van. At 10am, we were admitted on to the prison grounds.
The first thing they did was to check all of our gear. There were many strict rules and regulations we had to abide by such as: giving them a list of every single item we were bringing in down to the guitar pick, no blue denim (since that’s what the inmates wear), no underwire bras, no cell phones, no cameras, no pants too tight or too baggy, no shorts, etc….Once our gear was checked in, we had to check ourselves in to the prison grounds. We traded our IDs for red visitor badges and black light visible hand stamps. Then we we went to the visitor lobby where we were given bright orange vests. This is where it gets interesting. We were told that we we were to wear these vests because that’s what all the officers also wear while out on the yard. The concert was going to take place in the yard and therefore the easiest way to identify us was by these bright orange vests. In case of a riot or some kind of prison yard disturbance, the snipers at the tower would know not to shoot us. We were also told that if we were taken hostage by any of the inmates that the officers would not negotiate a hostage situation. Basically you are on your own and you better hope you somehow make it out alive. At this point, I DID NOT WANT TO GO IN THERE. I almost backed out of it, but decided not to. I’m glad I didn’t.
Vested up and wondering what to expect in the yard, we first headed through one of the cell blocks. It was 5 stories high. Levels 3, 4 and 5 had fences along the balconies overlooking the hallway below so that prisoners could not jump off or be pushed off to their deaths. It was eerie, depressing and just plain scary as we walked by those cells and inmates who stood around just staring at us. But the mood lightened as soon as we stepped out of the building and in to the yard. It was a whole different world…. There was a big stage set up at one end and the inmates part of the “OSP Roadie School” had already set up all of our gear for us. They ran the entire show from setting up the stage, to running the sound. The inmates part of the “Roadie School” were allowed to be part of this group based on very good behavior. I almost forgot that I was at a prison. We were extremely cordially greeted by the inmates who were very excited to have us there. They had even made us chocolate chip cookies (which were really good!!) and lemonade. It was hot so they offered us cold water and kept refilling our water cups. They all introduced themselves to us and could not have been more helpful or kind to us. They may actually be some of the best roadies we have ever had. They were so happy to have us there that they made sure everything was perfect. To our surprise they had even made tons of fliers for the concert, and had made each of us a laminate badge. Here is mine! (The name misspelling is kind of cute hahaha)
I just couldn’t get over how…well….nice they were. After sound check, we began to play concert #1. The reason why we played two sets was because the inmates are allowed out in to the yard in 2 groups. The first group was the bigger of the two and only what they call Level 2 and 3 inmates. These inmates are allowed at yard concerts because they are considered to be on better behavior. The Level 1 inmates were not allowed out on the yard for the concert and had to stay in their cells. We began playing and we were nervous as hell! We did not know what to expect once they let all of group 1 in to the yard. The only thing between us and the inmates that entered the yard was a yellow police tape line. Would they like us, would they hate us, would they throw things at us or yell obscenities? But they just piled in behind the yellow line and I saw most of their faces soften, many of them even smiling. But their faces really lit up when we played “The Shocker” hahahaha! At least they had a sense of humour about things and they really seemed to enjoy the show. When we were done with the first set, we were bombarded with inmates who wanted us to autograph the fliers the Roadie group had made, their shoes, their hats, their artwork, basically they had us autograph everything! They all stood in line and made sure they got each and every one of us to autograph their stuff. Every one of those inmates profusely thanked us for playing and were nothing but respectful the entire time. They were so incredibly appreciative that we had played for them and they really made it known to us. As the day went on, I forgot that we were in a prison. It felt more like summer camp or something hahaha.
Group 1 exited the yard to make way for the second group. As they entered, one of the inmates, an older gentleman came up and introduced himself as Bobby. He thanked me for playing for them and said he was really looking forward to it. He was really kind and pleasant. I later found out that he is part of the Manson family and has been in jail since his early 20s for killing a man. Go figure. (you can google Bobby Beausoleil). We played set #2 and we were received with the same enthusiastic and positive response as the first group. We signed a bunch of autographs again and then the inmates from group 2 had to go back to their cells. The only inmates remaining were the ones part of the Roadie School (probably about 30 of them). They helped us pack up all of our gear and got us more refreshments. Each one of them shook our hands and thanked us over and over again for coming to play for them. I’m very happy with my decision to cross the prison gates and play for these guys. Yes, some of them have committed horrific crimes, but regardless of what they may have done, it’s always nice to play for a crowd who truly appreciates and is entertained by what we do. They have asked to do it again next year, and I think I can speak for everyone in the band when I say we would love to do it again.
By now it was about 3PM, and we were beyond tired. No sleep for 36 hours and 2 shows in the heat made me want to pass out as quickly as I could. Jonny Law was getting sicker by the hour and we were already wrecked. We showered in the staff gym on the prison grounds and went to our friend Dom’s house. He is a prison guard at OSP, and the one who originally had brought up the idea of us playing there. Dom and his family were so good to us. Since we had the rest of the afternoon until we had to head to Portland to play show #3 of the day, he let us hang out and relax at his house. We had BBQ with his awesome family and chilled out for a while. I tried to sleep but was so tired I just couldn’t. Really annoying, but oh well. What’s another day with no sleep right?
Part 2 of our crazy week is next!!……