Don Was and Marshall Crenshaw – Photo by Donna Balancia
By DONNA BALANCIA
Wayne Kramer still champions the underdog.
Kramer, founder of MC5, the legendary band that started the punk revolution, is still raging — to help those behind bars.
He was joined by Don Was, Marshall Crenshaw, Gilby Clarke and a host of others at The Ford Theatres at a concert called Rock Out 3! to benefit Jail Guitar Doors USA.
The organization brings musical instruments into prisons and youth camps, teaches inmates music, and creates hope for those behind bars.
Wayne Kramer and Marshall Crenshaw – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia
“We give them a guitar to pick up so when they get out they won’t pick up a gun,” Kramer said. “The music takes them out of their surroundings and gives them hope.”
Rock Out! 3, the third annual Benefit Concert for Jail Guitar Doors USA drew fans and rockers alike.
Jail Guitar Doors is a California non-profit organization that provides musical instruments and opportunities to help rehabilitate prisoners.
In 2009, musicians/activists Kramer and Billy Bragg created Jail Guitar Doors USA, which puts on music based prison outreach programs that work to help minimize prison violence and give hope to inmates.
‘Personal Subject’ for Kramer
Wayne Kramer, Alma Robinson and Larry Brewster – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia
It’s a very personal subject to Kramer who was incarcerated on drug charges. In 1977 The Clash recorded “Jail Guitar Doors,” a song detailing the imprisonment of their hero and fellow musician, MC5’s Kramer.
There are devoted volunteers who all showed up at the Ford Theatre event. While there may be a stigma about working with “tough guys,” volunteer Donna Jo Thorndale said when she goes into the prisons she has no preconceived notions.
No Judgment Zone
“The inmates have been judged enough, they don’t need me to judge them.”
Donna Jo says she’s seen progress as a result of the work of Jail Guitar Doors.
Larry Brewster and Donna Jo Thorndale – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia
“When they focus on the music it helps them to develop self confidence and that’s an ‘inside job.'”
Prof. Larry Brewster said after going into the prisons, he comes away with “new best friends.”
“I’ve made some good friendships,” said Larry, a professor at University of San Francisco.
Teaching volunteer Cody Marks agreed.
“It feels good to get through to the guys,” Cody said. “We form bonds with the prison population and when one guy might be transferred we’ll see sometimes them again at another prison.”
Wayne Kramer: ‘Progress Being Made’
Don Was said he’s been working with Kramer on Jail Guitar Doors for several years.
Wayne Kramer – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia
Was gets a great deal of satisfaction out of seeing progress.
“It could be anyone of us in there,” said Don Was, who was a headliner at the event. “We tend to believe that the prison population is some other species, but if one or two things didn’t go the right way, it could just as easily be me or you in there.”
A couple of years ago, we went in to Sing Sing Prison and we played a concert,” Was said. “Some people screw up and people tend to forget that about this population.”
Jail Guitar Doors lobbyies against unjust lengthy prison sentences, the privatization of prisons for profit, and seeks to restore humanity in a forgotten segment of our citizens: Those incarcerated.
Wayne, Cody and Jeff – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia
Program Growing With Number of Inmates
From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled, skyrocketing from roughly 500,000, to 2.3 million, according to the US Bureau of Statistics.
Kramer said Jail Guitar Doors is in 65 prisons, there are songwriting workshops in four.
Kramer was joined at the event by Jill Sobule, Elainie Mandel, Crenshaw, Clarke, Keith Morris, Jason Heath and The Greedy Souls and The Wild Reeds.
Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Pinfield were special guests with Goldthwait as emcee.
Jason Heath, frontman for Jason Heath and The Greedy Souls said he was happy to participate.
Wayne Kramer and friends – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia
“It’s important to remember the people who are serving prison terms,” Heath said. “And we’re honored to play this show.”
Highlight of the evening was an all-star version MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams,” with all the musicians doing their own thing up there
“We do this because we care and we want to let them know inside the prison that the people outside care,” Cody said.
No Easy Job
The Jail Guitar Doors is not an easy undertaking.
Cody said that there was an extensive process to bring in musical equipment in to work with the prisoners.
Wayne Kramer and Jill Sobule – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia
“They check everything,” Cody said. “They even count the strings that you have for the guitars, they look at the picks,” she said. “One time we broke a string, you have to be careful everything is accounted for.”
Songs ranging from The Who cover “We Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by Clarke, to “Television Light,” by Crenshaw, Eleni Mandell’s “I Belong To Someone New,” brought out the best in the evening before the showstopper finale.
For more information, go to jailguitardoors.org