The alarm, if there was one, came much too early. But the Hawks were on time and on schedule. PM and SN checked out of the Al Qaeda Holiday Inn, drove over the George Washington Bridge, picked up PL and RW and got us on the road headed for Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility. Traffic was light and the Hawks made it to the prison nearly on time. And we would’ve made it to if it wasn’t for a blatant error in our Mapquest directions. DO NOT TRUST MAPQUEST. Their directions are often not the shortest route, rely too much on freeways, and, in rare cases, lead you in exactly the wrong direction.
The MVRCF experience offered much more than we expected. We had prepared ourselves for a romantic, classic country prison gig. Well, maybe romantic is the wrong word. But prison is just scary. Damn scary. We were lead through several heavy doors that locked behind us. The first thing to hit you is the smell. Prisons, like high school locker rooms, smell like sweaty men. They smell bad. The jacked up guards at the central console confiscated our cell phones, cigarettes, nail clippers, and made jokes about how they were not going to let us out now that they had us locked in. These jokes were not funny. These guys know how to intimidate people.We were soon to learn why intimidation skills are important. The marched us out onto the exercise yard right there with the general population. Some shirtless men playing volley ball. Some shirtless men playing basketball. One very heavily tattooed shirtless man and his small posse strutting around the perimeter bad-vibing everyone, looking for a fight.
But it’s not the prisoners that are scary. In fact, the prisoners who came to our show were quite nice. The listened closely, clapped and cheered. They particularly liked our tunes with overt drug references. “40 pounds in the back of my van,” got the loudest hoots. It is the prison culture which is scary. It strips away the dignity from both the prisoners and the guards. These kinds of hardened power imbalances diminish us all, I’m afraid. The folks in Attica had some solid demands. I don’t think things have improved too much since the early 70s.The show ended, we shook hands with many of the inmates, packed up, took some photos and headed for the warm home of Carter and Chani. Quite an experience.