EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION: Montana Women's Prison

ADAM: Robbery. Narcotics. Assault. And Murder. These are the rap sheets from America’s best musicians you’ve never heard. Why? These men and women are serving life sentences in some of the country’s most secure prisons. Welcome to Sounds From the Slammer, a new music podcast from journalists Adam Schrader and Angus Mordant. Each episode features original compositions and cover tunes from these inmates. The artists behind bars will also discuss their crimes and how the opportunity to pursue music changed their lives. This episode we’re visiting Montana Women’s Prison. My name is Adam Schrader and I’m your host for this episode.

ANGUS: The state-run Montana Women’s Prison, located in Billings, is a 194-bed facility that operates constantly at or over capacity, according to its website. The facility has a staff of about 92, including 20 contract personnel. More than 90 percent of inmates partake in educational or vocational programs. Once such program is Tutti Behind Walls, a two-year-old partnership with the Billings Symphony in which inmates learn and perform the guitar. My name is Angus Mordant and I had the chance to speak with the inmates and officials with the symphony about the program.

[GREENSLEEVES]

ADAM: You just heard Greensleeves performed by the women of Montana Women’s Prison. The song, composed sometime in the 16th century, was already popular by the time Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor. In his play, the character Mistress Ford refers twice to “the tune of 'Greensleeves.’”

CANDY: My name is Candy Holzer.

ADAM: Candy has served as the education director for the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale for 11 years. She said she’s driven past the Montana Women’s Prison many, many mornings since she began in her position.

CANDY: I always wanted to serve the women here in some capacity with music in their lives—ever since I’ve been working at the Billings Symphony. And I worked on it and worked on it and I didn’t really get what I wanted with the executive director I worked under at that time.

ADAM: The Billings Symphony underwent a change in executive directors. Candy decided to approach the new leadership with the hopes for her new project. She said the new executive director was excited by the idea.

CANDY: He goes, “Well, if you can write a grant and get some money,” he said, “Let’s see what we can do.” So I did just that. I wrote a grant just to get some general money to come into the prison—just to kind of see what it was like in here first. And I sent musicians in just to do little mini concerts and gave the women biographies of the composers. And that was the first year. And then I wrote a grant to the State of Montana for the Artists in the Schools program. And this is not really a school. But in a way it is because the women are always learning new things in here. And so, the state was super excited about it. They gave me just a little bit of money, enough to purchase some guitars and stands. And we made copies illegally of music so we at least some kind of music because the program was very poor when we began.

ADAM: Candy said the state was so impressed with the success of the program that officials told her to ask for more money the next year.

CANDY: We asked for more money, so the guitar program went on for the second year. And then again, this past year, they said ask for more money again—which I did. And so next year, not only will we have 30 weeks of guitar lessons, we’re also going to have instrument petting zoos where the women can try out all the instruments of the orchestra and have concerts. And then the last time, all the women will get to have a concert with our musicians.

ANGUS: Can you describe the concert with the musicians a little bit? Is that going to be at the facility? Is that going to be open to friends and family?

CANDY: It’s very hard to get into the prison, so what the ladies get to do is invite two inmates each to come to these different events that we have. However, for the concerts, the prison coordinator will usually round up about 30 women that are interested in coming. And the concerts will be with two or three of our musicians. They’ll give a concert. They’ll talk about their instruments. Then were going to have a music store come in to and bring in instruments so the women can try them out.

FAITH: My name is Faith Krill and I’m native American and German. I’ve been in here almost 10 years. I get a kick out of doing this guitar because I’ve never had any musical background before. And when I get out I’d like to casually grab a guitar without letting my family know and just start playing! And I’m hoping that we’ll get other instruments coming in besides the guitar. Learning to play something with your fingers and learning to see the notes, I think it’s so great to be able to do that and take it out there and maybe show your family, “Look what I learned what I was in there.”  Maybe do it at family reunions one day.

CANDY: The women come and go. Of course, sometimes they get released to the prerelease center. Sometimes they get released out. Sometimes they drop out of the program for other reasons. We’re starting new women all the time. So it’s kind of hard to continue with harder and harder music because we kind of integrate the women in and out. But we try to hone the music so everybody can be involved. Maybe one can play the chords. Maybe one can play arpeggios. Then other one can sing. So we try to do all different levels.

ADAM: Guitar teachers offer classes in ten-week sessions, three times a year. Eighty-five women applied for the classes when it began. But inmates must undergo a rigorous approval process before joining due to space limitations.

CANDY: They’re very excited and honored to have been chosen because we would only choose ten of them to initially start. They come in the class nervous. They come in the class very excited. And after they get used to us, by about the fourth class, they become our friends. I mean we’re always excited to see them. They’re excited to see us every week.

JENNIFER: My name is Jennifer Domer and I’ve been here at this facility for almost two years. I’m 45 years old and I’m from Butte, Montana.

CANDY: Then when we do a recital, it’s a different story. They get very nervous. And it’s just funny, they come in and they’re so nervous and yet they’re excited. They want to do it but they don’t want to do it. They come in with their hair all fixed up and their fingernails polished and they’re really, really excited.

JENNIFER: I’d say the moments that stand out for me mostly are during the recitals. Little nervous but it’s been fun to get my friends down who want to listen and I’m kind of excited to go home and play some for my kids.

ANGUS: Would you sort of like opportunities for people outside of the facility to get to hear your music more often?

JENNIFER: I don’t think that I would get out and play music on a regular basis for like a crowd. But like, for around the house or for my family or something, I can do that. And it’s just been a really nice experience. Like I said, I didn’t think it was something that I’d ever do.

ANGUS: A lot of people have sort of whatever their preconceived ideas are on incarceration and they don’t realize there are these sorts of programs. Is there anything you’d like to say to people that have these preconceived ideas?

JENNIFER: People definitely get a preconceived notion about things that go on in of a prison. I believe that people, even myself, you know, when you think of somebody in prison, you think that it’s all negative and they need to do their time and, you know, be punished. But that isn’t necessarily what they’re… I mean they’re doing that, yes but a lot of positive things come up from it too. And it makes the time that we spend here a lot better. There just isn’t negatives to this situation and I think you learn to be positive, you learn to follow through, you learn just a lot of different things and overall the experience is just way more positive than it is negative.

ADAM: Right now, the classes are on a summer break until they resume in the fall.

JENNIFER: It’s definitely sad that we can’t get together for a couple months but time goes by fast. But the good thing is we can still practice, go on our own and practice. And I practice if I can unless there’s a lockdown or something which interferes but I go about five hours week on top of our two-hour class that we have. So, during the summer I’ve still been doing my five hours of practice.

CANDY: It gives them something to do rather than maybe just sit in their room. They can actually go play their guitar. They can’t take their guitar into their room with them because they do have a roommate.  Each of the women do. But it gives them something do with their spare time. Plus, it’s a skill they can take with them. You can always find a guitar at a pawn shop or somebody in their family has a guitar and they can continue with that skill. A couple of the ladies in the class have gone onto the prerelease center. They requested to take their guitars with them. We were thrilled to let that happen just because we want them to continue playing this guitar so that hopefully then can self soothe themselves when they do get out and get into the real world instead of going back to their same routine they did before whether it was drugs or whatever they’ve been doing in their life.

[SIMPLE GIFTS]

ADAM: "Simple Gifts," a Shaker song written in 1848, was largely unknown outside Shaker communities until Aaron Copland used its melody for the score of the ballet Appalachian Spring, which was first performed in 1944. English songwriter Sydney Carter used the tune for his song, "Lord of the Dance," which was first published in 1963.

ELIZABETH: My name is Elizabeth Adcock and I am one of the guitar instructors here at the Montana Women’s Prison.

ADAM: Elizabeth is not a member of the symphony but plays with many of the symphony members.

ANGUS: What have you noticed over the two years, changes in the women or in the program or in yourself?

ELIZABETH: Well I’ve noticed the changes in the program are very positive changes. I was a little skeptical about coming into the prison. And mainly, I wasn’t sure if we could actually do it—if we would have any sort of impact. If we could actually teach them music. A lot of teachers would admit that they’re not always successful and students, for the most part, are not interested in the work. But it’s a very interesting group of women. They’re cooperative. They work well with each other. Some of them have more skill going into this than others and they’re very supportive of the ones who don’t. Some of the ladies are older and it’s pretty hard to pick up an instrument when you’re older and have it work.

DIANA: I’m Diana Arnold. I’m 63. I was born and raised in Bozeman, Montana, and I’ve been here at MWP for about three and a half years. I was in the very first class they offered here. The instructors are having us play a lot of music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, which is right in my era.

ANGUS: What’s been the biggest challenge?

DIANA: Well, first of all, as you get older, it’s harder to learn new things. The second thing is I have a head injury form a vehicle accident which makes it hard to sometimes be coordinated. So, for me, it’s really pushing me to make those new connections and break that kind of that I can’t do it. So, I keep doing it. I’m persistent. I mean there’s whole different levels of people because some people played before they came into the class. Some people have good voices for singing. So, I just keep trying to keep up. It’s a struggle for me but it’s one I enjoy.

ANGUS: What was your initial reaction when you were told that these people from the symphony would be coming here?

DIANA: I knew it would be a popular thing so I felt very lucky to be chosen one of the first original ten people to start but I’ve stuck with it since it started.

ADAM: Diana said the only thing that bothers her about the program is the people who leave it.

DIANA: The people that leave that just leave, I think they get tired of it, is frustrating because it is a commitment. There’s a lot of other people that would have liked to have their space. So that’s the only negative the people that leave and are still hanging out. That’s frustrating for me because there’s so many people that want to be in this program.

ANGUS: Can you explain the practice schedule? How long each week you get?

DIANA: I signed up for four practices a week and I practice in the late afternoon usually from 3 to 4: Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. So, I break it up. Some days, you know, it’s like you know any other art—you feel like you can go forever. And some days you feel like that hour is a chore.

ANGUS: Is there anything you want to say about the comradery of the group or how it is coming together to perform?

DIANA: Well the instructors are great. Candy arranges for us and she plays with us — which is a really nice thing to have. Of course, any activity you are in, you have a group. Everybody tries to work together and everybody makes mistakes. So, it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one in there making mistakes and they’re always willing to help you.

ANGUS: Do you know anyone’s background or do you just take it on face value of the course? Does that come up? Does that matter to you personally?

ELIZABETH: We don’t really think about what they’re here for. And I know it’s possible to find out what they are here for, you can just search and it’s all public knowledge but I’m not really interested. I think that would not help, because the reason we’re here to help them learn guitar. But with that said, we do find out why they’re here and it’s sometimes kind of gruesome. But we are in a prison.

CANDY: When I first entered the prison, I did not want to have any idea of what the women had done to get them in here. Of course, some of them after I got to know them and know their names I recognized some of them from the paper and knew what their crimes were but I had no prior knowledge before I came in because it does not matter what they did. They’re in here for a reason I know that everybody knows that this is their punishment but when we’re here playing together it doesn’t matter.

ELIZABETH: It’s a little intimidating at first but it’s pretty secure here. This room is secure on all sides.

[AMAZING GRACE]

ADAM: You just heard a spontaneous performance of Amazing Grace by Lindsay Haugen at the end of her interview.

LINDSAY: Hi, my name is Lindsay Haugen. I am from Portland, Oregon. I’ve been living in Tacoma Washington for about the last ten years.  I’ve been in this music program here since February of this year so right around six months or so maybe not even that.

ADAM: Lindsay has been involved in the prison’s choir program since arriving last July. She’s serving a 60-year sentence currently and is not eligible to see the parole board for another 13 years. Last year, Haugen was convicted of murdering her 25-year-old boyfriend in 2015, according to MTN News. She was 32 at the time.

LINDSAY: So the music program here has been a gift because my victim, I am a homicide, you know I was convicted of homicide last year, his mom the mother of my victim came out here from Florida to visit me. It was the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had. But I was actually able to sit down and sing with her and play the guitar. Her sons both play, err you know one son did play the guitar and her other son does play the guitar and so we were able to have that connection and it was really, really beautiful. And I keep getting letters from her saying ohh there’s this song I want to sing with you and there’s that song I want to sing with you and so it’s been amazing the way we’ve been able to connect through our music.

ANGUS: How did that whole sort of process come about? Did she reach out to you?

LINDSAY:  She did, she did. It was you know it was completely unexpected. Last October, I just got a letter you know saying that I already have forgiven you and just reaching out. And even then, she started writing songs to me, you know, hymns that had had come to her about forgiveness and about love and God’s love. At the time I was real skeptical and I was still kind of shut off and I got this letter from this woman saying that she’s my victim’s mom that she forgives me. It was tough but I wrote back in good faith and hoped that this was real and it turned out to be very real and I mean the most incredible experience I’ve ever seen you know just when I first walked in I met her right here in this room and I didn’t know what to do but I came down the stairs and I just hugged her. I said I’m sorry. She hugged me back and said I forgive you. And we spent eight and a half hours. We sang back and forth to each other about you know God’s love and forgiveness and you know just everything you know how we can find peace and it was just beautiful.

ANGUS: Music and stuff has been quite the bonding process then I guess.

LINDSAY: Yes, it’s been incredible. I get to call her. I get to call her today again actually, you know. And we always give each other songs to learn and she’s hoping to come back in two years. So, there’s songs we’re going to practice for then. I actually got to take a video of it too. So, there’s a video that shows she and I singing it is well with my soul together.  They showed that at their church in Florida on Sunday so I sang in church in Florida on Sunday. So that was really cool.

ADAM: Lindsay said the day her victim’s mother flew from Florida to meet her, she was stressed out and asked the guards if she could play her guitar to calm down.

LINDSAY: And nobody would let me and I was like, “I’m freaking out,” and so finally they let me go play my guitar and I was like okay and I started singing and I was like, “there we go, now I’m okay.” and so that’s you know, we are set to certain times we can practice and stuff but a lot of times the guitars are really cool because you know they see it as something constructive that we’re doing and they’ll let us if there’s not a bunch a crowd, you know, a line out there waiting of people to practice their guitar. They’ll let us go practice our guitar pretty much any time.

ADAM: Lindsay spent 11 years in the Army, even obtaining the rank of sergeant. She recounts a story from when she was deployed to Kuwait in 2011.

LINDSAY: My intelligence NCO comes to me and he’s like “I heard you sing.” And I’m like, “well yeah, I do.” And he’s like, “Will you sing for our band?” And I’m like, “Band? What are you talking about? We’re aviators. We fly helicopters.” And he’s like, “well come, come see what we’ve got.” And they had a full rock band and they needed someone to sing for them and so I started singing, no microphone, with a full band, just screaming at the top of my lungs, you know. But eventually we became a really, really quality band. I mean it was impressive.

ADAM: In 2015, Lindsay started off as an officer candidate with a seat in flight school. She was going to be a pilot—a Blackhawk pilot. By the end of 2015, she was staring at a 65-year sentence for homicide.

LINDSAY: And that’s, that’s it. I went from being someone very successful with a career. I got a college education, to being an inmate and that’s you know all people look at.

ADAM: Lindsay said music helped her cope with her crime before even reaching Montana Women’s Prison.

LINDSAY: I know for me, music is really healing, you know when I was in county before I was sentenced or convicted or anything like that every Sunday morning I would wake up and sing hymns as loud as I could because we were locked down besides you know about four hours in the afternoon we would get out.  So I would sing all day and people would ask, they would give me requests of songs they want to hear. There’s people who, like me when I was in county, there was some girl down on the lower tier who would sing back and we would have vocal battles back and forth. And I don’t know who that person was. I have no idea who it was. She had a great voice. We could really sing to each other. Music has a way of really soothing people and bringing people together you know a lot of people who maybe wouldn’t get along otherwise are finding this connection and they are able to identify with each other because of it.

[HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN]

ADAM: You just heard the group perform the classic folk tune “House of the Rising Sun,” popularized by The Animals, with inmate Susie Schaaf as the soloist.

SUSIE: My name is Susie Schaaf. I have been here at the Montana’s Women’s Prison for two and half years. I started with the program when they started so I’m already in the advanced group. I just love it because I played the guitar on the outs.

ADAM: Susie said she started singing when she was five years old. She started picking chords out on the guitar at 14 so she could accompany herself when she sings.

SUSIE: I was one of the first ones to get into the program, which was exciting for me. It had been quite a few years since I had been singing. So it really revived my spirit again because music to me is a gift and I shut down after I went through some emotional things in my life and got an addiction and a DUI. And that’s what brought me here. The chance to be able to sing again has given me hope.

SUSIE: Whatever you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. I do know that we’re human and we make mistakes. It’s a hard way to have to accept the fact that we do make mistakes and have to end up imprisoned. But that does not define who I am as a human being, as a woman. I will do my time and learn in every way I that possibly can to better myself. And again, the music has only helped. It has been a major stepping stone for me to pull it together and express myself and get those emotions out.

ADAM: Susie said the program has changed her direction in life.

SUSIE: For the community to actually be bringing in a program for us was just absolutely wonderful and the instructor ladies are just great. They treat us like human beings. They work with us on an individual basis. I even foresee myself going out there and helping, helping to give back also. That’s just how wonderful it is that the community is backing any programs coming into the prison.

ADAM: Susie said that before she was sent to prison, she worked some with what she called “a little country band back home.”

[ONE DAY AT A TIME]

SUSIE: Working with some of the other inmates, brings me peacefulness, and some compassion, understanding and possibly someday to can help others to learn and play the guitar. I was just really excited about it, knowing that, okay, this is something I can do. I can be a part of this. It gave me hope. That was the biggest thing of all, to think that there was a grant and a program that would offer guitar playing and singing. That’s why I knew it would help me get through the tough times.

ADAM: Thank you for listening to Sounds From the Slammer. Our executive producers are Adam Schrader and Angus Mordant. This episode was edited by Adam Schrader. Our music was composed by David Glenney and Colton Crews. We'd like to thank MWP staff for allowing Angus to visit the prison and record the inmates, as well as keeping America safe. We'd like to thank the inmates for letting us speak with them and air their music. You can catch our next episode on iTunes and Google Play. Visit our website, soundsfromtheslammer.com, or check out our social media for more information and additional content. Tune in next Friday for an episode featuring music from the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp-- a minimum security forestry camp for male inmates. Prisoners are assigned to crews that fight wild land fires and other community service. 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION: Limon Correctional Facility

Adam Schrader: Robbery. Narcotics. Assault. And Murder. These are the rap sheets from America's best musicians you’ve never heard. Why? These men and women are serving life sentences in some of the country’s most secure prisons. Welcome to Sounds From the Slammer, a new music podcast from journalists Adam Schrader and Angus Mordant. Each episode features original compositions and cover tunes from these inmates. The artists behind bars will also discuss their crimes and how the opportunity to pursue music changed their lives. This episode we’re visiting Limon Correctional Facility in Limon, Colorado. My name is Adam Schrader and I’m your host for this episode.

Adam Schrader: Limon Correctional Facility, a mixed-class prison including maximum security, opened in 1991 in a semi-arid region of Colorado’s eastern plains. It can house up to 960 prisoners and counted 173 with life sentences at the end of March, according to Colorado Department of Corrections data. Prisoners with good behavior are allowed to partake in developmental programs, such as obtaining their GED. Limon staff also provide inmates the opportunity to form its facility bands, which perform only at events inside prison walls. There are currently less than 10 inmates who have been approved to perform in the prison’s four bands. In this episode, we’re speaking with three members of the prison’s R&B group. They are Odus Bell, Joaquin Mares and Jody Aguirre. These interviews were conducted by cell phone, so the audio may be difficult to pick out for some listeners. I’ll do my best to recap what was said as the episode goes along when suitable.

Odus Bell: My name is Odus Bell O-D-U-S-B-E-L-L. I’ve been locked up 31 years. I’m in here for assault, attempted murder, a bunch of burglaries. They gave me 160 years for that. And then when I got here when I was young, I attempted escape and they added another 20 years to it. So, altogether, I’ve got about 170 years. But I’m not, you know, I don’t think about it no more because, you know what? When you do things like that, that’s what you’ve got coming.

Adam Schrader: How old were you when you were first incarcerated?

Odus Bell: I was 21.

Adam Schrader: Did you play any music before you were locked up?

Odus Bell: Yes I did play instruments off and on since I was about nine years old/

Adam Schrader: Were you looking to pursue a music career before you were arrested?

Odus Bell: Yes, yes. I—no. I—no, I didn’t take advantage of it like I should when I was young. Most kids don’t listen to their parents. But when I got locked up, I got in more trouble when I got here it seems like I got worse so they put me in ad-seg [administrative segregation] for like 19 years, I stayed there and I continued to read music about books and everything. I knew it was in my blood, I just wasn’t listening to what myself could [do.] But when I got here, a lot of officers here gave us a lot of opportunities especially the Warden, Mr. Falk., and Major Long they gave us the opportunity to express ourselves and do things that better ourselves up again so I took extreme advantage of it and I got pretty good at it.

Adam Schrader: Mr. Bell is referring to Major Jeff Long and Warden James Falk with the Limon Correctional Facility.

Odus Bell: A lot of guys here draw. A lot of guys here do other things. But I believe that music is the best way to express ourselves and show society that hey people do change, you know what I mean. When I come here, I was young. I made foolish mistakes. I done foolish things. But now I have the opportunity to express myself through my music and let people know that we are still human beings we just make terrible mistakes and now that this facility is allowing us to do that I think it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.

Adam Schrader: What genres of music do you like to play?

Odus Bell: I started out, when I first got here, I started out with gospel. That’s one of my favorites. I play jazz, play rhythm and blues. We play everything basically because we’re the facility bands so we have to play all genres of music, we can’t just play one thing. Because sometimes we do the banquets here, the volunteer banquets. The volunteer banquets consist of staff coming in and doing the things that they do so we put a little party together for them it’s more like dinner music, wine music you know, kind of kind of like that.

Adam Schrader: Mr. Bell also tells us about the opportunities in which he gets to perform. These include benefit concerts for charity as well as honorary ceremonies for staff and inmates including GED graduations.

Odus Bell: My family, we grew up as Christian people, you know. That has always been in my blood and that has always been around our house. So I just knew it and it became easier for me. But my favorite music that I play is jazz but I love gospel and then it gave me the opportunity to learn more in church because I play in all the church facilities here, all their programs, I do all their Christmas shows. I do all their banquets, I do all their religious ceremonies. I play the music for them, you know.

Adam Schrader: Creating this pilot episode of Sounds from the Slammer was special. The prison’s R&B group, rhapsodic at the opportunity to have their music aired in this podcast, wrote four original compositions to premiere on Sounds From the Slammer. The demo CD was sent by United States Postal Service to my home address—which is probably the coolest thing that’s ever happened in my news career. We’ll air those tracks in just a moment. The interview with Mr. Bell was conducted before the band had a name. Since the interview, the band has come up with the name Next Level

Odus Bell: Now that you ask the question, Mr. Adam, we have started working on relig… on, uh, original songs because we thought that you might want to do that. So were going to put our originals on there. Most of them are rhythm and blues, some are ballads, some are jazz, some are gospel, so we’re going to do a variety for you, maybe two or three. We’re going to do some good stuff for you. I think you’re going to be very, very impressed. Last concert we did, we just called ourselves The Right Notes. And Before that it was Mixed Company. Now that we’re putting together a whole new thing together for you now, we’re not sure what we’re going to call our band yet. Most of my songs is about love, peace and understanding. Some might come from different angles. But I express love., that’s the main thing. You know, hey, this is the chance to open up to everybody, you know because sometimes you can’t say what you want to say with your mouth but that instrument will do it but like I say mine is basically based on love and there’s a message to young society too that you don’t have to be the person that you are, you know what I’m saying, you don’t have to have the friends, you don’t have to have this and that. All you need is to trust in god and you can do anything you want to do.

Adam Schrader: So how much do you get to practice?

Odus Bell: Well, Major Long and Warden Falk gave me, I’m the pinpoint of the band room so I’m basically in there anywhere from eight to ten hours a day.

Adam Schrader: Odus is saying that his job in the prison is being in charge of the band room, where he works at least eight hours a day.

Odus Bell: That’s my job.

Adam Schrader: Tell me more about your band mates.

Odus Bell: We have really good musicians here, we really do. Matter of fact, you probably won’t get the chance to interview the other three which is Alex Linzy, Todd Robinson and Michael Chambers. Those are the three other guys. There are six of us altogether that do the facility bands and these guys are wonderful musicians, they really are, they have a passion for it.

Adam Schrader: What was it like getting to bond with these guys? Did you guys like, you know, form a family within in the prison? What is it like to be a part of a group with these fellow inmates?

Odus Bell: Yes, we do. It feels like a brother relationship, a friend relationship, because we have to depend on each other. Everyone has to do his part. Everyone has to do his job. So we’ve been doing it together now for about for seven years. So We trust each other we depend on each other you know what I mean. It’s really made us understand and most of them are god-loving men. That’s what I like. They love the Lord. That’s the main thing about me. You know, I’m not—I don’t try to push it on nobody, but I’m just glad that they are—god-fearing men.

Adam Schrader: Do you think that music helps curb recidivism, you know the idea that inmates will return to their troubled past?

Odus Bell: Men wasn’t put on this earth to rob, rape, murder and kill and do things like that. We wasn’t meant do that. We just made those bad choices. But this is the opportunity for me to wake up and see now that that’s not for me. I don’t ever want to do anything like that again. And like I say, I’m going to take extreme advantage of what I have now. Even though I’m in prison! I’d rather stay here and play the rest of my music the rest of my life than get back out there and be a burden on society again. We weren’t built to do that and I ain’t ever going to do that again.

Adam Schrader: After we wrapped up our interview, Mr. Bell said he had one more thing that he wanted to say to the public.

Odus Bell: Mr. Adam, I’d like to tell the public this here, you know, music is good for the soul. All music is good as long as you talk about something positive. Something meaningful and talking about something you experienced in life and that’s music I like. Music is a way to communication with all people no matter where you at. Some type of music is going to touch your heart. But you know, I don’t put down all the rappers and everybody else but I think everything should be positive and not—there’s so much chaos and madness going on in the world we don’t need nothing negative. We don’t need to be talking about women or men or talking about pimpin’ and this and that, we need to express love through our music, understanding or something that we experienced through our music. That’s what the world needs right now. We’ve got enough chaos, we don’t need it anymore, you know what I mean!

Adam Schrader: Thank you for your time Odus. Now get ready for this soft classic rock throwback with vocals reminiscent of R&B greats Ben E. King, Percy Sledge and Al Green. The song, titled “Keys to My Heart,” features Mr. Bell on lead vocals, bass and all guitars. Alex Linzy, whom we did not have the opportunity to interview, performs drums, percussion, and background vocals. Inmate Joaquin Mares also joins in on background vocals.

KEYS TO MY HEART: click here for lyrics.

Joaquin Mares: My name is Joaquin Mares, J-O-A-Q-U-I-N-M-A-R-E-S. I’m in my 25th calendar now and I have life without parole.

Adam Schrader: We apologize that the audio cuts out there. Mr. Mares is saying that he is currently serving a life sentence without parole.

Joaquin Mares: I originally picked up the guitar when I was 15. A relative of mine originally tried to show me how to play the guitar. So I played off and on for a little while, nothing serious. You know, once I got to prison it didn’t take me long to find a place in the music program here and I’ve been playing ever since, playing in bands. And one of the reasons I started playing guitar is because I used to like heavy metal a lot. Those are my roots. But as I grew, as I grew older and matured, my taste in music kind of broadened so I learned how to play, you know, rock to jazz to a little bit of country, classical. I love classical guitar.

Adam Schrader: What do you like about classical guitar?

Joaquin Mares: Well I like the fact that its—you know, you don’t need a band.

Adam Schrader: What are some of these positive character traits you’ve learned from playing music?

Joaquin Mares: Well, 25 years ago as a very young and immature man, I made a serious mistake, the ultimate mistake of taking someone’s life. I’ve exhausted my entire adult life striving to not only striving to not only understand my crime in a way as to provide some clarity as to why it happened but learning to be responsible and learning to express my remorse and music has provided me the means to accomplish both. It wasn’t always like that. I mean, when I first got here, I viewed music as a way to escape the reality of my situation\. You know, I was 20 years old. Just came down with a fresh life sentence. You know, I didn’t—it was my first time to prison. I really didn’t know what I was going to do to survive the situation. So that was a way for me to escape. But what I didn’t realize was that in the process of learning to play I was learning the habits that are, you know, conducive to shaping my character in a, in a positive way. Unless you’re extraordinarily gifted, which I, I can’t say that I am, music, you have to learn. You have to dedicate a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of dedication. It’s not easy. Originally, I learned music as a way to escape my situation but what it ended up doping was teaching me the opposite.

Adam Schrader: Can you talk a little more about that?

Joaquin Mares: Because of the nature of the situation, we’re constantly having personnel changes in our group. You know, guys can move to another facility, they could go out to court, they can get in trouble and get removed from population. So, whenever that happens, other guys in the band have to step up and, and fill that part. So I’m fluent in guitar but I’ve had to play bass, I’ve had to play keyboard. I haven’t gotten to the drums yet but that might be, that might be a bit down the road.

Adam Schrader: What do other inmates and staff think about you performing in these bands?

Joaquin Mares: I’ve mentored numerous aspiring musicians throughout the whole entire time I’ve been here. The staff that know me, the staff that have been here for a while and the ones who haven’t been here as long, as they get to know everybody here they see how they interact with other prisoners and how they do their time, you know they know people who are involved in the music program, they know that, you know, they are not the type who are going to get in trouble because in order to maintain your status in the music program you have to stay out of trouble. There is a redemptive power in creative expression and, you know, for whatever reason that we find ourselves in this situation, you know, we do owe a huge—we owe society. And just sitting in a prison cell, you know, we’re not able to repay our debt to society just sitting in a prison cell. So we need to come up with things that are going to, you know, enable us to repay our debt to society. You know, I think that music provides that. Its provided that for me in my life and for a lot of guys that, you know, I’ve been able to work with throughout the years.

Adam Schrader: Mr. Mares says that many prisons lack what he calls “pro-social influence,” that is the idea that positive social structures and opportunities within prisons will help prisoners reform and become better people. That includes opportunities like Limon’s facility bands, which don’t just provide creative expression and discipline, but permit model inmates to socialize with each other and those who might benefit from them as role models.

Joaquin Mares: You know, one of the things that is lacking in the prison system is a complete and total lack of pro social influence. It’s hard for me to breathe because for whatever reason that guys are put in prison we couldn’t function in society, right? So they put everybody in the same spot and I think we’re expected to just be good but there’s just a complete and total lack of pro social influence in our lives. From my own experience, I know that there are younger guys that look up to the guys that are in my situation. And I know that I’ve impacted a lot of youngster’s lives too.

Adam Schrader: We just heard from inmate Joaquin Mares. Now stay tuned for his ballad, Love’s Philosophy—representative of R&B from the 1980s and including elements of ‘80s pop rock. Mares performs lead and rhythm guitars—often with flowing guitar solos. Linzy returns on drums. Inmate Todd Robinson joins in on keyboards. Jody Aguirre sings lead vocals, while Michael Chambers sings background vocals. Here’s Love’s Philosophy.

LOVE’S PHILOSOPHY: click here for lyrics.

Adam Schrader: This crooning ‘70s rhythm and blues slow jam, titled “Stay,” also features messages of love and was written by Alex Linzy. He performs drums, bass and lead vocals on this track. Joaquin Mares performs lead guitar and Odus Bell performs rhythm guitar. Todd Robinson performs keyboards. And Michael Chambers sings background vocals. Jody Aguirre also sings backup vocals on this track.

STAY: click here for lyrics.

Adam Schrader: The next inmate we’re going to hear from is Jody Aguirre. Mr. Aguirre says he’s in jail for conspiracy to commit first degree murder. Aguirre said a man he was in business with at the time committed the crime with a relative of his. Though he says he wasn’t privy to the crime until after it was committed, he says he was still convicted of the charge when he refused to provide information to police.

Jody Aguirre: I’m here for being a business partner with a friend, one of my best friends who was fresh out of prison in 1992 and did something and I wouldn’t tell the authorities what he told me he did, something he did with someone that was related to me. Because I wouldn’t divulge my knowledge, and because I owned half the company and my ties to these individuals, I was convicted of first degree murder. Music honestly saved my life. In this situation, you try to find anything to give you hope, to motivate you, to encourage you and music, especially during this past 24 years has done that. And like after I escaped from prison in 2003 from Buena Vista, I was sent to solitary confinement for a number of years and there you’re allowed to hear music and that’s where I heard the song “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush that really kept me going.

Adam Schrader: In case you didn’t catch that, Jody says he spent time in solitary confinement for an attempted prison escape. The prison Jody said he escaped from was Buena Vista Correction Facility in Buena Vista, Colorado. He first heard Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s duet “Don’t Give Up” while in solitary, which he says inspired him to turn his life around and get into music.

Jody Aguirre: When I got out, I made a choice. When I got out of solitary confinement, I made a choice that I wasn’t going to take my talent for granted, I wasn’t going to take anything whether it be the rain or whatever, I was going to use it and do something good with it and I immediately auditioned for a band when I got out of solitary confinement and, apparently, I was good enough to make the band and ever since then, we’ve been in several bands over the years making music.

Adam Schrader: Do you think that all prisons should offer music programs?

Joaquin Mares: Oh most definitely. Most, most definitely. You ever seen the Shawshank Redemption?

Adam Schrader: Yeah, it’s actually one of my favorite films.

Joaquin Mares: Remember that scene where he’s in the warden’s office and he plays that beautiful record and he puts it over the intercom in the yard and everything?

Adam Schrader: The song featured in the film was the duet Sull’aria from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s, “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Jody Aguirre: And the reaction. Everybody stops and they listen to this beautiful—I think it was a sonata if I’m not mistaken. That’s truly how music effects people in here.

Adam Schrader: Do other inmates get to see you perform that often?

Jody Aguirre: We just did, I don’t know if my bandmates told you, we just did a fundraiser for Special Olympics last month where we raised enough money to send a couple Olympians to Europe. And next month, on July the twenty-something, we’re going to do a cancer walk fundraiser. I wish you could come to that because there will be multiple bands playing.

Adam Schrader: So is this R&B group the only group you have within the prison or are there any other facility bands?

Jody Aguirre: Odus Bell, who is a drummer and great rhythm guitarist, is in our jazz/R&B band.

Adam Schrader: The R&B band he’s referring to in those last quotes is Next Level—the band featured in this podcast.

Jody Aguirre: Mr. Mares, Joaquin Mares, is in that band as well. And he and I also have a rock band where we play stuff like old Black Sabbath to new, new stuff and some originals as well. He’s a wonderful, wonderful lead guitarist—can play classical music, can play Bach, Beethoven on his guitar. He’s just a talented, talented guitarist. And we have that rock band and tonight is our practice night actually. So yes, they are my bandmates in more than several bands, you know?

Adam Schrader: Yeah, so how many bands do you guys actually have going on right now?

Jody Aguirre: We have our originals and we play covers. For R&B band we’ll do stuff like—I’m not sure if you’re familiar with The Gap Band or Earth, Wind and Fire. For example, one of the songs that we’re doing in our rock band is by a group called Highly Suspect called “My Name Is Human.” Really, really good song. But we’ll mix those covers with our originals as well during these sets that we do.

Adam Schrader: So what is your songwriting process?

Jody Aguirre: Basically, what I’ll do is I’ll write a poem and put music to poetry basically. Sometimes the music will come within a half an hour. And then from there, that’s your foundation. You know, the band gets together and you add their little nuances, the bass line, the drum line, et cetera et cetera. And then there sometimes where you work on a song for days, maybe even weeks, to try to get it to fit right and again you’ll change that song several times over sometimes.

Adam Schrader: Mr. Aguirre was audibly moved when he found out that his original compositions would be premiered on this podcast and that his family and friends on the outside would be able to gear him for the first time.

Jody Aguirre: They are? That’s beautiful man. Makes me emotional to think about that and think about that possibility because in this world here, the world that is prison, you feel as if you have no voice. And you want to communicate with people on whatever level you can—whether it’s vocabulary, or a song or writing. Because, I wrote a book. I wrote an autobiography about my life which I’m editing now. But just to reach people period is a beautiful thing and that’s awesome.

Adam Schrader: How do you hope that this podcast and your music is received outside of these prisons? Do you think it will have a big impact on what the general public thinks about these inmates?

Jody Aguirre: Most people out there, their opinion of prison is that everyone should be slammed down and eating spinach every three days and staring at the wall 24 hours. They don’t realize that their perception of penitentiary is supposed to be sheer punishment when that’s not what it’s supposed to be. When they realize that music is not only beneficial to the inmate population but it’s beneficial to the safety of the inmate population as well as staff, it relieves all those tensions. So, if it’s put in that perspective, the benefits of music on all levels, I think they would have a better understanding a better appreciation for it.

Adam Schrader: Do you have anybody on the outside that has ever heard your music before?

Jody Aguirre: Well I have three grandsons. My beautiful daughter, who’s 35 now, she was 11 when this happened when I was convicted. I was able to send her … I’ve been jail so long that I think CDs were the new fad. So we were able to send CDs to our families of cover songs we’d done in our band during these performances. And as of yet, I don’t think my daughter, for whatever reason, has been able to play it for my three grandsons yet. But that’s okay. I would love to have this opportunity for my loved ones to hear our music because they haven’t heard our originals. It was unusual being on the phone with someone other than a family member.

Adam Schrader: The last song we’re premiering in this inaugural episode of Sounds From the Slammer was written by Aguirre and sets a strong tone for the end of the group’s demo. The song, often sounding Pink Floyd-esque, showcases Aguirre’s affinity for classic rock. The song begins with a haunting harmonic keyboard riff before a heavily distorted electric guitar calls joins in the call and response, making up much of the song’s melodic structure. Aguirre performs keyboard and sings lead vocals. Joaquin Mares performs all guitars and bass on the chorus. Alex Linzy rounds out the ensemble with drums and bass on the melody. Here’s “Mystic Hustle.”

MYSTIC HUSTLE: click here for lyrics.

Adam Schrader: Thank you for listening to Sounds From the Slammer. Our executive producers are Adam Schrader and Angus Mordant. Our music was composed by David Glenney and Colton Crews. We'd like to thank Limon correctional staff for recording the inmates and providing access to interviews for us, as well as keeping America safe. We'd like to thank the inmates for letting us speak with them and air their music. You can catch our next episode on iTunes and Google Play. Visit our website, soundsfromtheslammer.com, or check out our social media for more information and additional content. Tune in next Friday for an episode featuring the ladies of Montana Women’s Prison.

LYRICS: "Mystic Hustle" by Next Level

This world ain’t what it used to be. Whatever happened to saying what you mean? Seems Like yesterday that I was home. Nobody’s going to remember when it’s all said and done.

Once upon a time, it was just you and me. Nothing but love and pure alchemy. Lives dipped in magic and addictions from above. Prayers from my ancestors long before we were born.

Longing for you clears my mind. Keeps me awake through the sleepless night. Only to remember when morning comes, that I’m still in love with you, with you, with you, with you.

This man ain’t who he used to be. Shadows came to life and changed his destiny. Does yesterday matter if no one’s home? The future is hopeless, have to do it alone.

Remember when lives were like a puzzle. Trying to solve it with a mystic hustle. Pockets full of money, hearts made of dirt. Watching sand castles crumble from the hurt.

Longing for you clears my mind. Keeps me awake through the sleepless night. Only to remember when morning comes, that I’m still in love with you, with you, with you, with you. [x2]

Song written by Jody Aguirre

LYRICS: "Stay" by Next Level

Yeah baby, mmmmm. Listen.

For 30 long years, you’ve been by my side. There’s something about the way you still smile when you see me. Something about the way, you still give me love when I need it.

Let me say right now, before it’s too late that I want you to:

Stay, stay, baby. Stay by my side. Baby won’t you stay, stay. Come on home, my lady.

Sometimes I don’t do right but I love you, girl. Sometimes I love you leave you alone but I don’t do you wrong because I love you, yes I do.

You’ve been my lover and my wife for a long time. And you are still the only one for me. So I’d like you to:

Stay, stay, baby. Stay by my side. Baby won’t you stay, stay. Come on home, my lady.

You know I love you baby and you know that I still care for you. If you stay right by my side, baby, you know that I’ll always be true. Yeah, yeah.

[Guitar Solo]

Listen to me.

If the time has come for me to set you free, I hope that you know it will make a lesser man of me. Turn my world upside down and spin my head ‘round and ‘round. But I wont be the one who hold you down.

But I’m asking you to:

Stay, stay, baby. Yeah, by my side. Baby won’t you stay, stay. Come on home, my lady.

Song written by Alex Linzy

LYRICS: "Love's Philosophy" by Next Level

Love has brought kings to their knees. Please do reign eternally. Holding secrets as deep as the sea, as the sea. I’m drowning in the memory of you, of you. Where did you go? Please tell me where. Tell me where.

I long to be in your company. Woe is peace and we were free. Find a way beyond this mystery. I’m dancing to the melody of you, of you. Where did you go? Please tell me where. Tell me where.

What fool spells love l-o-v-e? Not dressed in emotion, can’t you see. Don’t forget your heart. Lesson in love’s philosophy. [x2]

Love has brought kings to their knees. Please do reign eternally. Holding secrets as deep as the sea, as the sea. I’m drowning in the memory of you, of you. Where did you go? Please tell me where. Tell me where.

I long to be in your company. Woe is peace and we were free. Find a way beyond this mystery. I’m dancing to the melody of you, of you. Where did you go? Please tell me where. Tell me where.

What fool spells love l-o-v-e? Not dressed in emotion, can’t you see. Don’t forget your heart. Lesson in love’s philosophy. [x4]

 [Guitar Solo]

What fool spells love l-o-v-e? Not dressed in emotion, can’t you see. Don’t forget your heart. Lesson in love’s philosophy. [x6]

Song written by Joaquin Mares

LYRICS: "Keys to My Heart" by Next Level

If I give you / the keys to my heart / would you unlock it / just to tear it apart.

And if I told you / I was in love with you / would you think / that I was being foolish too. 

Because I want you / and I need you / I can’t live my life without you / And it would kill me if I / if I ever could

I love you. I love you. I need you. I do. I love you. Woman, I love you. I love you. I need you. I do.

If I told you my deepest secret / Would you tell all your girlfriends just to get a laugh.

I can’t sleep / I can’t eat / and my heart skips a beat / every time / you call / darling, you cross my mind.

I love you. I love you. I need you. I do. I love you. Baby, I love you. I love you. I need you. I do.

I love you. I love you. I need you. I do. I love you. Woman, I love you. I love you. I need you. I do.

Song written by Odus Bell

Welcome to Sounds From The Slammer! A New Prison Music Podcast

Hi Listener!

Welcome to Sounds From The Slammer! I’m so excited to launch this, my first podcast, and am so thrilled I got to work with the highly skilled multimedia journalist and close friend, Angus Mordant.

For now, we can’t tell you the details of how we stumbled onto this brilliant idea. But we’re happy it struck us while working on another project slated for release down the road.

It’s a pretty simple concept for a podcast, to be honest. We’re not really giving you wonderful storytelling, the likes of Sarah Koenig and Ira Glass. We’re still shocked that nobody had ever attempted, or at least published, a podcast about prison music before.

The pilot episode launches the series with a simple format: we interview inmates in some of the most secure prisons in the country and ask them about the music they play while in prison, then air recordings of those tracks in between interviews. In the future, we hope to give you some alternative story formats — just when it seems logical that another episode format should be used.

This ain’t like any news or music podcast you’ve heard before. The interviews can be informative and moving, with inmates emotional they’ve been given a voice and a platform to share their music. The tunes you’ll hear has never been broadcast before.

Keep up with our website and social media for Angus’s compelling images revealing the musical lives of inmates beyond the men and women we’ve interviewed in Sounds From The Slammer. We’ll also post transcriptions and other additional content on our website.

We’d also like to express our gratitude to David Glenney and Colton Crews. These rocking fellas composed our intro and outro musical tracks, which we believe fit the tone of our podcast perfectly. They’re somehow simultaneously ominous and whimsical and a perfect match for what we asked of them.

This podcast would also not have been possible without the utmost support from prison staff, who open their doors and allow us to interview and photograph these inmates—as well as providing recordings of their music at times.

We’ve got a really small team working on this project, really just Angus and I. But if you have any questions for us or the inmates, reach out!

And thank you for being a new listener of Sounds From The Slammer.

Peace and love,

Adam Schrader