My Brother and I arrived in the late evening to rainy New York’s, Islip airport. We first went to a local church who helps us out with audio equipment, and prepped the speakers, mixer and microphones for the weeks adventures into Riker's Island. I had been there once before with Nathan Lee, so we knew that taking minimal gear was best for hauling into a jail. We got rid of any extra un-needed cables and other audio gear to shed weight, and make our technical outfit as efficient as possible. We would be doing 4 shows in the next 2 days.
We awoke early to make the drive into the city. We arrived the Riker's island check in station right on time, and the check in was thorough, but smooth. The usual nervousness of crossing the bridge onto the island set in, the car ride was fairly quiet. We hit the ground running, setting up in a chapel like room inside the juvenile jail. The chapel smelt of incense from an old catholic church, and had one stain glassed window. We got right to work, and were able to play a few songs before the first "house" of kids arrived. I was surprised by the size of these "juveniles". There must be something in the water here at Riker's. They were riled up when the arrived, and had to be calmed by a guard who demanded respect. Nathan played his music and shared messages of surrounding yourself with good friends who tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear. By the end of their time together, there were hearts connecting.
We then broke down as soon as the inmates left, and rushed to another jail where they were waiting for us before we arrived. Another thorough check in, then the weaving in and out of security check points, bars closing behind us, the opposite bars opening in front of us. We were kindly greeted, but quickly shipped into a gym where approximately 100 inmates were sitting, awaiting our arrival. My brother and I snapped right into it, not a word was spoken passed "no mistakes" as we rushed to set everything up. Nathan took his seat at the piano as started to play. The front row was obviously not expecting what came from this long haired tattooed white guy from Jersey. Though the front row was very distracting, Nathan found his focus elsewhere and continued to play his music and sharing his stories. He spoke of reconciliation and restoration within families. After our one hour together, many inmates came up to share their gratitude and their enlightenment. One gentlemen gave Nathan a note card of encouragement and sited bible verses. Another man even grabbed me before he left to his cell to tell me that "he received the message loud and clear".
We said our goodbyes to the guards, and drove back over the bridge back to our hotel. Exhausted from the day already, we went straight to our room and crashed. I personally fell asleep on the floor face down.
Morning came soon, we sprung back into the van for another 2 jails to play on Riker's Island. The check in process to cross the bridge has now become fairly familiar, but crossing the bridge over to the island will still take some time getting used to. Going through 3 layers of barbed wire fence before even reaching a jail gives a certain feel of being "surrounded" to anyone visiting the island. Kindly we were greeted as we arrived the maximum security jail. It was a longer haul for all the gear, so I felt i saw the most of any jail on Riker's walking through these corridors. We arrived a wide gym with two sets of bleachers on one end. This is not the best layout for a solo singer and a piano, but we made due. To our surprise the maximum security inmates were the best behaved. We had ample time to set up. Fairly quiet, these older men said much, with no words at all. I spotted very distinct characters as I scanned the room. This bunch had a different feel to them. Nathan's voice and piano had a beautiful natural reverb from the room echoing like a concert hall. These inmates settled right in, and were most attentive. Nathan shared again of hope in hopeless times, and though in jail, Nathan reminded them that they were not forgotten. The men left single file, one "house" at a time. The room was nearly cleared, when everyone remaining was asked to stay in the room. There was an "alarm". This meant we all needed to stay in the room for security reasons. The warden came and personally escorted us out of the jail. I caught a glimpse of a 2 layered wall of men with shields and clubs addressing a situation, but could not see what was going on, for we had to hurry out of the jail. We walked through a gauntlet of armored guards, with face masks and clubs. We barely fit ourselves and our gear through the guards who had to rest their backs on opposite walls to let us through. Not a word was spoken as we left the jail. I had never seen so many people fall into place. We came to find out that an attack had taken place between two inmates who were leaving the room we had just been in.
The last jail we played was another wide gym with bleachers. These men were another rambunctious group. Well behaved, but very vocal. We were told to be sure we knew what we came in with and to be sure nothing was stolen from us. My brother and I were tired, along with Nathan. This had been a lot to take in two days, and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Nathan played and shared eloquently. He was even asked to do an encore of a song he had already played about being at peace with his circumstances and choosing to move on. It is an honest song, which I would imagine that particular inmate needed to hear one more time. I thought in that moment that music may be scarce in jail. I take songs that stop me in my tracks for granted. This man wanted to get all he could. We then broke down one last time and hauled our gear out to the van, packed it up, and headed for home.
I saw how honest music played for you has the power to change the air for a moment. As I continue to live in a distracting world, I now realize that our lives can really use interjetions that cause us to reflect on where we are. I saw 4 different scenarios where the same music, the same message of hope brought 4 different interjections into lives that are very different than mine. For those that heard the words about having second thoughts in the last 10 seconds before making decisions that could put you in jail, or those who heard the simple fact that you matter, whether free or imprisoned... I pray they had seeds planted and the fruits will flourish in God's timing.
-Founder of PEOPLE LOVING NASHVILLE.COM