There's an item in the "Talk of the Town" section of the current New Yorker about a couple of bands performing at Riker's Island in New York. I couldn't help but flash back to my own memories of performing at the Adult Correctional Institutions here in the Biggest Little.
In the '70s, I played in the men's maximum security section of the prison with Bo Diddley at the behest of Cleveland Kurtz, a wonderful community activist who passed away some years ago. The gig was truly eye-opening. The first inmate I ran into as we were setting up was a guy I had gone to college with named "Lenny." He saw me, his eyes opening wide as he confessed, lowering his head, "I messed up." I told Lenny: "That's okay, man. You're going to get out and you don't have to keep messing up."
What was interesting about the prison was the clear demarcation between some of the inmates. The guys in the expensive bathrobes with tans and nice haircuts were all "LCN" (La Cosa Nostra) or LCN associates. They seemed to be on vacation and were friendly and inquisitive about what it was like to be playing with the legendary Bo. Bo put on one of the filthiest shows I'd seen him do (we worked quite a few times with Bo, but this one was special; he and the Young Adults, my band, played all out).
On the way out of the prison, Bo was pulled aside and questioned. A couple of the prison officials seemed to be operating under the assumption that Bo was an inmate trying to escape in a Bo Diddley disguise — a spangled vest and New Mexico state trooper's cowboy hat. Bo eventually explained himself sufficiently to the prison guards and got out of stir in time to make that evening's gig with us at Lupo's.
I'm relieved to tell you that the gig, and a visit to the women's section to screen an Ed Wood film a decade later, were the only occasions I found myself deep in prison. I did visit another time to do an interview with prison officials who had asked me to play Santa Claus for the inmates and their families during the holidays, but that appearance was canceled when they couldn't come up with the money to throw a holiday event.
Please don't "mess up" and find yourselves in prison, dear readers. I was glad I visited but I wouldn't want to live there.
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