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Prison Legal News Interviews Musician Wayne Kramer

Prison Legal News Interviews Musician Wayne Kramer

On October 13, 2014, PLN editor Paul Wright interviewed Wayne Kramer at his office in Los Angeles. Mr. Kramer is a musician, singer, songwriter and producer; he also served more than two years in federal prison in the 1970s. He has released a number of albums and was ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

More recently Mr. Kramer has performed at numerous prisons, including a 2009 event at the California State Prison in Lancaster, and co-founded Jail Guitar Doors USA, which provides instruments, musical lessons and concerts in prisons nationwide. [See: PLN, Oct. 2011, p.42].


PAUL WRIGHT: Could you tell our readers a little bit about your experience as a musician and how long you’ve been a musician and what bands you played with?

WAYNE KRAMER: Sure. I’ve been a musician since just after the earth cooled.

PW: Which is a long time.

WK: I’m 66 years old now. I started when I was 16 as a professional. I grew up in Detroit and played in the clubs there and then in the late ‘60s founded a band called the MC5 which gained some international recognition. We were a militantly political rock band and we didn’t achieve international fame and fortune.... [T]he band broke up in 1972, and I continued to play music and also made some bad decisions and ended up serving a federal prison term and then came back after two and a half years.

PW: What were you convicted of and where?

WK: Nonviolent economic drug crime in Detroit. I’m an archetypal drug war prisoner – nonviolent. It was a money crime and the federal government had then and has now a very efficient system for convicting people for nonviolent economic crimes. I returned and continued to play music through the ‘80s and ‘90s, and in ‘94 I moved to Los Angeles and really went back to work professionally. I signed a recording contract with Epitaph Records, released four albums with them, and then broke off on my own and launched a label and for the last eight or ten years I made my living scoring music for film and television. I still play in bands and all that, but I pay the rent by writing music for movies and TV.

PW: What type of shows and films have you done the scores for?

WK: The first feature film that is most widely known was Talladega Nights, starring Will Ferrell.

PW: Which federal prisons were you in?

WK: I started my bid at Milan, Michigan and did most of it at Lexington, Kentucky – FCI Lexington.

PW: Did you have any notable or memorable experiences while you were in prison?

WK: Don’t we all?

PW: Well apparently some people have pretty boring ones. I think it depends.

WK: Mine wasn’t boring. Well, there’s the usual trauma to your psyche of being locked up and, you know, on the negative side it’s hard to articulate or to even calculate how it changed me. I don’t think that it changed me for the better. I’m not sure that prison changes anyone for the better. It did make me less naïve, less Pollyannaish about the ways of men in the world, the ways of power structures in the world.

PW: You no longer believe the government’s here to help you?

WK: [laughing] No, I don’t. I’m not sure about that. I served my sentence at the end of the era of rehabilitation in American punishment. So there were still programs, there were Pell grants, there were college courses you could take that teachers would come in from the University of Kentucky and teach. And I was encouraged to program but they even told me that this was all coming to an end in America, that the new focus would be on accountability, human warehousing.

PW: And what year was this?

WK: I went down in ‘75 and came up in ‘78.

PW: Ah, the good old days.

WK: The good old days. I suppose what came of it that was the best was that it gave me time to think and to reflect, and I happened to meet a great jazz musician while I was there and have the opportunity to play music with him and study music together, and that was an unexpected gift.

PW: Who was he?

WK: His name was Red Rodney. He was a trumpeter. His first professional job was with the Gene Krupa orchestra. Went on to replace Miles Davis in the Charlie Parker Quintet and became a confidante and partner of Charlie Parker and was a phenomenal musician, played at a level that very few musicians play at today. He was from the bebop era ... Dizzy Gillespie, those guys that really had formidable technique and really challenging ideas about how music could be played, and he just turned out to be a great mentor for me and my music.

PW: How did he wind up in prison?

WK: Same as me. Same as half the people in prison today – a nonviolent drug offense.

PW: I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of musicians tend to go to prison and, of course, you’ve had musicians like Johnny Cash who sang about prison but he, himself, was fortunate in not getting locked up or at least not for more than a day or two. But I think if you look at just the last hundred years or so, we’ve had a lot of great American musicians in particular that seem to wind up in prison and a large number of them seem to be related to drug offenses.

WK: Yeah.

PW: Any comments on that?

WK: Well, yeah. The drug war is the greatest failure of social policy in America’s domestic history.

PW: Somewould say it’s very successful because it’s locked up millions of people.

WK: Depends on your point of view, I guess.

PW: And hundreds of thousands of people derive their daily livelihood from it, and every day they go to a job and are getting a taxpayer-funded check for fighting the war on poor drug users.

WK: All that is true. Sad but true. It’s an industry. It’s the prison industrial complex and there’s a great deal of money involved in it. It’s probably the single biggest challenge to change – to undo, to turn off the money. You know, prison guard unions are, especially here in California, very powerful politically.

PW: Of course it helps if they have no opposition.

WK: That’s right. I think it begs the question, who are we and what do we really represent in the world, to history and to ourselves, to our fellows? What kind of people are we that lock people up for decades in environments that no third-world country would tolerate. If we take a look at ourselves, the measure of a civilization is not the wealthy people and the great accomplishments, it’s how we treat the least amongst us – sick people, poor people, prisoners, people that fall through the cracks. How do they fare? That’s the measure of a culture, of a nation.

PW: And unfortunately the ruling classes aren’t too concerned about that.

WK: No, they’re not. You’re right. If there were 2.3 million white people in prison, this would be over tomorrow. [laughter]

PW: So what’s the history of Jail Guitar Doors?

WK: Well, Jail Guitar Doors was a song. When I went to prison there was a new music that emerged in England and on the coasts of America – they called it Punk Rock – and there was a band in England called The Clash. They were a very conscious, very plugged-in band, and they wrote this song about their fellow musician who went to prison – me. And they mention a couple other musicians, too, who had trouble with the authorities. I thought it was a great show of solidarity at the time, [but] didn’t think much more than that.

PW: Were you in prison or out of prison when the song came out?

WK: I was in prison. Then about six years ago when I was trying to take a group of musicians into Sing Sing in New York for a concert, one of the musicians was Billy Bragg, the great British activist and troubadour, and he had “Jail Guitar Doors” written on his guitar.

I asked him about that, and he explained that he wanted to do something to celebrate the life of Clash leader Joe Strummer. And a guy who worked in a British prison trying to use music as rehabilitation asked Billy to find him some guitars – he played the guitar a little bit and he thought this might be a good idea.

And so Billy said, “Yeah, this is a great idea and I’ll call it after The Clash song ‘Jail Guitar Doors’ about Wayne Kramer.” So the more I thought about it, by the time we had finished the concert and were in the bus back to the city, I said, I’d like to take this on for America. And he said, “Good, because I was just gonna task you with it; you’re the only person that can do it.”

PW: And how many concerts have you played in prison?

WK: I have no idea. [laughter]

PW: That many?

WK: Yeah, I have no idea. Our guitars today are in over 50 American prisons.

PW: Tell us more about the U.S. Jail Guitar Doors program.

WK: What we do is simple. We find people who work in corrections, who are willing to use music as a tool for rehabilitation [and] restoration, and we provide them with guitars. Sometimes other instruments but usually the guitar. The guitar is simple; acoustic guitars, you can play chords on them, you can play melodies on them, they’re pretty easy to get started on. There are plenty of good guitar players in prison as we speak.

PW: And they have time to work on their skills.

WK: And they’re happy to share it with each other. That’s the thing about musicians, is they all want to show each other what they know and it’s a good way to learn and teach. Sometimes we sponsor songwriting workshop programs. We have them in the Cook County, Illinois jail, the San Diego County jail, Travis County correctional complex in Austin, Texas. We have a men’s and a women’s program going there. And we have one here in the Los Angeles County jail, the men’s central jail. Those are very hard to organize, very hard to sustain on a volunteer basis. They’re very tough but very, very rewarding.

PW: Do you distribute the guitars to individual prisoners or just to the programs?

WK: We can’t give guitars to individuals. We have to donate the guitars to the facility and the facility staff determines how the guitars are utilized. It varies widely. Some prisons, like Chino here in California, the men can check the guitar out for three months at a time. You have to take care of it, you have to bring it back, you have to maintain good behavior. They are carrots; they are tools, incentives to do the hard work of changing for the better. In the county jails it’s much tougher. You know, the guitars are locked up all week, the guys get at them an hour before the workshop to work on their new songs and so it varies facility by facility. We buy [the guitars] with donations. We’ve been fortunate to get a couple small family foundation grants, and we depend on regular people.

PW: Can people donate guitars to the program?

WK: I don’t encourage guitars because the guitars that they send are usually so beat up that it costs me more in time and money to make them playable than it’s worth really.

PW: So you take the donations and you buy guitars?

WK: Yeah.

PW: And what model do you prefer to buy? A stock model or....

WK: Yeah, Fender makes an entry level acoustic guitar. It’s a very good guitar at a very reasonable price. They sell them to us at cost. Fender is a terrific organization with big hearts. And even though they have to remain kind of neutral – they say they see themselves as kind of like Switzerland – they want to help but then they also don’t want to be connected to anything too controversial like us. [laughter]

PW: How much do these guitars cost?

WK: They cost about a hundred dollars a guitar.

PW: So if people donate a hundred bucks basically they can provide....

WK: We’ll put a guitar in somebody’s hands, yes.

PW: Okay. And how many paid staff do you have?

WK: Zero.

PW: Jail Guitar Doors is all volunteers?

WK: All volunteers. Yes.

PW: So basically all donations that go to Jail Guitar Doors....

WK: Go to the program.

PW: And how many guitars have you distributed in your existence, is it five years now?

WK: Yeah. Hundreds. Hundreds. And we know our instruments are in over fifty institutions in America now. We have a waiting list of sixty more.

PW: And typically how many guitars are donated to each facility?

WK: It varies. In some places, if it’s a smaller facility with a thousand or fifteen-hundred people, then the actual people that are going to participate in the program could be a dozen or so, so they might get a dozen guitars. In California we have facilities that are so big there might be five yards with three thousand people on a yard, so we try to get a dozen guitars on each yard. We have a lot of people in prison in California.

PW: Generally how receptive have prison officials been?

WK: Well, prison officials fall into, in my experience, two sides of the house. There is the rehabilitation side, [which includes] corrections professionals interested in the correcting part of corrections, who understand the efficacy of programs of self-expression and are thrilled to have us there, happy to see us coming, genial, cooperative as they can be. And then the other side of the house is the thug side, which is the security, custody side, and unfortunately they usually have the power and the money.

PW: Yeah, so there’s usually a lot more of them.

WK: You know, it’s walking a delicate balance between meeting the custody side’s requirements and maintaining good relationships with everybody. I think a lot of people on the custody side don’t want programs for incarcerated people. In fact, I would go so far as to say they don’t want their lives to be worth living. They don’t want them to gain anything. They want them to suffer. They want them to have pain and it’s perverse, it’s aberrational, it’s kind of ... it’s sick, it’s a sick thing that happens. The power over other human beings, the potential for corruption is very, very high.

PW: Lord Acton’s famous axiom, of course, that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

WK: Yes.

PW: Were you aware that Congress banned musical instruments in federal prisons in the mid-nineties? Were you aware of that?

WK: I wasn’t aware of that.

PW: We reported it in Prison Legal News at the time, and there was no penological justification for it except to be punitive and retributive, and unfortunately the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that as a sufficient basis to have the policy, and specifically I believe it was about banning guitars.

WK: That’s shocking but not surprising because the feds in particular have been really resistant to Jail Guitar Doors.

PW: That’s probably why.

WK: Yeah. And like all organizations, I think it starts at the top and I think the director....

PW: The President’s appointee, a federal employee.

WK: An employee and a hard-ass. We did get an invitation from the federal jail downtown to conduct a songwriting workshop, so maybe things are changing a little bit. But I’ve been told by federal prison wardens to go away and don’t call again.

PW: That’s sad. That’s sad to hear.

WK: Yeah.

PW: Were you aware of the controversy that erupted in Pennsylvania when VH1 did a series about bands behind bars, and then, unfortunately, I believe it was Governor Ridge was the governor of Pennsylvania at the time, it was his immediate response to ban prison bands. And unfortunately this seems to be all too common among so many members of the American political class and I think like you said earlier, it’s the mentality to try to crush or stifle any type of artistic expression or any type of free speech.

WK: I think it was the mother of the victim, one of the guys in the band had murdered someone and the murder victim’s parents or family members complained. Our secretary of corrections in California was in Pennsylvania then. He was the guy that took the heat – [Jeffrey] Beard.

PW: Right, I believe he was the one who carried out the order to ban the prison bands.

WK: Yeah.

PW: And I think it also says something about the lack of leadership from people in the prison industry, the wardens and DOC directors, that they don’t stand up for this type of thing, but at the end of the day they are the employees and appointees of the governors and the presidents that appoint them – so they’re just doing what they’re told in some respects.

WK: Right. But we all have our share of responsibility and I agree with you there in the lack of leadership. I’ve never seen an organization like American punishment for its timidness in taking a chance on anything. They are terrified of, I don’t know, start with losing their job and then going up the scale.

PW: But they don’t lose their jobs when they kill people or people in their care get killed or raped or whatever.

WK: No, they don’t. They don’t. It’s morally repugnant, the disconnect between what goes on in prisons, what’s allowed to happen under the official review, and the limited resources to help people improve. There are people who should be in prison. There are people that are so damaged that they can only relate to other human beings violently.

PW: Unfortunately a lot of those people are in government.

WK: [laughing] But, you know what? That’s a small percentage of the prison population. I would put it at ten percent, myself. That leaves ninety percent of the people in prison that don’t need to be there. If you gave them the tools and tasked them, incentivized them to change for the better, they would.

PW: What do you see as the role of music in prisons and jails and with prisoners?

WK: I think the first, the most immediate is that it gives you a chance to express yourself in a non-confrontational way, in a positive way.

PW: Well, I don’t know. When we look at the history of protest music, and if you look at musicians like Victor Jara in Chile, the military in Chile deemed him to be such a threat that he was one of the first people they rounded up and murdered when they seized power. They cut his hands off to make a statement. And I think historically there’s a lot of musicians that have had big roles in social protests, social change movements.

WK: I think that kind of political confrontation is good. I mean in the interpersonal. If you play music in prison, you can become known as the guy who plays music. That’s an alternative identity to carry with you as opposed to “he’s a gangster,” “he’s a head chopper,” “he’s a killer,” those kind of stereotypes that are perpetuated in the prison culture. It was for me. I mean guys would come by and say, “Oh yeah, the white boy with the wha-wha. Yeah, you all right.” Like the gangsters, really rough guys. But I was somebody because I could play music, I could play a song for them.

Then the process of writing music, writing songs forces you to go inward, and when one goes inward and tries to articulate their story, it’s transformative. You start to be able to articulate a sense of self that starts to make sense, that all of a sudden you’re not a leaf being pushed by all these winds, that you actually are here now and you have some part to play in things. I mean this is one of the things that I want to task guys with.

We don’t give them the guitars as gifts. The guitars represent a challenge and the people who donated the money to buy these guitars are sending a message. The message is: People care about you. They care about who you are and what’s going to become of you, and they want to help you. And the guitar represents a challenge. If you accept that guitar, then you accept the challenge to step up and do the hard work of changing for the better, the going inward, figuring it out. I ask them, write a song to your son, write a song to your mom, write a song to your wife, write a song to yourself – and that process starts wheels turning.

PW: And hopefully that’s not all just the blues, right?

WK: No, it’s not. And there’s a calming of the waters. There’s a stillness that comes as a result of it. And when you play music with other people, you have to talk to them. And when guys talk to each other, they start to see that race, gang, class start to fall away, that they have way more in common than they have different. I mean I’ve seen guys in the county jail, one guy came up and said, “Man, you know, so and so over there, man, I never liked him. I used to see him in the dorm, man, but I never talked to him, you know? Now we’re here in the workshop, I talk to him. He’s all right. He’s okay.”

PW: What role do you see that music can play in prison reform and social change? And I think of this in the context that we’ve seen, historically, the other role music has played in a lot of other social struggles whether it’s the civil rights or gay liberation movements. I’m thinking of [British musician] Tom Robinson, who kind of composed the anthem of gay liberation.

WK: Bob Dylan wrote a lot of good political songs and he swore he wasn’t political.

PW: Exactly. And I don’t want to go out on a limb here and say throughout human history or anything really expansive like that, but certainly at least in the last hundred years or so we’ve had the role of music and musicians, everything from working class songs like, you know, by the Industrial Workers of the World, union songs and “The Internationale,” we can say the social reform movements have had a soundtrack and musicians have played a vital role in that. And in the role of prison reform, how do you see the role of musicians?

WK: Much the same. We’re talking about justice, and justice for all – not for some – and so music traditionally, and I think for the foreseeable future, has a role to play in it as the meeting point or like the town meeting. If you and I both like a particular song, we kind of meet together in that song. It gives us a point of connection. Music and art’s role is to make that connection between people, to tell us we’re not the only ones that feel the way we feel.

When Picasso painted Guernica there was a huge outcry – “you can’t make a painting like that. That’s terrible.” Well, that was his point: war is terrible, these are terrible things. It created a conversation and my hope is that’s the work we do in Jail Guitar Doors. And I’m not the only one that’s doing this, I’m part of a huge coalition of people all over the country who want to see an end to mass incarceration.

I think there’s probably another level of it which is the direct political level. I’ve been to Washington half a dozen times. I will continue to go and hold leaders’ feet to the fire. I’m noticing a pattern every time I go: I get a meeting, it’s a senator, it’s a congressman, it’s a staff member, chief of staff. I’ve been to the White House, and some are frank with me and candid and say, “You’ve got nothing coming from us,” or they’ll say, “Gee we really want to do something, we’re really working on it.”

PW: And then they don’t do anything.

WK: And then they don’t do anything. But I think the job is holding their feet to the fire. I think today or twenty years ago or fifty years ago or a hundred years from now it’s still going to be holding elected officials accountable. I mean democracy is participatory.

PW: But I think the bigger problem with that is that it’s not like there’s any difference in candidates for public office. We have a bipartisan criminal justice policy. One of the things that we’ve worked on a lot at the Human Rights Defense Center is voting rights for people who have been in prison. And I can say that if I want to vote on something really basic like candidates who oppose the death penalty, nothing really crazy, just use that as my baseline, for the most part I don’t have anyone to vote for, including the president, unless I start getting down to like the third tier of very small political parties that are usually so small they can’t even get on the ballot in most states. So I think that’s kind of the quandary, like in the last presidential election I think the only candidate of the major parties that opposed the death penalty was Congressman Ron Paul, and he got ridiculed for it by a number of other candidates.

WK: This is not a sexy issue where we’re going to build momentum in the way other political mass movements have in the past. This is going to be a war of attrition, I think. It’s going to go very slowly. The interests are so entrenched and so dug in. I accept that I may not see it in my lifetime, but that doesn’t mean that I stop, I give up. There are more people coming after me that care and that understand there’s something basic in all of us about fairness, a fundamental sense of what is right and what is wrong.

PW: And we don’t need the government to tell us what that is.

WK: No. But I think the government needs us to tell them what that is.

PW: Very well put.

WK: It’s a huge challenge, I know that. I’m not Pollyannaish about what we’re up against. The California Department of Corrections, when these guys give out those LWOP sentences, they’re not joking – those people’s whole lives are going to be spent in a California prison. So this is serious stuff and I think it has to be approached soberly and with a long-term commitment knowing, accepting that we’re going to get setback, setback, failure, failure, failure. We’ll win one and then we’ll get setback and failure, and it’s just the nature of civilization building. We’ve just got to hammer, hammer, hammer.

PW: I think as we discussed earlier, a lot of musicians wind up in prison or jail for various reasons, a lot of them drug-related, and in terms of the professional musician community as a whole, what is the sense of urgency in the musical community on criminal justice issues?

WK: I think musicians have always identified with people who slip through the cracks, the people in the margins, and I can’t think of a time when somebody told me no when I asked a fellow musician to help us out with something. I think that musicians, artists in general, are more sensitive to the contradictions in the world, things that aren’t exactly how they portray them to be. Things aren’t the way they sell it to us. And I think that the artists are always the first ones to call attention to it and put a spotlight on it and wave a flag and say, “hey, this doesn’t seem right over here, something’s wrong over here.” I mean it may not be for all artists or all musicians; I know about musicians who could care less.

PW: I think you can say that about all professions and all walks of life.

WK: But in general I think artists and musicians are more attuned to human suffering, human pain, and more inclined to be empathetic and want to take action. We’re all up against this kind of cynicism and apathy. I know that’s my problem – I’m a cynic.

PW: As someone who’s been in prison and, obviously, you’ve been successful, you’ve gotten out, if you had one piece of advice or word of wisdom to tell our readers in prison, what would it be? And it can be whatever it is for while they’re in prison or when they get out.

WK: I think in the end it’s a matter of character: Who am I? Who do I represent myself to be in the world? If I say I’m going to do something, I think it’s important that I do that. I find in all walks of life, in my work, if I meet some new people and they might want to hire me to write some music for them, do I get it done on time? Am I genial to be with? Am I professional in my relationships with my family? With my wife, am I kind to her? Do I do what I say I’m going to do?

I think that everything comes down to character. Who am I? What do I present in the world? Am I who I say I am? And I’m imperfect at it but I think that’s the goal, that character is something to strive for, to be the person that you represent yourself to be. And I think to live ethically. That same idea of thoughts and actions that move in the direction of human happiness and move away from human suffering. I just think that to me that’s the most important thing – that we treat each other with dignity and respect. I do that and for the most part people treat me that way in return. Not always. People will always let you down, but I know that too, so you make a decision to live ethically and try to be who you say you are, then all the rest of it kind of settles down a little bit.

PW: Do you have anything you want to add or say, anything I haven’t asked or anything that’s on your mind or that you think our readers should know?

WK: You’re pretty erudite on what we’re up against and you know yourself the kinds of pain that people experience. The prison experience, if it hasn’t happened to you, you don’t really know – and to me this is the biggest stumbling block. People have a conflated idea of what the prison experience is from movies and television, and if more people knew the reality of it, maybe we would have a more empathetic culture. I wonder about how easy it is that people dismiss 2.3 million of our fellows [in prison]. It’s not in their thought patterns.

PW: And if all these people were in prison in one place together, it would be a city the size of Houston. But then I guess if you don’t know anyone who lives in Houston, who cares?

WK: Right. I mean this falls on people of color, people of limited economic means, and usually I think I’m not inarticulate, but I think we’ve covered the fundamental things – the political aspect of it. It seems to me that each of these stakeholders in the prison industrial complex operate without accountability except slightly to each other. But none of them really know what prisoners go through.

PW: Nor do they care?

WK: Nor do they care. And until the prisoner becomes part of the equation, we’re going to have this incredible cruelty in American punishment. I mean you see on the media from time to time politicians talking about American exceptionalism. I’m not so sure about that, but if there is American exceptionalism it’s that we’re exceptionally cruel.

PW: I think that’s probably a fair statement.

WK: And to our own people and to the people who are least able to handle it. So if I have anything to say to your readers, I just want them to know that they’re not forgotten. That there are lots of us out here thinking about them and working to improve things.

PW: Okay. And how did you first become aware of Prison Legal News?

WK: I talk to the media a lot. I see part of my job is to talk about mass incarceration and to instigate a conversation. All change starts with a conversation, and I did an interview – a guy called up and said, “I want to do an interview,” and I said, “Great, I’ll do it.”

PW: Bruce Riley?

WK: Bruce, yes, and I did it and about a week later, maybe it was two weeks later when the piece came out, our mailboxes were flooded. I said, “What the hell happened?” And that’s when I discovered that Prison Legal News was ubiquitous in the prison community, that everybody read it, and I got the greatest mail and it just opened so many doors for us. It was really incredible.

I went to a conference right after, the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement. And I met all these wonderful men and women. I met Bruce and really enjoyed his company, and really, really hard working people, really committed to change.

At the conference there was one panel of really wise street-hardened fellows, guys that could be called gang leaders in another life, who had been through the prison experience and made a change and wanted to get involved in the fight for prison reform, justice reform, and I was just really impressed with their savvy. These guys were really wise; they understood how the world worked in a very real way, and I thought, man, if we can keep moving in this direction and utilize the manpower of ex-offenders.

I think one of the solutions is in incorporating ex-offenders into the process to work with those who are just coming out again, to help ease that transition and avoid the revolving door, because only ex-offenders know what prisoners go through and they’re uniquely positioned. I tell guys every time I go to prison to write their songs, to tell the world about what’s going on in there because they know things the world needs to know. The world needs to know what’s going on inside of American punishment.

PW: And I think of some of the famous musicians who have done that; I think of Lead Belly – he sang about chain gangs and I think his music, and the movie “I’m a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” were probably instrumental in leading to their abolition.

WK: Right, right. The power of art.

PW: Okay, that wraps up all my questions.

WK: This has been great. I’m such a fan of what you do and your publication.


This interview was edited for length and clarity.


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