Prison Pete

Thursday, October 18, 2007
  Singing the Praises of Alicia Keys.
One pair of individuals has taken a real liking to me for my ability (thanks to both Mom and Dad, for paying for the daily subscription to the New York Times, and the editor for reproducing the photos) to obtain some photos of Alicia Keys.

There happened to be a nice review of her career up to this point (she is only 26) in a Sunday New York Times. When I shared the article with two other inmates, they both wanted the pictures of Alicia. One was of her sitting on a couch in her mother's home; the other a still from her part in "Smoking Aces".

At this point, while I have received two sets of the photos, one of the photos is on my cube wall. The one inmate only has the "Smoking Aces" photo, though I noticed the other day they are currently sharing the posed shot of her sitting on the couch.

There was a question from my editor as to who Alicia Keys was. This goes to show he missed the story on the front page of the Arts section that had the story. While I have not had a working radio for several months, and the one station I could get when it did work did not play Ms. Keys' music, I had originally heard her back in my days at Club Fed. She had a top ten video on BET, and it was not your typical rap video.

Alicia is a gifted keyboard player and song writer, who for a while started doing more mainstream type compositions, but from what I read in the article is back to doing some really unique music. She has her own recording studio somewhere on Long Island. Amazingly I was able to put my hands on the article which is among the way too many clipped articles I have collected over the last three years or so of NY Times reading. Even though I tossed out several hundred articles when I was transferred here eighteen months ago, and have recently tried to be more selective in what I keep, it is still way too much paper.

The article is titled, "A Neo-Soul Star as She Is: Nurturing her Inner Rebel". That title alone certainly catches my attention. The article quotes Alicia Keys as saying her next album due for release on November 13, "As I Am", "'Rebellious' at every opportunity." "I was really adamant about doing things that were not expected," she said. I guess this means she has not shown up a various clubs in a state other than sober, had her picture taken as she exits a car in a way that proves she was not wearing any underwear, or resorted to being on national television and performing with malfunctioning wardrobe.

No, her latest album according to the Times, "While some of its songs reaffirm her connection to 1960s and '70s soul, others lean closer to rock -- from Beatles to U2 -- than she has before."

Although this may not sound the way I want it to, I am glad to see that the rich history of Black music in this county is not solely being represented at this time by the rap and hip-hop community.

Since we do not have BET on our televisions and her music is not likely to be played on the one radio station I can receive, I wonder if this latest album will be issued on cassette. That is the only way I will be able to hear it. If not, I will be forced to read the printed reviews and imagine the sounds, just like I do with most of the articles in the Arts Section. And she is only twenty six. That is just some of the reasons I have her picture on my cube wall. She also happens to be quite pretty. Plus it is a subtle way to show my fellow white inmates that I can appreciate the talents of a member of a different race.

Speaking of the rich history of black music, I am currently reading "Louis' children: American Jazz Singers." It is a great book and clearly documents the paths that were not easy, that many musicians have taken all in the name of art, without a guarantee of financial security. It seems such a far cry from today's rap and hip-hop artist. But I have already said that once.

This all started while I was trying to explain the high value us inmates place on things, that might not even be a blip on the radar of some of you blog readers. On this case we are talking about the value of a couple, okay three, hopefully soon to arrive 8x10 enlargements of Alicia Keys' picture from a New York times article that no one here would have ever seen if not for me receiving the Times every day, thanks again Mom and Dad, and then the generous time and paper donation from my editor to send me copies, and hopefully the enlargements.

This issue gave rise to another way I thought I could practice a random act of kindness is if I was to obtain an address for Ms. Keys, 1 could send a letter that might just generate a response that I could then share with the other two inmates that are such fans of Ms. Keys.

Yes I said that was relating to two other inmates, what about the other forty-seven.

There are two other groups that have been beating a path to my cube. We have recently started some college classes, with instructors coming from one of the colleges in the area, and leading some of the introductory classes in business, English and psychology. My involvement has ranged from several hours of individual attention with three of the inmates taking the writing class to typing the homework for several others. Speaking of typing, I have been standing up and typing this entire post since around 5:00 PM and it is now six pages and three and a half hours later.

The other group of inmates has been those seeking assistance dealing with the labyrinth of rules, regulations, and the tangled mess they have found themselves in. While it would be yet another rule violation if I were to offer and "legal" assistance, I certainly am able to write out letters and memos to staff to begin to unravel the knots they have tied themselves into. In some cases I am also able to explain there is not much they can do at this point but just move on down the path and know better days are coming.

Last night I attended a special six-week seminar sponsored by Contemplative Outreach of the Adirondack Region. This is another attempt to see if I can connect with the outside world, in that this group is apparently a worldwide organization with chapters in many countries. They specifically are leading us in the way of contemplative prayer. It is done by sitting silently for up to twenty minutes at a time and just allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to us. As we were practicing this last night in the chapel I realized how hard it is to be able to sit in a prison setting where you do not have the luxury of a closed door and trust those around you not to attack you.

An inmate mentioned he wanted to learn how to play the keyboard. I asked if he wanted to learn how to read music and how much effort was he willing to put in, and he said whatever way you want to teach me, that is how I will learn. Meanwhile, my new keyboard with the six track sequencer arrived here last Friday and it still has not made it out of the package room and into my cube. The plan is that once I get my new keyboard, and donate my old one to the chapel, the chaplain will then write a special pass so that this inmate can take the keyboard back to his dorm to practice. Since we are not in the same dorm, and no one can go and visit someone in another dorm, we will be able to arrange a time to meet together up in the chapel. This could be lots of fun.

My latest recommendations for additional equipment for the chapel sound system were approved by the administration, and within the next few days we should be the proud owners of some new Shure PG58 Microphones, and a dual wireless lapel mike system. Over the last year, between funds provided both from regular prison budget, and inmate donations, we have spent over $750 upgrading the equipment. All of which was done based on my recommendations.

Due to the work schedule of the officer that I have been working with on the database, I have not had a chance to do any work in the last two weeks. I am scheduled to get some quality time this weekend and will get my first real crack at using Access as opposed to Approach, the Lotus product.

I am going to wrap this up now and catch a quick shower before 10:00 and will use this wild, rambling narrative to delve even deeper in to the happenings of prison life.

Coming soon, gays in prison, medical care, how much longer will my tooth with the missing filling go untreated (one month so far). Why prison food is bad for you, and why are there so many black Jews in prison.
I really do pray that your contemplative prayer becomes fruitful. Think of how many will benefit from your efforts with the sound system. Keep it up!
the content keeps getting better and better Pete! Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
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