MC5’s Wayne Kramer In Seattle To Talk Mass Incarceration

On Monday, October 29th, Seattle is bringing in a slew of big names to talk technology, entertainment, philanthropy and venture capital at the Seattle Interactive Conference (SIC). The two-day event is a chance for you to hear ideas from revolutionary thinkers, explore dozens of exhibits and network with like-minded people from around the city.

One of SIC’s speakers is legendary MC5 guitarist and activist Wayne Kramer.

A few years back, Kramer-co founded Jail Guitar Doors (yes, that’s in reference to The Clash song referring to Kramer’s two-year stint in prison) which is a program that donates guitars to inmates to help with their rehabilitation process, and as Kramer puts it, “brings out the humanity” of people who’ve made mistakes that landed them behind bars.

“Music is one of the few things that can help make a change of heart,” Kramer says. “It presents a new way for people to express their emotions.”

Kramer and Jail Guitar Doors have been fighting to bring change to prisons across the U.S.; he’s found that while many wardens are receptive to the idea, just as many are simply not interested.

“The federal system is a totalitarian institution,” Kramer says. “There is a great deal of resistance. With state systems, though, professionals realize we are in the ‘correcting’ part of the process for inmates.”

Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla gave Kramer a promising response when he sought to partner with the facility, however, Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor was, “not a positive response.”

Along with bringing music to the personal improvements of inmates, Kramer is also actively fighting widespread mass incarceration. And though Kramer and his beliefs more or less lean to the left, he’s found that conservatives and Republican members of congress have been a strong alliance in the battle to decrease mass incarceration. According to Kramer, conservatives have been preaching that overcrowding prisons is not financially responsible and cannot be a sustainable option. Kramer says states are getting bogged down with prison costs.

Right now the U.S. holds 25 percent of the entire world’s prisoners — and California spends more on prisons each year than higher education.

The message Kramer wants to send during his time at SIC is that the antidote for these problems in our prisons is for people to engage in an unlimited commitment to ethical action.

“People need to go out of their way,” he says. “We have to work. It’s more than sitting in front of your computer and clicking on something and liking it.”

“The enemy is cynicism.”

Kramer thinks gadgets and social media have distracted people from vital issues and contributed to a growing feeling of nihilism, but notes there are still people, groups, organizations and artists out there making a difference — much like the MC5 did in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He cites bands like The Dirty Projectors, Rage Against the Machine and The Coup as playing a significant role in social change.

“Those bands are all different, but we all are following a larger idea.”

Kramer’s panel is on Tuesday, October 30th at 3:30 pm. More information on SIC can be found at the official website. You can also learn more about Jail Guitar Doors’ and ways to donate right here.

Several after-parties are scheduled to take place on both Monday and Tuesday night. No official party or performance lists Kramer taking part in anything, but he’s been known to share the stage — and share laughs — with hometown hero Mark Arm and the rest of the members of Mudhoney when in the Emerald City.

-Chris Coyle/KZOK


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