Community vs Compartments – Performing at Cook County Jail





At 6am my alarm jolted me out of a fitful night of sleep. I checked my phone frantically, but I still had no idea if our band would be turned away at the front gates of Cook County Jail.  Our most recent performance for the female detainees at Cook County Jail was both incredibly stressful, and amazingly rewarding.

Cook County is a maximum-security jail and I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. Leading up to the performance, there was a lot of paperwork--prep you go through to be approved as a performer. I had messed up sending in the IDs for our band and I left out the drummer. Oh my god!! I didn’t realize it until we got the approval letter at 5pm the night before we were supposed to play. Our drummer’s name is not on the list!  Jeez… I’m usually so meticulous. I was mortified! With all that security it was a real possibility that they would NOT let us in.  Which meant that we might not get to play.  I spent several hours that night emailing the lady at the sheriff’s department trying to sort out whether we would be able to perform, or if we would have to cancel. At 1am it still wasn’t clear.  All the time and energy spent organizing the band…the music... the logistics… and not to mention the nerves about playing at the Cook County Jail… where BB KING played… yikes… I couldn’t sleep.

So that morning we pack up the cars anyway, still not sure if we’re going to be turned away at the gates. We were careful to only bring items that were ON the approved list.  The band lives in all areas of the city so we all drove separately.  When we arrived, we sorted ourselves into the two “approved” vehicles and drove to the gate to speak with “the guards with the big guns.”  My heart was pounding as they looked over our approval letter. But they just waved us on in. (Hmm… Max Security?? What!? )  So we drove onto the grounds and found our way. Barbed wire… Small windows... it’s an intimidating place.  It made us all a bit nervous.

But, they actually had quite a nice little theater. Surprise! I hope we’ll be able to publish a video of that soon for you all.  Still waiting for approval. It was very cool.

At this point we’re like, “Ok this could work.” They didn’t really have equipment for sound, but we made it work. Sound check was a breeze…and then “The lights came down…. And the curtains--” Oh wait a minute there were no lights! It was fully lit when the detainees came in.  It was 11am. A lunchtime concert at Cook County Jail.

 The show went really well. It was a huge feeling of relief and satisfaction all at the same time.  There were a wide range of faces in the audience. Some excited, some completely “checked out” …and most somewhere in between.  I shared the new songs from CALLING ALL SAINTS with all of them. Got them to SING out “Roll Sweet Daddy” and “Everybody Wants To Be Loved”.  I told them the meaning of each song and asked them to find the Saint within themselves to find the LOVE that they need.  To look in the mirror to give COMPASSION to themselves, when there is none to be found.   They seemed to understand and for a moment they let the good vibration in.  After the show, the entire band went out to shake hands with the ladies. They were VERY enthusiastic.  We LOVED it!

Sharing music may seem kind of simplistic, but it’s very clear to me that it is a powerful tool.  Watching the faces in the audience brighten as they sang and grooved to the sounds gives me hope for them, and for us.  We are all part of the same community whether we consciously think so or not.  Sharing this experience has brightened my soul. I plan to continue reaching out to my community in this way.   

I’m going to give you a challenge. It might feel hard, but that’s ok, the most valuable stuff is. Take a risk in your day and talk with a stranger in a way that’s meaningful.  Give them a compliment or encouragement or even a little more… maybe some positive advice. There’s a lot of negative stuff out there these days.  We must take some time to lift people up.  You will be surprised at how much it affects you in a good way.  Calling All Saints. 



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