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The Days Between: An Appeal from a Former Incarcerated Head

Samuel Martin | October 03, 2013

I have been a huge music fan for as long as I can remember. I know to this day that after I got turned onto bands like the Grateful Dead, Phish and Widespread Panic, and started seeing shows and going to festivals, my teenage years were some of the most meaningful of my life. By the time I was 16, I was mourning the loss of Jerry with a heavy load of Phish touring. I loved the family and the community that I found at these shows.

Then, when I was 18, I was arrested on a drug-related charge in a state that, at the time, had a zero tolerance policy for everything, including marijuana. I had no priors but did not follow my given probation and was eventually sent to a maximum-security state prison. I was given five years. At the time, it seemed like forever.

Once I settled into my incarceration, I became aware of many things, one of which is that most, if not all, inmates did not enjoy or even know about the music I loved. It was either Pantera or Tupac—nothing in between. I was lucky enough to meet another inmate in there who happened to be a true Head. While in lockup, we would pay the trustees (trusted long-term inmates who risk their earned privileges to pass items from cell to cell) to help us send Phish and Grateful Dead lyrics to each other just so we could recite the songs in our heads. We talked about tours and shows and family. It was a blessing.

When we were eventually transferred to the lower security Fire Fighting Camp, we saved our money and bought a little AM/FM radio. We tuned into The Grateful Dead Hour every week as well as the Sunday night reggae show. While lifting weights, others would blast Megadeth on their boom boxes and we would listen to Jackie Greene, Bruce Hornsby and The Band.

The bond we formed over the music we shared, and the stories we swapped, saved me while I served out three of the five years that came with my sentence. Due to good timing and Youthful Offender Laws (enacted under President Clinton and repealed under President Bush), I was able to complete a year of successful parole and get my entire record expunged.

I hated prison. I was scared, young and naive. However, it could’ve been much worse if I didn’t have someone who shared my same taste in music and, for thousands of other inmates, it is.

Last year, my concert buddy Pete Mason wrote to me out of the blue and told me that he had formed pen pal relationships with some inmates, including a friend he hadn’t heard from since 2003. He went into detail about the array of Tour Heads out there that truly had no one to talk to. At the time, Pete had no idea that I had been an inmate. With his persistence and motivation, his idea to challenge those of us on the outside to write those of us on the inside sparked something great in me.

I am proud to be member of the jamband community and believe that all of us have—in our hearts and souls—the dedication and time to reach out to a fellow Head and become their pen pal. I’m talking about sending setlists instead of money and mailing out tour dates instead of commissary packages. I am not encouraging you to invite these strangers into your home; I’m asking you to send a simple letter, written in the letters of your name.

This means passing on a photo or news that Bobby and Phil played the “Steal Your Face” Red Rocks show, just weeks after Phish played the “Fuck Your Face” Dick’s show. I’m talking about being good phamily. Incarcerated Heads are sad, isolated and lonely, but your festival stories, summer tour recaps or Phish New Year’s reviews would certainly be a larger occasion for them than the event itself was for you. I want to be clear: I do not condone or support breaking the law. I do not think that murderers, rapists and violent criminals deserve our time, as they should be focusing solely on doing theirs. The people I’m referring to are the non-violent offenders who are convicted for victimless crimes that are serving mandatory minimum sentences—five, 10, maybe 20 years for showing up to a show with a handful of pot already in baggies, or maybe they had LSD or mushrooms on them.

You can find an inmate to write to in the Parking Lot section located in the back of Relix (Prisoner Correspondence). Relix has allowed inmates to submit letters for years. I challenge you to read that page, hear the prisoners’ pleas for communication and write to one of them.

If you could see it in your heart to reach out to just one Head that is locked up, the difference that you make will be indescribable.