Wayne Kramer, lead guitarist and founding member of the Detroit rock band MC5, appeared at two events in Phoenix on January 20 and 21, 2020, to support legislation being advocated by Arizona criminal justice organizations.
Mr. Kramer started the MC5 in Detroit in 1964 with Rob Tyner and Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith. The MC5 released three albums, Kick Out the Jams (1969), Back in the U.S.A. (1970), and High Times (1971). Although the MC5 never reached a wide-spread commercial audience, the band is considered by the progenitor American Hard Rock and Punk Rock band.
Along with the music, the MC5 was very active in politics as well. The MC5 was the only band to be invited to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Additionally, the MC5 were members of the anti-racist, anti-capitalist White Panther Party, an offshoot of the Black Panther Party.
In 1974, Wayne Kramer was arrested and convicted of selling a controlled substance to an undercover federal law-enforcement officer. Ultimately, Kramer was sentenced to four years in prison and was sent to the recently converted United States Narcotic Farm outside of Lexington, Kentucky, where he spent two years.
While Wayne was incarcerated, the UK Punk band The Clash wrote the song “Jail Guitar Doors” about Wayne’s arrest and incarceration. This song was the inspiration for British musician Billy Bragg when he formed an organization to donate guitars to prisoners in Great Britain. A little over a decade ago, Wayne Kramer formed the United States version of Jail Guitar Doors.
Wayne Kramer and Jail Guitar Doors have crossed the country visiting prisons and donating musical instruments to the prisoners. Fellow musicians Tom Morello, Jerry Cantrell, Don Was, Gilby Clarke, and others have joined him in going to prisons and bringing a message of recovery, redemption, and hope as well as large donations of musical instruments.
In addition to Wayne Kramer’s work with Jail Guitar Doors, he has scored music for television and movies, completed a 50th-anniversary tour of the MC5, and spoke to groups about the need for criminal justice reform across the country.
On January 20, 2020, Wayne and Jail Guitar Doors’ music director Jason Heath joined a conversation with American Friends Service Committee-Arizona’s Program Coordinator Grace Gámez, Ph.D., creator of the ReFraming Justice Day event and formerly incarcerated in the Arizona prison system. The panel included other formerly incarcerated individuals Vivian Nelson, Adrienne Kitcheyan, and John Fabricius. The conversation centered around the effectiveness of arts in prison programs to rehabilitate and reduce recidivism.
After the conversation, Wayne and Jason performed with a band with a mix of formerly incarcerated and local professional musicians. All of the formerly incarcerated band members had directly benefited from the donations from Wayne’s Jail Guitar Doors organization while they were incarcerated.
The next day, Tuesday, January 21, 2020, Wayne Kramer and Jason Heath joined criminal justice reform advocates at the Arizona State Capitol for the ReFraming Justice Day 2020 event. Organized and hosted by the American Friends Service Committee-Arizona (AFSC-AZ), and attended by members of the American Civil Liberties Union-Arizona (ACLU-AZ) Smart Justice, Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), and other criminal justice reform organizations, the event promotes criminal justice reform legislation and organizes groups to conduct in-person meetings to educate and persuade Arizona legislators to pass laws regarding changes in the Arizona criminal justice laws.
Various laws that the groups hope to change relate to earned release credits, ending cash bail, oversight of the Arizona Department of Corrections, removal of the ability for prosecutors in Arizona to seek enhancement of prison sentences for a person without historical prior felony convictions referred to as “Hannah Priors”, judicial discretion to lessen a prison sentence, and so-called second look legislation that would allow a person currently incarcerated to petition the court to be re-sentenced.
Organizers and attendees of the events stated that they believed this year’s event was a huge success and are feeling positive about their work reaching lawmakers and effecting change.