The 2019 Juneteenth weekend at San Quentin concluded with speeches and musical performances in the prison’s Catholic Chapel. About 70 inmates and a handful of outside guests attended the evening event.
The prison’s R&B band New Syndication of Funk (NSF) was the driving force behind the music playing songs such as “What You Won’t Do For Love” by Bobby Caldwell. Lee Jaspar delivered a memorable solo on guitar, and Rico Rogers was unmatched with his solo on the keyboard.
Inmate Paul C. Hamilton was one of the organizers and host of the early evening event. “I’m going to tell you what time it is” (about prison), he said at the beginning of his speech. “It’s serious business.”
Hamilton asked the au- dience. if they had five minutes to get on a bus departing from prison to take them home, which di- rection would they go? H- Unit, West Block, or North Block?
“At the end, when I finish speaking, you will know the answer to the question,” said Hamilton, explaining that “darkness symbolizes ignorance” before he told a story of how the worst place in Europe put men on a ship and sent them to Louisiana with slaves.
Inmate Tim Young played original music on an acous- tic guitar using a looped progression of major-seventh and minor-seventh chords as inmate Michael Mackey rapped and inmate Adriel Ramirez played the drums.
The trio performed the original song “The One You’re Overlooking,” a song about history, and current events with an overall politi- cally conscious message. It was met with a warm round of applause.
Young said “time alone” inspired the song. “Me myself, thinking about this life and how I felt.”
NSF returned to the stage to perform oldies such as “That’s The Way I Feel About You,” by Bobby Womack, “Can’t Hide Love,” by Earth Wind & Fire, “It Just Gets Better With Time,” by The Whispers, and what has seemingly become their anthem “Joy and Pain,” by Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly.
“It’s the second time we’ve ever done this song,” said Rogers, before the band played its original song “Vi- sions.” Tony “Tone” O’Neal and Rogers traded off sing- ing with Rogers doing most of the chorus as Paul Comaux played the tambourine. Jaspar added a jazzy guitar solo to the mix.
“We live in a world now today where the color of our skin and sexual preference is more important than our character,” Mackey said,
quoting rapper and author Sista Souljah. Then he sang “Sweet Dream or Beautiful Nightmare,” using prerecorded sound tracks from a CD played on the chapel’s PA system. “I’m just venting,” he said when the song ended.
Hamilton’s sermon con- tinued about prison being “a serious situation.” He said we live in a time where we can be exposed to the truth. “Some societies control the news and laws.” He said it’s how propa- ganda is disseminated.
“We don’t pay attention” (in prison), said Hamilton. He said there are people of color telling you that you can’t go anywhere. “We have to pay attention to what hap- pened in the past.”
“That’s why it took us so long to get the message (about the end of slavery), because we weren’t paying attention,” said Hamilton. “Whose fault was that?” His message was about law, freedom and being vigilant about what’s happening in prison. “If you don’t hear your name, you won’t get on the bus.”
At the end of the show, the performers and speak- ers all gave thanks to Sis- ter Aurora for helping them produce it. “I thought it was great,” she said. “Good beats and vocals. I enjoyed it. A lot of participation.”
Inmates Jamie Acosta and Eric Rives worked the sound and mixing for the event.