By Juan Haines
Teachers and aides with the Prison University Project, at San Quentin, along with inmates and prison staffers, roared with laughter on Dec. 30 to a sing-along spoof of the Twelve Days of Christmas by Alex Brigg.
The parody made fun of police harassment as the audience chimed in with, “On the Fifth Day of Christmas, the police brought to me, five DUIs.”
The event was part of an annual open-mic of comedy, poetry, spoken word and musical performances by inmates enrolled in the prison’s college. More than 150 people enjoyed the show.
“I heard about San Quentin way before I got here,” Brigg said in the Protestant Chapel. “San Quentin has a culture. For a prisoner getting here is like a dream come true, which is an odd thing for someone incarcerated to say. It’s because here we have a voice, unlike other prisons. For me, that’s important because my family gets to see me in a way they’ve never seen me.”
Aaron “Showtime” Taylor, an inmate, sang the chorus lines for Brigg’s routine.
In an earlier performance, Taylor sang his own spoofs, while playing guitar.
Instead of The Thrill Is Gone, Taylor sang My Grill Is Gone. Then, after making clear he is Muslim, made fun of Islamic dietary beliefs by singing, “I want to eat fried bologna sandwiches.” He finished by spoofing Somebody’s Watching Me with I Feel Like Inmates Are Stalking Me. A song that joked about inmates following him, snitching on him and then being sent to the hole.
Other performances touched upon recent politics and social issues.
Eddie DeWeaver said he’s suffering from PTED — Post Traumatic Election Disorder. He said the best medicine for his ailment is laughter and proceeded to tell a series of corny jokes, such as, “What vegetable has impeccable rhyme?”
Antwan “Banks” Williams and Lemar “Maverick” Harrison performed Kneel with Me. They said it was inspired by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem before each football game as a protest against the treatment of minorities in America.
Some acts focused on how hard it is to be incarcerated.
Micheal Cooke read No Hardship Lasts Forever. It underlined the cost of accepting criminal thinking while incarcerated. Cooke never succumbed to the pressures of the “wretched situation” and believes there is always hope.
Kevin D. Sawyer read three poems expressing the importance of keeping one’s identity, no matter what is happening in life. Sawyer’s poetry articulates a passionate viewpoint criticizing the practice of incarcerating individuals for many years — a practice that ultimately oppresses the human spirit, he said.
Jesse James Smith rapped I Need You. In the rap, Smith admitted to the damaging effects of the streets and, in prison, how much a father’s love and God are needed.
Comedy performances making fun of common phrases and slang had the audience laughing.
Robert Barnes’ stand-up piece — Really!?! Yeah … No! — joked about casual phrases such as I know, I’m just saying, Let me be completely honest and Right? “What bothers me is when I’m in the middle of a heavy conversation and someone says, ‘Let me be completely honest,’” Barnes joked. “Well, how am I supposed to take that? You mean all up until now, you’ve been dishonest?”
Jonathan Chiu had the audience moaning with laughter at his political incorrectness as he poked fun at Asian stereotypes: bad driving, good in math and suitable only to working in sweatshops.
Heads in the audience were bobbing to the musical performances, several receiving standing ovations.
Lee Jaspar wrote Krya. He played the original jazzy tune on keyboard with Greg Dixon on bass and Dwight Krizman on drums accompanying. They dedicated the performance to the spirit of San Quentin.
In honor of winter solace, Gregory Coates played a homecoming song on the wood flute.
Elton Mings read In Holiday Style. The poem is about the festivities enjoyed around the holiday season in the free world that are envied by the incarcerated.
A. Kevin Valvardi read two poems, Chapel Gardens and To the USA and Its Allies.
Emile DeWeaver read two poems. Broken News made light of news delivery. Comic reflected on the honesty of inmates during parole hearings.
Michael Vick read Vanguard of the Oppressed. One person who cares about the community could make a difference, Vick contends. “I am a loyal and responsible person,” he read. “I dream of not having to dream about my dreams, hopes and desires.”
George “Mesro” Coles-El did a spoken-word version of Rocket Man that was inspired by an episode of Family Guy.
Keith Wroten took the stage wearing a bandana and spoke how he could conquer and dominate a world. He said the piece was inspired after his mentor told him he does not have what it takes to be a grandmaster in chess.
Eusebio Gonzalez read Culture Tradition. It was about the pain of witnessing domestic violence as a teenager. The 31-year-old Mexican National said he was deeply affected by the violence his grandmother endured from his grandfather. With Greg Dixon’s keyboard in the background, Gonzalez spoke about the negative and controlling impact of machismo, which still exists. He dedicated his performance to his grandmother, after finding out the day before that she passed away in 2014. Richard Lathan’s Unnamed Piece honored all the victims of violence.
Fateen Jackson’s spoken word, Mission for Redemption, is a spiritual journey for correcting his life mistakes that caused harm to his community and family.
Andrew Gazzeny read a poem, Your Attention Please. He spoke passionately about the comforting effect of being listened to and the sadness that comes from being rejected. “Your silence is death to me,” Gazzeny said. “I have more to say, always.”
Closing the night out was Upumoni Ama, who played a ukulele donated by Zak Williams, the son of Robin Williams, while he sang Nothing Compares to You. Ama dedicated the performance to Williams and “the late great artist formerly known as Prince.”
As Robert “Belize” Villafranco’s congas beat away, the audience danced out of the chapel, smiling.