The day before inmates Thanh Tran, Eric “Maserati-E” Abercrombie, and Gregg “G” Sayers, created Reality Check — a song that describes the human condition—they sat in a small room in San Quentin to rehearse it for their first time on-stage performance as a group.
As Sayers softly plucked his guitar, Maserati-E sang Reality Check’s hook. Tran chimed in with harmony. They made small corrections as they had only put the song together the day before, in a matter of hours.
One of San Quentin’s radio producers, inmate Louis A. Scott, brought them together.
After Scott learned that interns, Tran and Sayers, are also talented musicians, he asked Maserati-E if he could put something together for a symposium called, Immigration: U.S. Policy Through a Restorative Justice Lens.
The three performers didn’t want to name them- selves as a group, “We are a collaboration of individuals,” Sayers said.
The trio also rehearsed Break the Mold, composed by Maserati-E.
Maserati-E has performed at numerous events and occasions at the Q, including for the prison’s podcast, Ear Hustle.
About a dozen people who regularly volunteer at San Quentin attended the Aug. 1 event as well as 20-25 people from the San Francisco Bay Area—several said it was their first time inside a prison. The men-in-blue numbered about 35-40.
After the performance, an inmate walked up to Sayers and said, “You got soul, man!”
“My main goal is to touch the people with music,” Maserati-E said. “I’m just a vessel wanting to make a difference—wanting to break this cycle of incarceration. That’s what drives my music.”
Maserati-E attends mic-sessions for Aim for the Heart, an organization led by Leila Steinberg, who was Tupac Shakur’s first manager.
The 25-year-old Maserati- E, has been incarcerated since age 17. He will be returning to society next year. Sayers, a songwriter and singer, has been playing the guitar for about three and a half years. He was inspired to play guitar after seeing another prisoner, Antonio Giovanni, playing on a prison yard.
“I asked him if he’d teach me how to play,” said Sayers. Giovanni said that it was his duty to teach Sayers.
“I think music has a purpose,” Sayers said. “When you have music that people are listening to, you have to pay attention to what you say. Are you going to say some- thing to help people, or are you going to be selfish?”
After spending nearly seven years behind bars, Sayers, 26, will return to the Sacramento area next year. He said that his prison experience taught him “his worth and how to appreciate things.”
Once out of prison, Sayers looks forward to continue producing music that moves people in a positive way.
Following their Aug. 1 performance, Tran commented, “I never had a standing ovation. It was amazing looking into the crowd—how the music resonated with them.”
Tran got his beginning in music by writing poetry when he was a 12-year-old.
His inspiration came after authorities took his foster niece away from his aunt.
“I loved them,” Tran said. “It felt like something was ripped away from me, so I wrote a poem about it. That was my first poem.”
As Tran got older, however, he was drawn into gangs.
“I couldn’t talk about emotions in the gang life,” Tran said. “I could only write about them. But I couldn’t share them—not even with my foster mother—not to anyone.”
Tran said that between the ages of 12-18, he was in juvenile hall nine times.
“Each time I’d write mu- sic,” he said, “I never took it seriously, until I came to prison this time.”
Two weeks after his 18th birthday, Tran committed a crime that got him a life sentence.
“While I was in county jail, a friend told me not to waste my talent,” Tran said.
The three men now have big dreams—to continue making music in the free world.