Thursday, August 12, 2010

“Here II Here goes to Prison”

“Man, during your concert ... I wasn't in prison.” ---- Spoken by an inmate at Terminal Island Prison after Here II Here’s acoustic performance

As we approached Terminal Island, I was oddly nervous. I normally get a bit nervous before most performances - concerned how many people would show up, will the sound system work, will my intro do the band justice, etc. But this was different.

We were crossing the bridge to perform in Terminal Island Federal Prison, San Pedro CA. The thoughts racing through my head were dramatically different.

We are performing in PRISON!!!!

As I twittered away the spooky details of our approach through endless rail yards and industrial storage facilities, Ash’s phone rang.

“Hi Roomie”, Ash answered nonchalantly to his Miami roommate, Elizabeth. “Yeah, I’m just on my way to prison.”

That brought a round of full-hearted laughter as we rolled into the prison parking lot cracking jokes about the unfolding experience.

-- “How many cigarettes is our CD worth?
-- “Should we really sing ‘Yoooouur Dreeeeams brought you heeeeeere ...” to inmates in prison??

We met our host, the delightful and optimistic Judy Osuna of Agape Int’l Spiritual Center’s Prison Ministry, in the parking lot. She had seen us perform at Agape three years ago as “Inner Voice”, and had only reconnected with us when Ash went to an Agape service a few months ago during our initial West Coast tour.

She was super grateful, and we also felt truly grateful to be allowed to share our music with this particular community of human beings.

The prison looked like your standard barbed wire fortress bordered by high cream-colored walls with an imposing guard tower harboring shadowy figures who stood sentry over the entrance. I better not run to the truck if I forget something, I silently told myself, lest I be mistaken for an escapee and quickly ‘put down’.

As we checked in at the fortress lobby and unloaded our gear, Officer Torres, our escort, had us pull out and count every cable we brought to set up our sound system. And we brought EVERY cable we own. This was actually a pretty cool exercise, as we discovered cables we didn’t even know we had. Total 68 cables. Officer Torres told us we better have 68 cables on our way out, too.

We also couldn't bring in our giant rolling crate that holds a lot of gear (the big GREY one that I call through color-blind eyes, “The Green Monster” ... something the guys get endless amusement out of). If a person could fit inside, we couldn’t bring it in.

They whisked us through the first entrance ... x-raying our gear ... metal detector for the bodies ... Alex had to leave his pain medication in the car (he recently had surgery), because just one vicodin in a prison yard can apparently wreak impressive havoc.

They stamped our wrists with an invisible ink, saying “Do NOT wash this off; it’s your ticket outta here” ... and we entered the prison. Into a secured hallway where they checked our freedom-stamped wrists and our IDs ... a large “clang bam” rang out and a thick security door slowly yawned open to a passageway leading deeper into the heart of Terminal Island Prison. We walked through a sun-lit though drab concrete wall hallway, a train of colorful musicians, high-spirited Agape volunteers, and our prison guard escort, hauling guitars and speakers. Security safety signs lined the walls warning us of various dangers we were now subject to ... until a thick “click clack” opened two glass doors that led out to the Yard.

Our human train passed into the Yard - which looked like every other prison Yard I’ve seen in the movies - and we headed towards the “chapel” where we would meet "the inmates". I became distinctly aware that we were being watched.

I have only been to prison once, when I worked with “Big Brothers Big Sisters” as a military officer and met with convicted pedophiles in a state prison. That was years ago, and I recall being struck by how NORMAL those inmates were. They were not the unkempt, bespectacled, introverted monsters I expected them to be. There was an average looking mailman (I could easily picture him delivering my mail), a well-groomed former police officer ... normal dudes who had families and were your typical neighbors ... which, while humanizing my perceptions of a “criminal”, in my mind at the time made the whole notion of a “criminal” even more disturbing. It could be anybody!!!!

And now, once again, proving I’ve barely evolved in 15 years, on some level I again expected monsters.

We entered the chapel, which is really a “chapel” only in name; it was just one cavernous, square-shaped hole built into the prison structure itself. A big concrete room built to surround people.

We entered through the back, moving down the center aisle past about 40 inmates sitting quietly in folding chairs facing the front of the room. As they watched us move past, they looked at us with curious eyes - or so I perceived, as I was trying hard not to actually look at anyone - and mumbled excitedly towards all the equipment we had brought. Apparently, no other visiting artist had brought so much stuff before.

Nine Inch Nails guitarist, Robin Finck, had been there a few months prior, and he did a simple set of acoustic guitar songs that everyone would rave about.

The room was small and cavernous enough (no carpeting or insulation) that we decided to go acoustic, not needing most of the equipment we had hauled in.

I began looking at the inmates from the front of the room, clandestinely, nervous about affronting any inmate code of "don't look me in the eye mo-fo!!!" ... really I just felt kinda silly ... something even resembling shame ... and I just can't explain why.

There were of course no scary monsters. Sure, based on appearances alone I could have fit a few into the “mad recluse unabomber” category; there were a few gangsta types who looked as if they wanted to be much cooler than me ... and more than a few long-hair handle-bar mustache crusty ol’ life-convict guys ... I swear one young guy looked like like a young, nerdy Bill Gates. I told myself he must have been caught hacking into VISA accounts or something technically brilliant like that. One guy looked like Santa Claus, complete with large fluffy white beard and hair, cheerful red-nosed demeanor and full round belly ... maybe he molested an elf ... a sick joke mostly designed to protect my own self-image.

Yes, I brought with me all the arrogance and judgment that an overactive, fearful mind typically brings to such a rare meeting of apparent differences. I was intimidated ... indulging to some degree in a mild form of self-loathing that I couldn't quite explain to myself.

There were guys who looked just like me. Guys I could have served in the military with. Friends I’d had in college. Most were white, a few blacks and hispanics.

Although I didn’t know what any of them had done to get in here, I decided that most of these guys probably got caught up doing something stupid out of desperation to feel better about themselves ... and I reflected that surely some of the things I’ve done in my past could have landed me here.

I could have been in that prison. That’s right, mom, I’ve done things for which the laws of this country would give me time-out in a cell next to one of these guys ... silly little drug things, mom, but nothing that’d really break your heart. But still, the circumstances separating them from me ... well, just didn’t seem entirely within my control.

After Judy introduced all of us, to warm applause by the inmates, the band began the concert.

Edwin’s growling bass pedals began creeping through the room, stirring every molecule, every human body, with a thick, deep, primal pulsation ... Ash began to speak, asking this question with a smooth voice, “Are there are any Rumi fans in the audience?”

My first thought was a cynical, “Yeah, Right ... these guys?? Rumi fans??” ... which was quickly followed by the uncomfortable insight that behind that thought was a deeper driving thought:

“They’re going to laugh at us.”

As I watched for the response to Ash’s question - which he had just posed to male prison inmates with the same warmth and sincerity as when I’ve seen him ask that question to our mostly-female audiences in any spiritual church - as I watched one or two raise their hands in eager, though subdued, anticipation, something remarkable washed over me like a gentle sun-soaked breeze, and wrapped itself tightly around my perception.

........ I suddenly experienced every man in that room as an amazing overgrown divine child of the universe, perhaps scared, but certainly wanting nothing more than to feel accepted, loved, appreciated .. valued.

I stopped seeing them as “inmates” in prison ... as “dangerous men” who had done something bad or stupid that brought them there ... this idea that had been flitting between my subconscious and conscious mind for the past few hours, that somehow these men needed to be approached with caution and distant reserve, suddenly evaporated ... and I “experienced” them as simple fellow human beings on their own journey, longing ultimately only for love and connection ... same as I do ... and who sometimes also do stupid things to “get it”.

The barrier I had been holding up with my own fear melted ... and though the true intensity of that moment didn’t last very long, the immediate memory of that profound awareness shifted my thoughts completely. My body relaxed and I gave myself to the music.

I became simply another man among these men.

PLANKTON” ... “doctors, lawyers, politicians and professors ... we are nothing pretending to be something” ... ... ... HERE II HERE’s harmonies reverberated throughout the room ... penetrating ...

IT’S ALL LIGHT” ... “Feelings come, and the feeeeeelings go .... It’s all Riiiiiight ... It’s all Liiiiiiight!” ... I watched the inmates begin to move ... tapping toes, bobbing heads ... a few standing up trying to get a good look at how Kaz was making those sounds with a box!!!

YES” ... “if we’re appearing in your consciousness, it’s to simply say YES!”

..... something else hit me. This was an all-male audience. We’ve NEVER experienced that. Typically our audiences are 70% female ... audiences steeped in divine feminine energy that resonates easily with HERE II HERE’s infectious heart-centered music.

As Ash led the audience into the “YES” call-and-response singalong opening, the unfamiliar sound of deep voices singing back struck me. The masculine energy was responding. This heavy, anchored, masculine experience was allowing itself to be stirred ... to be uplifted, shifted, injected with inspiration and connected to the heart ... these men, incarcerated in federal prison, I could see them moving, subtly, like cobras coiled and gently undulating in tune to HERE II HERE’s musical charm.

They were tapping their toes ... they were smiling ... some heads were bobbing ... they were singing back to Ash ... they were following. Some seemed unmoved, at least on the outside ... who knows what was stirring underneath.

YOUR DREAMS” ..... “you’re dreams brought you here ... where will they take you tomorrow” ... I wasn’t sure about singing that song; what it might bring up for them being right now in prison ... but HERE II HERE wasn’t deterred. And the men loved it ... one man wiped tears forming under his dark sunglasses. I watched faces melt during Jaime’s vocally stunning intro. At the end, they stood in applause.

WHAT’S GOING ON” ... “what’s going on in the world today, makes me get down on me knees and pray, and see through the madness that’s taking place ... from our own consciousness, we can not .... not escaaaaaaaaaaape ...”

NOBODY IS A VICTIM HERE” ... “nobody is a victim here ... emancipate yourself from Mental Slavery like Bob Marley ...” ... I watched them sing along to this powerful chorus. We had been excited to sing in prison this powerful new song about personal responsibility for your life.

BESITOS CHIQUITICOS” ... a little latin flavor ... the two hispanic guys who looked to me like movie set gangstas stood up and applauded with smiles ... “¡vive la raza!” (“live the race!!”) one shouted out ... (Alex is still trippin’ on that “boyz in the hood” movie-moment)

I DON’T KNOW SHIT” ... a special request ... “I don’t know shit! You don’t know shit! He don’t know shit! They don’t know shit. She don’t know shit! We don’t know shit ... nooooow ain’t that some ...”

They laughed and nodded in rowdy agreement ...

and then


Some of these inmates who had been attending this program for some time already knew this song. As HERE II HERE began ... “Jesus, Buddha, Kali, Krishna ... “ I watched some of the men go into meditative repose. They looked at each other knowingly. They were grateful.

I saw Judy glowing. When she first heard HOLY at Agape in front of 2000 “free” spiritual seekers, she approached me and asked the band to come play at the prison ... but because we didn’t live in California at the time, she would have to wait three years for this moment. She was ecstatic.

When the band finished, the men came up to all of us to shake our hands and express their deepest gratitude.

The latin gangstas came up to me and with perfect English and big smiles to congratulate us, thank us, and wish us well ... and that blew up any last bit of arrogant judgment I’d made about them.

The young guys, the old guys, the clean-cut guys and the unkempt ones, the black guys ... they all surrounded the band with enthusiastic appreciation and warmth and well-wishes.

Even Officer Torres, who Judy told us usually hurries everyone, performers and prisoners, out of the chapel at 8pm when his shift ends, couldn’t break himself away from the experience. We lingered long after the inmates had left, basking in the tremendous beauty of what he had just experienced.

Officer Torres invited us back to do a bigger concert in the Yard, where most of the prison would hear the concert. We signed a CD for him and laughed all the way out, retracing our steps back through the Yard, waving bye to inmates calling out goodnight to us through cellblock windows.

We got out ... all 68 cables accounted for, freedom stamps intact. We gave CDs to all the volunteers and began planning a bigger concert for these men - or as Judy called them, “giant hearts with legs” - in October.

We loaded up and drove off ... high.

We’ve performed at the United Nations, on national TV, in theaters, yoga studios, churches, on radio, in hospitals, in world class night clubs (and their opposites), at Hard Rock Cafe, in the Grand Canyon, and in temples ... and now in Prison.

Today, Judy told me that she talked to Officer Torres. Since our performance, something has happened; something has shifted among the inmates such that their attitudes towards him - the sponsoring officer for this program - are noticeably different. He says for the first time, they’re acknowledging and appreciating him. The antagonistic relationship he typically experiences with them has ... if not gone away, at least for the moment it has lessened.

I don’t know what that really means, or what it looks like, and I don’t know what lasting effect this HERE II HERE performance will have on these guys. I do know that we didn’t do it for the sake of some outcome or result. We did it because we were called to it. Because we love being of service and sharing our gifts.

I bow to HERE II HERE ... to Ash, Alex, Kaz, Edwin and Jaime ... for performing for these guys with the same spirit, warmth, sincerity and passion as I’ve seen them do countless times for any other audience in the 3 years I’ve been working with them.

In the end, for all the intrigue and internal drama I created around this prison experience, Judy was right ... these guys are just big hearts with legs.

Though I won’t pretend to know what these guys are going through in prison, I do know what it’s like to be a prisoner of my own stressful thoughts, my own mind.

I’m completely honored to be witness and servant to the HERE II HERE music experience that sets human beings free, even when they’re locked up in Prison.


  1. The astounding encouragement this blog post has brought to me today...thank you. In the midst of the chaotic world we see, at the center of it all for every person, a "twinkling of an eye" experience awaits to wholly awaken us to who we really are.

  2. I loved reading this, Bryan. I love your writing!
    I was moved, and almost moved to tears. SO looking forward to finally meeting you and the band the next time you're in Atlanta. Keep sharing your amazing experiences so beautifully!
    I am a huge fan.

  3. Bryan, you are an amazing writer! I could not tear myself away, and I really felt your emotions through all of this. I completely understand how the guys softened the hearts of these guys who have been hardened with lifes hardships(to say the least) HereiiHere just doesnt' make music, they do God's work....I also have felt what that means, something inside of you changes, and you don't want it to end, you just want to feel that feeling want to find yourself inside of do find yourself inside of it....I love you guys, Sandy

  4. wow...amazing! I would have loved to had been there, of course with a sticker on my hand. :-)

  5. Fantastic experience and exquisitely written, Bryan!! Definitely had me in tears with the emotional and heartfelt descriptions. I also felt a connection with the familiar feelings of having my brother spend time in prison. Fortunately after having over 5years of his life spent in those walls he has not been back in over 10 years now. He did a lot of reading in there including, "The Seat of the Soul" by Gary Zukav which I believe to have had an impact on his soul just as I believe all of you guys did on those inmates. Bless you and congratulations!!

  6. Thank you for sharing. You brilliant account of Here II Here's prison seva moved me to tears. Bravo!

  7. Amazing experience. I wish more inmates from another places or here in Miami could listen to u guys...they live frustrated doing and looking at the same thing every single day. It's sad and I have someone on one of those prisions and I wish he could listen to u guys one day. Blessings to all of u!!keep spreading ur amazing music!!

  8. I don't know if serving time in prison will transform those lives. Your music certainly will.

  9. Bryan my brother, thank you for sharing and caring and daring. You are a beautiful light
    keep shining bright always.

  10. Thank you so much for this beautiful post, Bryan. I learned so much about myself from reading it. I sit here awash in tears of gratitude for the truth that I am a prisoner of my own stressful thoughts, my mind.
    I love you and all your loving and music making compadres.

  11. We all love you and your work of H-E-A-R-T! May your days and nights be filled with the dreams of stardust gone brilliant! Thank you so much for your dedication and bare naked soul!

  12. Very well written. I putand off reading this post due to being very busy. So I am CEO of a large energy company and was sitting in my office reading this when the tears started flowing and just as my luck would have it a important client walks in. Lets just say he is known as a tough guy on TV. What do you say or do in a situation like that. I made him read it. He did not cry but he got it. Wow great articulation and insight.

  13. GUAO! I've always been a HERE II HERE fan (even in the Innner Voice days) but this account of the prison concert just blew me away. So moving! Yes, it was very well written. You seem to be the perfect manager for this talented group of guys!

  14. Namaste' Sat Nam Jai Ma!
    Bryan, thanks for posting and expressing this!!!

    Wow... I appreciate and bow to all of you creating such magic in the world.. for sharing peace and although you are all men- you Embody the Mother, infinitely embracing and compassionately loving of all people.

    Thank you for BEing.
    INfinite Love~* Michy

  15. Thank you Brian for your insightful and beautifully written description of this powerful experience which shifted everyone involved. You might want to consider interviewing and taking videos of the prisoners before and after the concert. Possibly making a film of this transformational prison experience brought about by the magic of the music of Here II Here. I'm sure the universe will provide all the support needed for such a project.. This is how real change happens..Heart to Heart. This is the work that Jesus spoke of.. Thank you all for doing His work! It brings tears to my eyes as well! May Almighty God, continue to Bless and support all of you Abundantly in every way so you can continue to free apparent prisoners in all forms of life! And SO IT IS!! THANK YOU GOD!

  16. As someone who visits a state prison on a weekly basis to support a Toastmaster club I deeply appreciate this post and your attitude and gifts to those incarcerated men.

    You'll never know how much these guys appreciate visitors from the streets and you may never discover how you have impacted them...but to be sure, you have done them much good.

    Thank you for being true to who you are.

    Connie Baum
    Tecumseh, Nebraska

  17. Just the other day I was driving by the infamous San Quentin State Prison, it was a road less travelled and I felt a sort of spark missing. I was compelled to get off the highway, and my silly self thought, I just want to sit with the inmates, smile, share Mostly to show that someone thought of them...that even there we can share our light, and reflect back their divinity. Reading your experience encourages me to do this...everyone is just seeking love...everyday is an opportunity to be in service to Love...what would Love do?

  18. Bryan--After reading your words I am sitting in a bucket of salty tears. I look forward to seeing HIIH again. You have my full and undying support. Their music has absolutely transformed me, and I want to do what I can to bring their message to others.

    You are blessed,

    Debbie K. - Vallejo, CA