When I first met Ani, actually when I first went to her house in New Orleans for a visit, we connected in an unexpected way. Sheba had recognized on Ani’s kitchen table a letter from the man I had been corresponding with for 10 years, a poet from Barstow, CA — a poet serving a Life Without Parole sentence. Spoon Jackson was convicted at age nineteen of a murder, and he has served his time, over three decades. Many of us feel he has more than sufficiently demonstrated that he is an asset to society, not a problem, ‘not just a prisoner.’ Turns out Ani’s also been corresponding with Spoon for years and does what she can to help build support for his roots campaign for release. When we talked about Spoon that day, Ani had just recorded a poem of Spoon’s that she put to music, a perfect blues, on a compilation CD with a bunch of women dedicating songs to people caught in the prison system. And I had just released a song inspired by Spoon called At Night You Fly, a title spinning off of one of his poems titled At Night I Fly. We sang each other our songs for Spoon, and after I played At Night You Fly, Ani said this: “That’s a very beautiful song. I don’t know if this would be helpful to you in how you share that song out in the world, but [contrary to your line, ‘…They tell me, when you were a boy, you killed a man…,’] Spoon actually killed, stabbed to death, a woman.” Ani was so cool about it. She didn’t try to make me feel bad. I think she just thought I would want to know.
Oh boy. I knew I had shined on the details of Spoon’s case, but this was heavy. I know Spoon as a poetry mentor and teacher for his fellow inmates, and for me he’s kind of a cheerleader. We wrote letters for about ten years, and he would end every letter with lots of positive, encouraging words. So I have lots of respect for Spoon. Last summer in Sweden our mutual friend Anja Ryden hosted a house concert for me, and she set up the phone/speaker so we could have Spoon call in from prison and read poetry and answer questions for our whole house full of folks. His voice was so very rich and full with the beauty and love in his words. And the people were moved and interested.
So now I sing Spoon’s song a little differently: “They tell me, when you were so young, you killed a woman.” So many lessons.
I still feel that Spoon has served plenty of time, his whole life, really. He was nineteen when he was tried and sentenced by an all white jury. Some say he didn’t deserve the Life Without Parole, or LWOP, sentence. Maybe California will become a bit less of a police state with Gavin Newsom at the helm, and maybe we will see many good people released to live their own good destinies, or at least given the chance to try!
I’m thrilled to go on tour with the gracious Righteous Babe. Get your tickets if you have a favorite Midwestern city you’d like to visit. Or maybe you want to call friends in these towns and let them know what’s coming their way. Thanks for your love and support of independent music!