360 | Music Tutor

December 7, 2014
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #360: Music Tutor


Dear Family,

Boy, have I ever had an eventful week! It all started Tuesday afternoon when Duffy and I were told to pack up our things and prepare to move to Navajo Unit, on the other compound. Even though I’d been in Pima Unit four years, and most of that time in the same cell, developing friendships and ministry relationships alike, I was so excited to move. With Navajo Unit Manager Lohman being so programs-minded and interested in rehabilitative concepts, I couldn’t wait to be under his direct leadership.

Soon enough, after a few short good-byes and loading two push-carts full of our worldly possessions, Duffy and I made the half-mile trek to our new digs (I say “digs” so that it will sound cool to be living in a concrete cell).

As soon as we walked through the door of our new 120-man pod, it was unbelievable how many guys came up to us to say hi. Some had been with me on the Kairos weekend, some knew us from other prisons, some had been faithfully praying since hearing my mom had cancer and were grateful to hear of her complete healing. Even our cell, as cells go, is beautiful, with decorative painted scrollwork around the mirror and other unusual touches. We instantly felt at home, with so many confirmations of God’s hand at work on our behalf.

That first night was spent unpacking, putting up hooks and clotheslines, and sorting through the general mayhem that is standard with any move, prison or not. The next morning, I waited until 8:00, then went out to the unit offices to meet with Lohman.

Unlike most unit managers, Lohman has an “open-door” policy and actually keeps his office door open, all day, every day. I walked in saying, “Hey, I got the message that you wanted me over here,” referencing the sudden move.

He looked up from behind his desk and shot back, “Oh, so you noticed?” Then, with a big smile, shaking my hand, “Hey, Buddy, I’m glad you’re here finally. Hold on a sec.” He picked up the phone, dialed a four-digit number, and spoke to the jobs coordinator lady. Thirty seconds later it was a done deal; I was officially a Music Tutor. Pinch me: it’s real!

Now, let me review a bit of history with you for a moment. For the past three-and-a-half years, soon after arriving here at La Palma, I’ve been teaching classes of some sort, and usually seven to ten times a week, amounting to hours upon hours of work with homework corrections and lesson plans thrown in. Staff would tell me that I was doing the job that unit staff was supposed to be doing, by teaching classes that benefited inmates. That is why they told me that rather than having to wipe tables, sweep floors, or clean the showers, I could just check in, like everyone else, with the understanding I was teaching classes instead.

For all those years, I’ve been paid the lowest rate in the institution: eight cents an hour. I never complained, since I was doing what I was called to do, though I did draft a couple of proposals to be designated as a “tutor”, with commiserate pay. Now, after years of being acknowledged yet not compensated, here is Lohman, playing by different rules.

Within 90 seconds of being in his office, without me even mentioning pay, he’d secured me with the highest possible pay at 32 cents an hour. For me, isn’t about the small amount I’ll end up with every month, after half is taken out for restitution. After all, the amount I’m making is nowhere near the going rate of $70 an hour for teaching piano at my level on the streets. No, the feeling I got was gratitude to finally be compensated for what I was being asked to do. It is the assurance that staff are fully behind what I am doing and are willing to support me in any way possible.

I spent a couple of hours with Lohman that morning, so we were able to get on the same page about the music program and other future initiatives. He is giving me creative license to determine how to run the piano teaching program and who to involve with me.

Because I now work directly for Lohman, I can use the computers in the library whenever I want, and he is trying to get me a computer for the music program. To make sure I will be ready for all the keyboards when they finally arrive in the new year, I created all the sign-up sheets, practice records, passes, and schedules I’ll need to keep organized. I plan to put up the sign-up sheets in each pod the last week of December, but I’ve already signed up a few dozen guys for lessons.

I met a few of the other music tutors this week: a drummer, bass guitarist, electric guitarist, and lead guitarist. None of them are currently teaching any students, and only the electric guitarist plans to teach at all. He is accomplished on guitar, so he’ll teach guitar lessons. His parents have coordinated through their church in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to donate somewhere near 50 keyboards, and they are working on sending us guitars next. I’m hoping for basic piano books, too, but I’ll use what I have in the meantime.

The other guys who are designated as “music tutors” just play their instruments in bands and practice for a yard concert supposed to take place later this month. (Sorry, tickets have already sold out.) I won’t try to get involved in whatever the other music guys have going on, since it seems they’re doing what is expected of them. Instead, I will focus on doing the best I can to include as many inmates as possible in an easily-accessible music program.

Lohman is letting me use the multi-purpose room at night and on the weekends, and a smaller room whenever I want, I chose to dedicate the smaller room as our “Music Room,” leaving the multi-purpose room for Bible Studies, which made everyone happy. I can’t wait for what’s next!