Sneaking Sounds into Prison

In 2013 or 2014 (I don’t exactly remember) the WA DOC contracted with JPay to provide music and email services to incarcerated people. One of the big incentives for prison administrators to do this was cassette and CD players have a small electric motor in them which some people would use to make tattoo guns. The introduction of JPay caused the elimination of boomboxes and Walkmans. Technically, if someone already possessed one they were supposed to be able to keep it. However, for the next 6 months c/o’s used every excuse they could find or invent to take them away during cell searches. Mine was taken under the pretext of me being accused of loaning it to people. Not quite sure how that worked because they took it off of my desk in my cell. Other people lost theirs because, in closed custody a few years prior, if a boombox had an antenna, then the property officer would remove it. At the time this seemed fair enough because it was a telescoping metal stick. On the other hand, when that property officer left a bunch of people lost their boomboxes because without the antenna it was now “altered.”

Before all the specifically cassette players were taken away, they were a major source of resilience for incarcerated people. The rule was that cassettes had to be new and come from an actual music store or other real vender. So what people would do is have their people record things on very official looking manufactured cassettes. Lionel Ritchie was weirdly popular for this. Instead, cassettes would have custom mixed tapes, underground rap, indie music, messages from loved ones, recordings of speeches, and porn. The WA DOC obviously didn’t like this mostly because they are extremely fascist and think they need to control, oppress, and dominate every facet of our lives.

Now that JPay is the only means for us to get music, it too has been leveraged towards getting various recordings into the prison, though not nearly as effectively. This is because while people outside prison have the ability to upload albums to JPay, those albums are then available to everyone nationwide with a JPay kiosk in their prison. Also, because the DOC of multiple states review the content of things uploaded to JPay, it severely limits the content of what can be uploaded. It’s amazing how many songs on there have “radio edit” in the title when they never have been nor will they ever be on the radio. I find it very heartening that regardless of what pissant BS the PIC cooks up, people still find a way to spread the joy of resilience.

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