July 2014: Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow

The PMN Song of the Month for July 2014 is “Wings” by Jean Rohe from New YorkJean-Spring-1000 City. This song takes a haunting, imaginative approach to the issue of prisons in America.  It begins with a bare accordion line that remains a motif throughout the song, sounding the familiar melody of a clock chime.  Rohe plays with notions of time and images of prisoners constructing wings to escape their incarceration.  Her expressive interpretation matches the song’s lyrics perfectly as she invites us into a visual journey, while not shying away from the historic and societal conditions that give rise to the USA’s unmatched incarceration rates.  She dedicates the song “to the men in Sing Sing Prison’s music programs,” suggesting a personal connection to the issue and the power of music to transport both the singer and the listener.  This is not a traditional folk song, and is well worth a listen.


Jean Rohe,2014

Dedicated to the men in Sing Sing’s music programs.

They all stood out in the prison yard
And they built wings out of scrapwood and cardboard
This ain’t no metaphor
When I talk, I talk straight
If I run, I’m running late
And what I said I seen, you bet I saw
They were building wings in the prison yard
I don’t know where they got the wood
Or the hammers and the nails, or the notion that they could climb
Out from underneath their crime
But the watches and the clocks
The calendars, the locks spun back
Feel the years unwind
Oh, those prisoners turned back time
The river runs south, the train runs up and down its lonesome track
Every Saturday all the men run down to call their families back at home
And time used to run a straight, relentless line
‘Till the day they built their wings
And the wings, they hit the air
And the air stirred up the seasons
And strew them everywhere
And now they’re back before their sentence,
Back before their crime
Long before the reason
Long before the rhyme
Before the birth of a boy into poverty
The birth of a nation in slavery
The sweat of the many, the wealth of a few
The hurt called caring, the lies called true
Before Icarus ascended to the sky
Before anybody told him not to try
They built their wooden wings so light
Strapped to their backs, see them shimmer in the bright sky
And one by one, see each man fly
Past the turrets and the guards,
The razor wire and bars
Down the Hudson and out of sight
Oh those prisoners took flight

Jean Rohe is a multi-lingual singer and composer, incorporating aesthetic approaches from jazz, folk, and Brazilian traditions. Her songs, which range from fantastical riffs on old folktales to autobiographical sojourns, to “phonojournalism”, a genre of her own invention, have won recognition from the ASCAP Foundation and the New York Songwriters Circle, and her refreshingly candid performance won her the audience prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Raised in a participatory folk music scene, Jean’s inviting performances balance precise craft with the unpredictable boisterousness of community music-making. Though she is often found at the helm of her eclectic, genre-bending ensemble, Jean Rohe & The End of the World Show, she also performs in smaller groups and solo. She lives in New York City.

Website: www.jeanrohe.com


Hutto – Honorable Mention

Words and Music by Si Kahn of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Si-Kahn-CloseupSi founded Grassroots Leadership, a Southern-based national organization, in 1980, and served as its Executive Director for 30 years, becoming Executive Director Emeritus on May Day 2010. For the past 12 years, Grassroots Leadership has worked to oppose privatization and to defend the public sector. This work currently includes a campaign to abolish all for-profit private prisons, jails and detention centers, including immigrant detention centers, as a step towards helping create a prison and criminal justice system that is at least to some extent just and humane.

website: www.sikahn.com


Who’s The Pusher Now – Honorable Mention

Ellen Bukstel of Southwest Ranches, Florida

Words and music by Ellen Bukstel, Nick Annis, Brett Segal

PRESS PHOTO-BUKSTEL2sm (03-12-14-07-49-40)

A veteran to the stage since childhood and with more than 40 songwriting awards and acknowledgements to her credit, Ellen Bukstel Challenges her listeners to laugh, dig deep and embrace the wild emotional roller coaster we call life with every daring turn of phrase… a rare, bold, real deal maverick…a multi-faceted break the mold original that lays her emotions bare, puts her passions on the line and, without fear, makes the world perk up and pay attention. Drawing from a rich lifetime of personal experiences, she brings hope, laughter, tears, biting wit and inspiration to everything she records and performs.

website: www.ellenbukstel.com


Cornelius Dupree – Honorable Mention

Words and Music by Lou Dominguez

2502617Lou Dominguez is a modern day folk singer and award winning singer/songwriter in the tradition of Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle.  Lou does not shy away from political and social issues, yet he is still able to deliver heartfelt songs about every day experiences, as well as  talking blues songs with his unique sense of humor.  The release of his third full length CD in November 2013, We The People, firmly establishes Lou Dominguez among the best of his peers in the acoustic music world.

website: www.loudominguez.com

Judges for July 2014

Thanks to our panel of volunteer judges who listened to the song submissions and assessed each song according to these criteria.


Qualifying Submissions

There were 12 qualifying submissions for the month of June. Listen to them all here, with complete lyrics. Thanks to everyone who submitted songs!

One thought on “July 2014: Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow

  1. Thanks to PMN for starting this Song of the Month Contest. It recalls to mind all that’s good and meaningful to me about music. What it can do for people—it can cross boundaries, inspire, raise awareness. I hope your songs spread like wildfire and people will be lifted up and inspired to go on with our work for social justice and equality for all. I think it’s time for a Police Brutality topic, looking at the news. Thanks for empowering voices to sing truth to power.

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