Kirtan for Change: Exposing the Incarceration Crisis Amidst Viral Outbreak
Revered spiritual and heartfelt artist, Jai Uttal, has released a powerful single that blends Kirtan’s power with a personal twist. His latest song, “Behind the Walls,” captures the raw emotion and truth of incarceration that often get swept under the rug.
As the coronavirus sweeps through cells, many inmates are suffering without support or concern. “It’s amazing to me that what’s happening behind those walls is going unnoticed by most of the residents of Northern California. In fact, the devastation that’s occurring because of the virus in so many federal penitentiaries has just been a footnote in the national news.”
Inspired by his work at San Quentin prison, Jai Uttal wrote this song to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with those behind bars.
“Behind the wall, hard men shed tears. Praying and crying, nobody hears.”
“I first started singing in Federal penitentiaries around 1973, when I was touring with Ram Dass,” Jai begins. “We would go into the prisons, and I would sing and share a Kirtan as part of his presentation to the inmates.” In his experience, he found the connections and imprints made to be compelling and profound.
“It wasn’t until decades later that I began to go semi-regularly into San Quentin prison to sing for the inmates and share with them the practice of Kirtan,” Jai notes.
“Standing outside of San Quentin can be quite intimidating, with its many huge gates and high walls,” he admits. “But, once inside, in the sanctuary of their small chapel, with a room full of enthusiastic men, that trepidation completely disappears.”
Jai’s work in the prison has inspired many while also proving to assist his journey. For example, being seen as “other” was a concern of Jai when he first made his way into the space. However, unity within communion allowed for a deep connection to be birthed. This allowed the other men and brothers to delve into their spiritual practices and find their inner freedom despite chained conditions.
“Many of the men got off of their seats and danced like wild Bengali Bauls,” Jai shares. “After one of the kirtans, a man came up to me and said, “This is the REAL San Quentin! This is what you have to tell everyone. Nobody believes this. THIS is the REAL San Quentin. We are all brothers here.” With tears in his eyes, he referred to the prison as “The House of Healing.”
“When I heard about the intense COVID surge inside the prison and how little the authorities we’re doing about it, I was affected very deeply and personally concerned with the plight of some of my friends there,” Jai shares.
As mentioned earlier, many mainstream outlets have failed to shed light on the outbreaks occurring in prisons. Whether you are a singer, musician, photographer, or creative, we must continue to share underreported stories.
“With almost no medical facilities or possibilities for quarantine, the virus spread like wildfire and began to decimate the San Quentin population. This is still happening,” Jai urges.
Learn more about Jai Uttal’s work and mission on his website.
Collectively evolving through the only constant—change.