There is nowhere that the socioeconomic divide and institutionalized racism that plague the United States are more evident and visible than in its prison system. The statistics that support such a statement are easy to find yet hard to digest, and yet it boils down to this: The U.S. incarcerates poor people from marginalized communities at a criminal rate. As someone who’s taught writing in U.S. prisons for more than five years, I can attest not only to its perpetuation of the country’s injustices, but to the importance of the voices behind prison walls that we don’t hear, that we don’t seek, and that more often than not, have no forum nor avenue, let alone volume.
Die Jim Crow Records—under the stewardship of activist/musician/producer Fury Young—aspires to change that, to dial up the frequency and boost the signal of those important voices. In 2020, DJC became the nation’s “first non-profit record label for formerly and currently incarcerated musicians” fighting recidivism and fueling the fire of voices dedicated to giving a voice to the truly disenfranchised. Their latest release comes from Territorial, a band comprised of seven artists incarcerated at Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City, Colorado. Kevin Woodley, Michael Tenneson, Dane “Zealot” Newton, Phillip “Archi” Archuleta, Gilbert “Lefty” Pacheco, Jose “8Bizz” Talamantes, and Frankie Domenico unite to form a singular voice that is truly American: progressive, inspired, diverse—and imprisoned—in both its cultural makeup and message. Their album Tlaxihuiqui (The Calling of the Spirits), which dropped back in August, is a powerful reminder of how the U.S. hides its problem behind walls—literal and figurative.
Today we’re getting a video for the album single “Just Say No,” which combines colorful, psychedelic animation with a video of the band performing the track—not to mention plenty of imagery of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who are responsible for the phrase that lends itself to the song’s tongue-in-cheek title—to help bring some of those walls down. Watch it below, and check out the album here.