- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) - For nearly 2½ hours, the musical performers rolled through like “American Idol.” Nathaniel Jones sounded remarkably like Lou Rawls when he sang “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.” Werner Fisk did an energetic rendition of the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running.”

There was country and gospel, Christian rap and blues, heavy metal guitar solo and reggae. They all performed in front of a panel of judges.

Yet, it was not your usual talent show. About 300 enthusiastic men dressed all in white sat in metal chairs in a crowded, un-air-conditioned gym. They were treated - and to all, it was a treat - with a cup of red punch and a cookie.

And most telling of all, the show was halted for a few minutes as guards did a count for those housed in the Hotel and Kilo wings. The show must go on, but so does prison life.

This was simply The Talent Show, this one at the Neal Unit, where 1,700 inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are housed northeast of the city. It was the third such talent show in the last three years, the idea of education counselor D’Ann Boyd.

“Music is the universal language,” she told the Amarillo Globe-News (http://bit.ly/291zheN). “They’re human beings and they respond to the pleasantries of music like everyone else does.”

Indeed, in first-come, first-serve for one of the coveted metal chairs, some waited for several hours in line at their wings. As many as 50 acts signed up when word went out of the June 17 talent show. Those 50 were preliminarily culled down to 18 for the big event.

The Neal Unit house band accompanied the performers. Between purchasing of musical instruments at pawn shops and donations from Neal Unit employees, the house band was rocking. A good sound system made it even better.

“I’m just stepping out for the guys to build camaraderie and rapport,” said Darrell Bason, 59, of Houston who sang Johnny Cash’s “Ghost Riders In The Sky.” ”I don’t want anything for this. I give it to God. If I can brighten just one person’s day, I’ve done my job.”

Glenn Bailey was your Ryan Seacrest in white for the evening, otherwise known as the host, comedian and Neal Unit smart aleck.

“I see you’re taking pictures there when no one knows you’re taking them,” Bailey told the audience, while looking at me. “You know, some people here got locked up for that.”

And, of course, the gymnasium roared.

David Torres of Seguin got it officially started with a Christian rap, “The Begotten Son,” and it took off from there. Seldom did an act not bring the majority out of their seats, during and after.

Most, though not all, performances had a religious overtone. Broken men who have reached bottom often look up when seeking answers that otherwise never came.

Robert Price of Houston sang “Raindrops,” a touching Christian song that I assume he heard at some point. I assumed wrong. He wrote the lyrics and the melody.

“One day it was raining, and it hit me,” Price said. “Without rain, there’s no growth. Without growth, there’s no harvest.”

It took him four days to write, one of 30 gospel songs he’s written in the last seven years - all in TDCJ.

“If I had Jesus in my life before now,” he said, “I’d be singing on the other side of the fence. Not here.”

It was a random drawing of order, and two of the last acts were also the oldest. White-haired Tim Jones is 78, born, he said, “on the other side of Ireland.” That would be Wales where pop singer Tom Jones was born two years later “the next valley over from me,” he said.

Jones - Tim, not Tom - got the gym silent with his rich tenor voice on an old Bill Gaither song, “Daystar:”

“Daystar shine down on me, let your love shine through me, in the night…”

Jones tied for second among the judges. The winner was right after him. Billy Paul Bell, 75, approached the front with help from a walker. He was silky smooth in his delivery of Sam Cook’s “Bring It Home To Me.”

“I appreciate the opportunity,” he said. “You never get too old to learn. I believe love and the blues go together.”

Bell has been incarcerated since 1973, nearly 43 years, and he said he’s expected to be released at the end of July. That is a long time, a time when Watergate began and Vietnam ended, and well, it’s hard to fathom the changes Bell will confront since he was last on the other side.

Bell can leave with a fresh certificate for winning the talent show and will carry a bit of that Sam Cook classic in his heart.

“My wife left me in 1965, and I’m the reason. I ran her away. It’s my fault,” he said. “But if I see her when I get out, I’m still going to ask her, if you change your mind, just ‘bring it home to me.’”

___

Information from: Amarillo Globe-News, http://www.amarillo.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide