Jail Guitar Doors

Rehabilitative Songwriting in State Prison

“Jail Guitar Doors works toward a more fair and just America. We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization providing musical instruments and mentorship to help rehabilitate prisoners through the transformative power of music. 

Using the medium of collaborative music and songwriting for everyone, we strive to achieve measurable rehabilitative outcomes. We seek to advance new solutions to diminish prison violence and recidivism. We support organizations that engage in policy reform efforts and partner with social service groups to help people in prison successfully rejoin the outside world. And we actively work to educate leaders and decision-makers on how to bring real reform to the criminal justice system.” - Jail Guitar Doors


“…[I]t only made sense to get involved with such an amazing organization such as Jail Guitar Doors”

- Gabe Rosales

“Our views on punishment and retributive measures in the US have historically been unscientific, inhumane, and based on bronze-age ideals. Our ignorance about the human species, and socialization, coupled with our refusal to acknowledge the racial disparities in our for-profit ‘justice’ system, has made the US moniker of ‘land of the free,’ laughable.

Being from California, I am proud to come from a state that is leading the nation in criminal justice reform. It has not come without a dark past consisting of native genocide, eugenics programs, corrupt police and institutional violence. It was only in 2005 that California Department of Corrections decided to add ‘Rehabilitation’ to the institutional name to create the acronym CDCR. Since then, the state has stumbled and rose again to lead, not only because of the prison administrators or legislators, but mainly because of the prisoners determination for the truth to be heard and seen. Treating broken people like animals in cages then expecting them to come out and be productive members of society is not only economically irresponsible, it is inhumane and delusional.

Being a full-blooded Mexican, having spent time incarcerated and getting involved in the politics, being in recovery, getting a degree in criminology, and having the gift of music dominate my life, it only made sense to get involved with such an amazing organization such as Jail Guitar Doors.

Though my time incarcerated was mere months, a minuscule comparison to some of our students serving decades, or life; I realize how the mistakes I have made could have resulted in something much worse. In fact, considering the reckless behavior I have seen throughout my life, it could have been any one of us in ‘civilized society’ that ended up doing a long ‘bid.’ I am living proof of how a person could be redeemed after making terrible decisions. I attribute much of my success to music and if the statistics are correct that ninety-seven percent of prisoners are released someday, we need to face the reality that the practice of throwing away the most vulnerable members of society does not work but helping them rediscover their humanity does. Collaborative music efforts facilitate this. I have seen rival gang members help each other through instrumentation, while smiling and laughing, as they passionately harmonize on an original chorus. I have always had the gift of music thanks to my mother and late father. I have had the privilege of being able to afford instruments and I have lived in a community where I could develop these creative skills. For some of our students, our class is the first time they realize that they are good at something productive, and the option to be creative brings them great joy and a healthy sense of self worth. I ask myself why we as a society do not emphasize the arts more. To me, it is truly what gives life a purpose, in any circumstance, because it is a reflection of the human experience of our short time on the planet.

Being a dedicated guest speaker at foster homes, sober living communities, and colleges, I have had the opportunity to expand my network of reform advocates, drug counselors, educators and community organizers. This has given me the opportunity to offer leadership to our incarcerated students who not only want to get sober and beat their inner demons, but strive for higher education to help them on their path to be productive members of society.” - Gabe Rosales

Photography Courtesy of Peter Merts