Soundscape in the Joint

August 14, 2018 | Robert Lawrence

This piece by Robert “Bam” Lawrence personifies some of the elements that make up the “sound” environment near his cell.  It was performed in the May 24, 2018 performance of:  The Strength of Our Convictions: The Auburn Conviction.  Visit the “video” tab to see a recording of the performance followed by a Q and A with the members of PPTG.

In prison there are seldom moments of complete tranquility. There is always some sort of hustle and bustle. Nevertheless, on this beautiful morning, around 7:15am, there seems to be an unnatural amount of quiet. By extension, there are four distinct identifiable sounds that grab my attention. The high-pitched chirp of a baby bird that cries for its parents’ attention. The hinge of a door in desperate need of lubricant; the sound of familiar footsteps, and my neighbor’s boisterous seventeen-year-old radio.

The high-pitched chirp-chirp is consistent and irritably close. Such innocence associated with being young. Indeed, the sounds generated by this baby bird resonate deep within me. For example, welcoming home my six-day-old nephew from the hospital after his birth allowed me an opportunity to witness firsthand his powerful vocalizations surrounding his frustrations as a result of hunger, or wanting attention. The texture of both scream and chirp are granular and eerily similar. Thus, as a result of each sound, I am left with a love/hate association of both.

If only lubricant was available, surely someone would generously oil the hinges of the door that makes all the noise in the morning. This door is twenty-five yards away, yet it seems like twenty-five inches. Constant creaks and moans are a reflection of keep-locked inmates utilizing this door en-route to enjoy their one-hour-per-day recreation in a fenced enclosure. The door opens and closes much faster now; the succession of sixty or so inmates eager to bask in what little beauty fall has left. Who could blame them? Being confined twenty-three hours will definitely have that effect. However, it is the grainy roar of this majestic iron door that pits me against these innocent individuals who have no choice but to use this door. Awful is the perfect description of the sound it makes. Similarly, it’s almost as if a piece of chalk is being scraped against a chalkboard. This particular sound almost single-handedly derailed me from my special place surrounding my soundscape.

Sticky footsteps stop in front of my cell. The porter laid down too much max on the floor causing me to identify the limp in my friend Nick’s walk. He sustained this injury the day before in a fierce competition we had on the handball court. “Good morning Bam, how you doing?” Nick exclaimed with his thick Long Island accent, causing the ‘G’ in ‘doing’ to be obsolete. His voice this morning seems to be lacking something, probably another restless night. I feel bad for totally ignoring him. As he walks away, I am reminded of his wet slushy footsteps. Likewise, I start to associate his slushy steps with that of an octopus a friend of mine used to have when we were young. The octopus would cup its arms against the side of the tank. Ben would gently pull the octopus off one leg at a time, causing a rhythmic slurp-slurp sound.

Soon after Nick’s departure, I noticed my neighbor’s radio come to life. I can faintly hear the inspirational lyrics of J. Cole that are completely being swallowed by the heavy bass-line. What separates us is just a quarter inch steel wall that shakes from the thunderous bass of Flo’s model 88 radio. The quality of sound makes this radio worth every penny. When the bass is turned up, it’s like experiencing a breathtaking moment over and over again; your innards become acutely aware, transmitting a feeling that is welcomed to say the least. I am often times reminded of the new charter-buses when being started-up, the ground-rumbling sensation can be compared to Flo’s radio.

I am hopeful you enjoyed the vivid picture I created in an attempt to allow up to eavesdrop on my soundscape in the joint.