Welcome to another edition of Lisa Burton Radio. I'm your host, Lisa the robot girl. We just got finished saying goodbye to one year, and welcoming the new one. People end the year like a chapter in a book, and look forward with hope to a clean slate in the new year. Some people don't have that luxury. If you were incarcerated, you might mark off the old year for a completely different reason, and that's what today's show is about.
If I timed this out right, and I always do, my call should be coming right about now… “Hello, this is Lisa.”
“You're receiving a call from inmate Luke Stone, from the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Do you accept the charges?”
“Good morning, Lisa. Thanks for accepting the collect call. Since they don't allow us inmates to have any money, it's hard to use the one and only pay phone in the facility. I'm happy to talk to you. What would you like for your listeners to know?”
“Good morning Luke. My bio says you were a fairly successful musician in the American Southwest. How does a budding career in music lead to a Federal prison sentence?”
“Heh! You don't pull any punches do you, little lady? I like that. You see it happened like this. I've played music since I was a teenager and got to be sort of a hot-shot star around Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and out to California. I made a splash on the Billboard charts with a couple of songs and had one that made it all the way to number one in Denmark in 1965. I'd been on the road for years and was damned tired of it all – the honkytonks, the women, booze, drugs – you name it. But, I was caught on a merry-go-round and couldn't find a way to jump off. I'd screwed up two marriages and had some kids to support plus the band depended on me to keep their families fed, so I kept going. But I didn't give a shit anymore. I simply thought I didn't care. These guys who'd hung around the honkytonks and been friends of mine for years approached me with a business deal. If I'd case out banks when I was out on the circuit…draw the inside layout and maps in and out of town, they'd drop a few bucks in my hands. So, what the hell? I went for it. I can honestly say that I never went in a bank with a gun and robbed it.”
“So, if you're innocent, why not help the police out?”
“I've been a rebel and a no-good bastard all my life. I've walked outside the lines, but one thing I never was and never will be is a rat. Because of the bad-assed reputation I'd created and because I wouldn't tell what I knew about the robberies, they gave me a huge dose of so-called Texas justice. Hell, they even had me associated with the Dixie Mafia in the newspapers. Not that I wasn't friends with the head of the Dixie Mafia, but it had nothing to do with the robberies. They were looking for a scapegoat and I was big and dumb and defiant so I made myself a target. I truly believed that I couldn't be convicted of a crime I hadn't committed. Heh! I was damned sure wrong.”
“What kinds of things did you do to leave vengeance behind?”
“I hope we have time for me to answer that question because it's a big one. When I got here to Leavenworth in December of 1971, I was pissed off and bitter. I was determined that they weren't going to MAKE me follow their senseless rules. I remember one of the first incidents that happened after I got here. A sergeant chewed my ass out about the way I'd made my bunk. He said he wanted the sheets so tight you could bounce a quarter off them. I politely told him inmates weren't allowed to have quarters which pissed him off. He asked me if I'd ever been in the army and I told him the only army I recognized was the Confederate Army and most of the time those poor bastards didn't even have a blanket to lay on much less a bed. Anyway, that didn't win me any points with the guard, but I wasn't going to cave. I had a bad attitude and it took me about three or four years of being locked up, thrown in the hole and beaten many times before I finally got it through my thick skull that I wasn't going to change prison and it damned sure wasn't going to change me.
“I had to make a choice to make about how I was going to do my time. Appeals had been denied and I was staring at many years behind bars. You know when a man is thirty-five years old and has a twenty-five and fifty-year sentence to run consecutively, it's a helluva long time.
“So, I'd been thrown in the hole again–
“Sorry, what is the hole?”
“That's solitary confinement for those who don't know – and I had a dream or vision. I still don't know exactly what it was, but it created a turning point for me. I made up my mind I was going to be and do something positive, despite the negative situation I found myself in. I realized that the only true freedom a man ever has is inside his own mind… in his imagination. I discovered freedom through creating art of all kinds. I'd always had a little artistic talent on the outside. So, I taught myself how to do oil paintings, learned to tool leather, do lapidary and American Indian beadwork, make pottery and ceramics, but the thing I loved the most was writing. I wrote hundreds of songs, poems, short stories and even a screenplay. And I learned how to do pen-and-ink drawings.
“For years, I advocated for a recording studio so that we could get our music to the outside world legitimately. Finally, a new warden came in and everyone talked about what a fair man he was. So, I decided to write a song to get his attention and plea our cause one more time. It is the only contrived song I ever wrote. Anyway, the message got to him and he gave me permission to build a studio.”
“I understand there isn't much money for projects like the recording studio. How did you put it all together?”
“Once the warden agreed, he told me that he'd give me a room to work in but there was absolutely no funding available for a project like this. So, me and the other guys gathered up old broken pieces of electronics, discarded PA systems, radios and anything else we could use to get parts and pieces from. Then we begged the Chaplain for discarded carpeting from the Chapel, old drapes from the auditorium, cans of leftover paint and we went to work. We collected all the empty egg crates from the kitchen every day and glued them onto the concrete walls to buffer sound. We painted the room and the hallways leading up to the room with music notes and did all we could to make it look like a real studio.”
“I guess the next question has to be why, Luke? Are there that many talented musicians in prison that are deserving of a recording contract?”
“Music was and is my salvation. And, over the years as different inmates would pass through, I discovered lots of talented musicians locked up. We were all writing. I'd borrow a little cassette recorder from the Chaplain and a couple of Jesus tapes and someone would stand guard while we recorded our songs over them and smuggle them out to family. It was a way to make a man feel like he was living despite being confined in a cage. I have dreams about someone like Willie Nelson picking up one of my songs and recording it. All we can do in here is make decent demos. We aren't chasing record contracts for ourselves. It isn't possible.”
“It's kind of uplifting, how you made all the bits and pieces work, doing what you could with what you had. I've listened to this song of yours, From the Bottle to the Needle. There is the surface tragedy of what the singer is doing to his body, and the depression he's going through, but there is a deeper basis behind it. He's wasting away for someone he loves.”
“Like I said, that is the only contrived song I've ever written. Ninety percent of the people behind bars are there either directly or indirectly due to alcohol and/or drugs. And these men have all left behind family, children, lovers… you never stop desiring the touch of a lover. That line in the song that says, 'What good are memories, when I need to touch you?' Says it all. I left behind a little gal, Darlina Flowers, that had changed my whole life, but it was too little too late. I have tried all the years I've been locked up to get her to go on with her life and forget about me and she’s tried. But, dammit, love can't be confined by space or time and she stands beside me even today trying to help me get paroled. That's a love you can't define or deny.”
“That's such a powerful sentiment. Luke, you're a bit different than other characters who've been on this show. I've interviewed ghosts, dogs, dark goddesses, and more, but you are portraying a real man. You're a fictional stand-in for an otherwise true story. How far does the story deviate from the truth?”
“Everything that Jan Sikes put in the story really did happen. She did a great job of telling it but I think she made me look better than I really am. It made me very happy that she also released a CD of music that I've recorded in here along with the book. You know, Lisa, I've screwed up a lot but I'm determined to get it right if I get another shot at life.”
“The book is called The Convict and the Rose. It's pretty obvious that you're the convict. That must make Darlina the rose. What does the future hold for you two?”
“Yes, Darlina is the rose. She's my rose, my rock and my dream. And, we will be together in the future and build the life that we’ve written to each about in letters for years. I believe that with all my heart. It’s what keeps me going. Jan Sikes, the author of The Convict and The Rose has promised to tell our whole story, and I'd love to project myself into the future where they're all completed and available. I do know you can find all the books and music CDs on Jan's website, and on Amazon for starters.”
“Luke, it's been a pleasure having you on my show today. It's inspiring to see what one person can accomplish in the face of adversity. I don't know if it's appropriate, but I wish you a happy new year anyway.”
“Thank you, darlin'. It's been a real pleasure talking to you today. Happy New Year to you too and if you want to do another interview in the future, I hope it's not from this god-forsaken place.”
“My sponsor today is The Convict and the Rose, by Jan Sikes. I'll provide all of Luke's links on the blog site. Make sure to hit those sharing buttons, and when your character appears on the show maybe someone will do the same for you. For Lisa Burton Radio, I'm Lisa Burton.”
Because she's cool like that, Jan has priced THE CONVICT AND THE ROSE at 99¢ this week to coincide with this interview. Grab your copy while it's on sale.
THE CONVICT AND THE ROSE:
Rebel Texas musician, Luke Stone, loses everything that he treasures with the arrest and conviction for a crime he didn’t commit. Not only is he locked away in a cage, he's left behind the woman who holds his heart. Broken and alone, Darlina Flowers struggles to go on living without the man she loves so completely. Follow their journey through shackles and chains, drugs and gurus as they fight to find their way to freedom.
FLOWERS AND STONE:
A hot Texas summer in 1970, dim-lit honky-tonk barrooms, a naïve fledgling go-go dancer and a wild rebel Texas musician sets the stage for this story. Can Darlina Flowers ever hope to fit into this new world and even more important, can she trust Luke Stone with her heart?
Luke Stone, a good man who has made a career of bad decisions, finds himself at a crossroads. Fate has sealed his destiny and threatens it all.
HOME AT LAST:
Released from federal prison after fifteen long years, Luke Stone boards a Greyhound bus bound for Texas, for home and the woman who holds his heart. He happily hangs up his neon dreams for a paint brush and hammer. Darlina Flowers has waited her entire adult life to become Mrs. Luke Stone, but will the hardships of starting over with nothing be too much? Their love is tested to the core as the story unfolds.
‘TIL DEATH DO US PART:
Luke Stone has cheated death more times than he cares to remember. And now, with a chance for a second music career after so many years, he knows he won’t fill the Texas dancehalls and honky-tonks as he’d done in his younger days. Darlina, his rock and anchor, longs to see his dreams fulfilled and vows to do everything possible to help him find success. But, will time allow Luke to sing his last song?
When all of life is stripped away, left with no freedom except in his mind, Rick Sikes journeys deep inside to discover his true self. He finds the only way to survive hopeless negativity is through creating with his hands and imagination. They confined his body in an iron cage, but could not lock away his mind.
What you’ll find between the covers of this book are expressions of raw emotion…Poems of deep sadness and loss, humorous musings, political wisdom, life observations and tender love from both Rick and Jan Sikes as well as pen-and-ink drawings from a true artisan.
Multi-Award winning author, Jan Sikes, weaves stories in a creative and entertaining way. She has been called a magician and wordsmith extraordinaire by her readers and peers.
Most recently, Jan completed a series of four books about a Texas musician who was a pioneer in the Outlaw Music movement before it ever had a name. She also released a music CD of original songs matching the time period of each story.
Jan writes songs, poetry, short stories, screenplays and novels. She resides in North Texas and sits on the board of directors for the RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB, North Texas Book Festival, The Texas Musicians Museum and the Texas Authors Institute of History.
Stalk Jan on the following social sites:
All of Jan's books are available at her Amazon Author Site, for those of you who want to grab them all at once.