If you watch the hit FX show “Justified” (and you should), you’re no doubt familiar with “Gangstagrass,” the bluegrass/hip-hop group responsible for the show’s great theme song. You might be less familiar with Rench, the Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/producer who’s also the brains behind the group.
Yesterday on Twitter the guys in Gangstagrass told me they were opposed to mandatory minimums, and reminded me that Rench mentioned mandatory sentencing in one of the songs on his 2006 record, “Life in Mean Season.”
“Elmira” tells the story of two brothers from a factory town, and the path each takes after the “factory shut down” and their father “lost his job like the rest of the town.”
After the rent goes up and the narrator can’t afford to make ends meet, he refuses to go back home. He “got the chance for some dirty cash and he had to take it.” For “a cold G every month,” the narrator agrees to “store packages at his place every night” and “keep them out of sight.” He tells himself “it was temporary; something legit would come [his] way,” but after a year he still found himself in the same position.
You can probably see where this is going.
In the wintertime feds came and made their case. But I knew that I'd be dead if I witnessed for the State. The sentence was mandatory, the judge apologized, when they sent me back where my daddy died.I won’t give away what happens next in the song, but it’s a brilliant turn on an otherwise traditional prison ballad.
“Elmira” is the product of a great artist telling the truth about one of life’s tragedies through a fictional story. Unfortunately, that story is all too real for far too many people. Judges do apologize to defendants, and some even cry when they are forced to impose obviously unjust sentences on people who simply don’t deserve them.
Florida Project Director, FAMM