Native American rapper Supaman performs for inmates at the Richmond City Justice Center.
Before he hits the stage this weekend, one Richmond Folk Festival artist made a stop in the East End.
Supaman, a Native American rapper from Montana, performed Friday for a crowd of 185 men, and later 40 women, who are serving sentences in the Richmond City Justice Center. The $134 million facility formally opened in July and can house more than 1,000 inmates.
The performance was held in a recreation room that housed a basketball court on the building’s sixth floor. Inmates filed in wearing blue and yellow jumpsuits and sat in rows of plastic chairs during the 45-minute performance. None stood until the end of the show, when they applauded.
“It was a great opportunity to encourage people,” he says, adding that it was his first time performing in a jail setting.
The rapper performed about half a dozen songs, including “Prayer Loop Song,” for which he builds a backtrack live by recording snippets of sound that he loops and raps over top of. The acoustics in the concrete-floored, cinderblock-walled room made deciphering lyrics difficult, but many of the inmates clapped and nodded along during the performance.
Supaman, whose given name is Christian Takes Gun Parrish, shared with the inmates some of the difficult circumstances he grew up in living on a Crow reservation. He was in and out of social services as a child because of his parents’ alcohol addiction, and his father died in a drunken driving accident when he was 10. He vowed to never drink as a result, he told the inmates.
“If you speak life and you say you’re going to be somebody … you’ll go far and things will start to fall into place,” he tells the audience, “You have to think positive.”
The words resonated with some of the inmates, including Billy Scruggs, a 35-year-old serving a 33-month sentence for burglary.
“It was amazing to hear his stories and how he had over come addiction in his family,” Scruggs says. “He’s not letting the stigma hold him down.”
The rapper’s message about addiction hit home for Scruggs, who says he was strung out on heroin at the time of his arrest. He now participates in a weekly music workshop led by University of Richmond professor Andy McGraw, who suggested to the Folk Festival programming committee that organizers should try and hold a performance in the jail.
McGraw meets with Scruggs and five to 10 other inmates to play and record music. Scruggs says he’s learning to play keyboard and some percussion instruments. After his sentence is over, he says he’d like to continue learning music and working with inmates.
“So many people have volunteered their time and offered us an opportunity that I didn’t even know was available in a jail, so there’s a duty I feel to help carry that on,” he says.
Supaman is scheduled to perform at the Folk Festival twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday. Admission to the festival is free.