Riot Ruth was a legend because she triggered riots in 15 jail concerts across America in a single year. Some wardens hated her for the damage the riots cost, but others loved her for touching and reforming many inmates.
eastwind journals, July 6, 2021
By Bernie V. Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org
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This story was inspired by a retired ex-alcoholic blues singer.
Warden Joe discovered 77-year-old ex-alcoholic Ruth in a dim side-street blues bar in New Orleans. He had an idea that Ruth could sing to calm his violent convicts. She refused at first, afraid of rotten tomatoes. But Warden Joe offered a deal she could not refuse, triple her monthly salary.
Before her maiden concert, Ruth went to a church, not praying, just looking at the image of Jesus on the cross.
RUTH – (After 30 minutes of silence.) Okay, Jesus. You’re giving me another cross. Can’t handle it, boss. I’m too old. Let me just die a simple painless death. Just take me.
Then something odd happened. She felt a warm ‘embrace’ and she knew it was Him ‘talking’ to her, telling her to do a concert for him.
It was a big mistake for Warden Joe. Instead of calming the inmates, Ruth fired them into a violent riot. She hit the papers the next day and became the legendary ‘Riot Ruth’. From utter poverty, she became one of the richest blues singers ever, at the level of Tina Turner and Joss Stones.
WARDEN JOE – (On a nationwide talk show.) You know what happened in Tulsa. They broke every chair in the auditorium.
RUTH – But there was no brawl. No one was hurt, just chairs flying away. They were just releasing stress you guys have caused.
WARDEN JOE – Okay, okay, blame it on us. But, really, it’s amazing how your music can fire them, then calm them later.
RUTH – Gentle adrenaline, Joe.
WARDEN JOE – Adrenaline is never gentle, grandma? But you mingled with them and they did not touch a hair of your body.
RUTH – They love me. And I love them back. Now I use monobloc chairs that I bring in myself in two 16-wheelers a day before the concert. Hercules can’t break a monobloc.
WARDEN JOE – You bring your own collapsible mobile stage, sounds, lights, everything? Isn’t that expensive.
RUTH – Excuse me, Joe. I am filthy rich.
WARDEN JOE – Oh sorry. Tell me, what’s your secret.
RUTH – No secret, Joe. I just whisper a one-minute prayer before I go on stage. I ask the Lord to touch these people through me. Then He takes over. It’s His concert, not mine.
WARDEN JOE – Okay, let’s watch this TV broadcast of your concert.
It is an open-air affair, broadcast live nationwide, a large California jail, 1,853 inmates and 220 security guards. There is a labyrinth of lights and microphones, a 24-track sound board, kilometers of cables, and mammoth speakers that would put the Monterey Jazz Fest to shame.
She has a 50-man crew, and three 16-wheelers parked outside, equipped with generators. The prison jazz band is on stage right. Ruth has organized and funded 16 prison jazz bands in a year’s time, inmates performing for inmates. Ruth has metamorphosized from a lethargic senior citizen alcoholic to a charismatic blues warbler.
There are 2,000 white monobloc chairs gleaming in the moonlight. Thunderous applause. Ruth raises a hand, gives her legendary smile and there is instant silence, then lights out.
RUTH – (In the moonlight). Hi, guys. I must explain to you why I sing the blues. The Lord fires me up to fire you up. (Thunderous applause.)
Ruth’s skin is as shriveled as crepe paper, her ‘froggy’ voice belting out Joss Stone’s When Love Comes to Town. The rhythm guitar starts in a slow beat. The lead and bass guitars follow. She raises a hand, and gyrates slowly, nothing a 77-year-old cannot do. That is when the laser lights explode.
Enter the warbler. As soon as she starts to sing in her croaky voice, there is pandemonium. The crowd screams. The song cooks, boils and goes into a climax, and a riot is born. After the first song, the monoblocs fly away, and everyone is standing. Riot Ruth tells the crowd to sit on the grass in between mountains of monoblocs on the sides.
RUTH – You there, come up. (A burly hunk goes up the ramp.) What are you in for, buddy?
INMATE – (Without hesitation.) Murdered my wife m’am for cheating on me.
RUTH – That bad, huh?
INMATE – That’s nothing. Joshua over there (pointing) raped his own sister for three years. (Joshua stands up, bows, and is applauded.) And Alex over there (pointing) ….
RUTH – Stop, stop. Enough. One thing I can say, Jesus forgives the greatest sinner as much as the least, but you have to ask for forgiveness. And for heaven’s sakes, be kinder to each other. No more killings please. (Screaming.). Say ‘amen’.
A resounding ‘Amen’ echoes across the jail. Ruth repeats her cry ten times. Louder and louder, ‘amen’ echoes.
RUTH – I am going to kneel and say a prayer for all of you. Don’t move. Just sit and listen.
True enough, the killings tapered down. Riot Ruth became an evangelist more than a warbler, until, after ten years, some crazy Congressman wrote a law banning her from all jails. By that time, she was already a billionaire with 15 gold label albums, and was too old anyway to sing. She spent her billions putting up music and art schools in jails nationwide, teaching inmates music, painting, sculpture, even reading and writing for some. In three jails, giant statues of Riot Ruth were erected.
Finally, her dream to sing with a jail band at the Monterey Jazz Fest was fulfilled, under heavy security, of course. She almost triggered a riot there.
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Blogger – ex-Columnist (Inquirer) – Healing Ministry – ex-Professor (Ateneo U) – Documentary Producer-Director (freelance, ex-ABS-CBN) – ex-Broadcaster (Radio Veritas) – Facebook “Bernie V. Lopez Eastwind” / Pages “Eastwind Journeys and Journals” and “Mary Queen of Peace”.