Taken from Michael Franti - Facebook (May 05, 2012)
Michael Franti about David Lescht
I spent this morning crying when I heard that David Lescht one of my musical heroes had passed away. I first met him at one of my concerts in Santa Fe where he came backstage and invited me to come perform at a juvenile detention center. The next time we were in town began a decade of shows that I performed in several different New Mexico lockups with the help of his organization "Outside In", which was dedicated to bringing music into prisons, hospitals and retirement homes.
I remember the first time going inside to play for 30 incarcerated teens. I had no idea what to say to these kids and he said "just tell them about your life, show them that there is more than one way to be in this world and that prison is not the only way to go... Oh, and play some music too!"
As I talked and sang I saw this group of tough and distant inmates start to change. They laughed, cried, danced, sang and turned into the hopeful teenagers that they really were. Afterwards one of them thanked me and told me how inspired he was to take the guitar lessons that "Outside In" was providing in the jail. Years later David told me the young man was still playing guitar and had not returned to prison.
He was filled with stories of the successes of men, women and youth he had witnessed turning their lives around. He was also driven by the sadness of seeing those who were trapped in the cycle of prison that seemingly would never get out. He told me we should never give up on. And he never did.
Year after year he would tell me how he played the politics of prison with wardens, guards administrators, and gangs all the while doing the fund raising and public relations to keep "Outside In" on the inside.
David would always remind me that the vast majority of people in prison were going to return to outside society and therefore should be treated with the dignity of any human being. He said, "who knows, one day this guy might be the next door neighbor of you or me".
I remember him saying,"Don't get me wrong, everyone in here has done something wrong, but most of them are good people who made mistakes who are looking for a second chance. And when they reach, they deserve a "hand up" not a handout. "
I loved watching the way he would talk to the prisoners as if he had known each of them their whole life. They respected him and were grateful for each of the events and artists he brought inside.
One late night after a show in Santa Fe, I told David how when I was a kid I had scene the film "Billy Jack" about a half White, half Native American, Green Beret Karate expert who came back from Vietnam to protect a school of multi ethnic "at risk kids" from the towns red neck bad guys. In one scene there is a fight that takes place where the righteous Billy Jack takes on ten attackers in the park in the center of Santa Fe. David drove me to that park so that I could see the place where my childhood movie action hero had fought for justice. When I was a kid I used to re-enact the scene on the playground over and over again. As an adult I could not help but see the irony that the role of the school for wayward kids in the film had now been taken over by the juvenile detention system and David Lescht was my real life Billy Jack fighting for those same kids. Not with his fists and feet, but with music, tenacity, kindness and the dedication that very few of us possess.
Later David told me he was going to be putting on concerts in that same park. I had hoped that I would be playing music there someday while David smiled on the side of the stage.
Each time I left a prison gig I would tell David how I felt like I got more from the experience than the inmates did. He told me, "Michael for this one hour you transformed these people from prisoners back to human beings and there is no greater gift than that". If I changed them for one hour at a time, then David made a difference in them for a lifetime.
For all his work in prisons, dignifying the spirits and dreams of the lowest of the low, the thing I will remember most about David is something much simpler. The recollection of how half of my band would pile into his little hatchback car and the other half would cram into his daughters compact car and we would all caravan to the prison. On the way to the prison we wouldn't talk about politics, jails or even music, he would always just speak fondly about the journey's, travels, education and accomplishments of his own 3 children.
David Lescht's greatest gift to me and to all he met even in passing, was that whether walking the corridors of the meanest prisons in New Mexico or driving a road weary band in his old car, he was always was kind.
David inspired me to be a better person. Thousands will miss him and remember his name.