Inmate band Wrathchild wrapped up a blues song to cheers from the Nevada State Prison crowd Friday during a Fourth of July concert in the lower yard.
"Talk about playing for a captive audience," joked volunteer music instructor Bobby Joe Holman.
Inmate 73973, Steve Daniel, watched from a bench.
"I'd rather be in the free world," he said, "but it's what we got, and we might as well enjoy it." He said he'll spend eight to 10 more years in the old stone facility on East Fifth Street.
"We got other guys doin' a lot more time than me, though. There's a lot of lifers in this yard," Daniel added. Wearing a dark blue ball cap, he squinted through $5 sunglasses purchased in the prison store.
About 600 fellow inmates were scattered in the dusty yard, many with shirts off and tattoos, listening to three bands. Smoke from a barbecue drifted over 20-foot walls.
"This prison ain't so bad," said Michael Lyles, No. 72417. "The warden, he's been good to us, given us a few things. But then there's some trivial stuff that's been taken away."
Inmates don't get enough toothpaste, toilet paper or bathing soap, said 28-year inmate Joe Rezendes, No. 12328.
"This is pretty cool, though," said Anthony Meno, No. 75215. "At least we got things to do."
Busy prisoners don't think as much about making weapons or get into as many fights, said Correctional Officer Craig Madeiros. "As long as they're playing music, they can't beat each other up."
Warden Michael Budge is the force behind new activities for prisoners, including stone sculpture, dog training, sports and musical instruments.
"Warden Budge and (Associate Warden of Prisons Joe) Baca -- these are the two that have made the changes around here," said Robert "Coach" Love.
The longest-serving Nevada State Prison employee, Love is the P.E. and recreational specialist. He's also the staff sponsor for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The prison chapters of the NAACP and Vietnam Veterans Association hosted a barbecue for inmates Friday. The chapters spent about $1,600 to provide each inmate with two half-pound burgers from Ponderosa Meats Co.
"This barbecue is entirely paid for by the NAACP and Vietnam Veterans Association Chapter 545 --Eboth incarcerated chapters," VVA chapter president Jerry Raymond said while handing out cold Pepsis.
NAACP Jericho Chapter 1113 President Gilbert Tyler checked inmates at the front of a 200-foot barbecue line.
"We're basically just thanking them for participating in our fund-raisers," he said.
The NAACP chapter uses other funds it raises from pizza and hobby craft sales to publish Keeping It Real magazine, which Tyler edits.
The barbecue and bands were a rare treat at the prison. In a "cross-custody" move, level-2 inmates (more serious offenders) were allowed into the level-1 yard.
"This is what it's all about," said Love, grilling patties in the rock-cutting area with inmate cooks Montena "Smitty" Smith, Steven Sanchez, David Allison and Roy Brim.
"Right now, these guys, their minds aren't on negativity, compromising our staff. The main thing about it is the trouble, the violence, it's all way down. And the races are getting along better."
The fund-raisers will evolve into service projects, which could soon include providing school supplies for needy children, Love said.
"They've taken from society their whole life, some of them. Now it's time for them to give back."
Inmates were feeling good about it, too.
"I'm just having a lovely time," said 15-year inmate Michael Schjang, wearing a hair net and gloves as he served food. "I'm very appreciative. I mean, we're convicts doing time for our crimes. It just blows my mind that some of these guys are not appreciative."
Inmate John Ward felt both appreciative and apologetic.
"I want to apologize to Harrah's for getting drunk and stealing that limousine," he said.