Jelly Roll Lee lay on his back, feeling the springs of the bed through the thin prison mattress, staring upward.
In these brief moments after lights out, before his eyes adjusted to the dark, he liked to believe that there was no ceiling above him. That the space stretched out into an endless forever, instead of stopping abruptly at a cold concrete wall a few feet from where he lay.
He sighed, and rolled over to his side.
There was a familiar pulling ache in his fingers. They missed running up and down the neck of a guitar, dancing out a ballad on the frets.
He hadn’t held a guitar since that night he was busking on Beale all those years ago. He’d broken his across the face of punk who’d tried to snatch money out his case.
He’d never meant to hit him that hard.
Not hard enough to end up left with nothing but a life of jail time ahead of him.
He started to hum, using his mouth to make the sounds he heard in his head.
They could take away his freedom, wall out the light, but they couldn’t take away the music in his soul.
Blues is sometimes referred to as the music of prison, likely because of its subject matter, and also because nearly every one of the early Delta bluesmen spent at least a few years of their lives behind bars.