Valerie Bolden has never heard the song that was written for her — she is serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally stabbing her husband in 1996.
“She hasn’t been able to hear it because with recorded music, you can’t send CDs in,” says Thao Nguyen of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, who adds, “I got her the lyrics and read them aloud to her. She said she hoped it meant more people would write about her.”
Nguyen, who appears with her band at a Noise Pop show Saturday, named the title track of the group’s new, third album, “We The Common,” for the inmate, whom she met during a visit to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
A native of Virginia now living in The City, the singer-guitarist, who studied sociology and women’s studies in college, wanted to take an active role in her adopted community.
She worked with the education program 826 Valencia, the anti-poverty organization Oxfam and joined the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, which provides inmates with information about their legal rights and health care options. She also works with a group that visits people incarcerated in San Francisco County Jail.
Bolden, who spoke about missing her daughters and struggling to figure out what she could accomplish behind bars, became friends with Nguyen, who liked her sense of humor.
“We were well-aligned,” Nguyen says. “She was very stoic, but there were also these moments of very poignant emotions. I couldn’t stop thinking about her when I left.”
Many thoughts Bolden shared seeped into the album.
Even though Bolden has been transferred to a prison outside Los Angeles, the two have remained friends, exchanging letters.
Bolden is one of only a few of her advocacy work contacts who knows about Nguyen’s day job making music.
“I’m pretty shy about it,” Nguyen admits. However, on one rare occasion, she presented “We The Common (For Valerie Bolden)” to the group.
“It was the most meaningful experience I have had with sharing,” she says. “Because of course everyone in the group has intimate knowledge of what that song is about.”
With Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, Before the Brave, Kacey Johansing
Presented by Noise Pop 2013