Use Your Head

By Michaela Johnston

Use your head. These three words, featured on red pins at music festivals around the world, changed Richard Guerra’s life.

The 2014 BU College of Communication grad is the founder and editor-in-chief of Lost in Sound, an online magazine that encourages music-fanatics to rage-responsibly. Lost in Sound pulls together album reviews, multimedia event previews and coverage, editorials, and artist interviews into an easy-to-access online magazine. “The publication brings forth the best of live music and festival culture,” said Guerra.

In 2006, Guerra left his home in Arlington, TX to pursue a degree in journalism at BU. He was a typical college student; he attended classes during the week and partied on the weekends.

“The rest of my intention was to see live music, travel to NYC, [and] go to music festivals,” said Guerra. “Making that a priority is dangerous and definitely led me to being more intoxicated and enable[d] me to be a drug dealer.”

In 2010, months before graduation, Guerra was arrested for possession of drugs in Allston. He was suspended from BU and placed on detention. With no prior arrests, he was convicted to three years in federal prison.

When a plea deal was reached months late, Guerra was sentenced to serve 20 months at the Suffolk County Jail in South Bay beginning May 2011. With a high school diploma and three-and-a-half years of college credits, Guerra wanted to continue his education in prison.

“Education is a huge part of my life, despite the fact that I had issues with drugs and got involved with that world,” said Guerra. He passed the time in jail without violations or bad behavior. “I was still the same person,” he said.

Guerra read 70 books, kept a journal (which he plans to make into a book one day to help others), and wrote about 70 poems. “It was the most productive period of my life for reading, writing, learning just in the sense that I was pretty much able to put so many hours of every day into doing it,” said Guerra.

Guerra took the one or two classes offered each six-month period, taught by Harvard teaching fellows. Guerra also took classes with other inmates on Mindfulness and Dungeons and Dragons, a popular fantasy board game. According to Guerra, inmates had to stay out of trouble and show genuine interest to take classes.

Guerra noted reform as one of the greatest challenges inmates face. Incarceration is, in theory, a way to reform people who have committed crimes – but it isn’t always that simple. The process is complex and varies depending on each person’s unique situation and background.

“Some people are definitely averse to taking the opportunity to better their lives, further their education, feel the strength of being sober,” said Guerra.

According to Guerra, prisoners often begin to make changes, but their effors are stopped short. “Maybe they get in trouble and everything falls apart. That’s an issue with being someone who needs to be ‘reformed’…when you’re in trouble [in prison] they wipe your opportunity to be in school or get into the programs and then you start [over]….this can be very devastating,” said Guerra.

As Guerra sobered-up he embraced education. “Reform to me is an amazing feeling that a lot of people in jail are feeling. But a lot of people in jail are not. There’s different reasons for that. Some of it is the system, some of it is where they come from,” said Guerra.

Guerra witnessed the struggle inmates faced to stay in their classes. If an inmate got in trouble, they could not return to class for up to 3 or 6 months. According to Guerra, getting into trouble was fairly easy to do.

Guerra participated in a specific 6-month program focused on substance abuse. According to Guerra, it can take time for an inmate to be qualified to participate in such a program.

“It’s like a privilege to be educated about substance abuse when everyone, in jail especially, needs to be educated about [it],” Guerra said. “It could be the thing that saves their life or changes it.”

“A lot of the cards were in my favor to be reformed,” Guerra said. “That’s not the case for most people.” Guerra could draw upon his past education, meditation practices, family and friends to have a good attitude throughout the 20 months.

“Anybody who looks at people with records or who have been incarcerated look at them like they’re different or somehow beneath them. That’s just not a very compassionate and correct way to think. Anybody and everybody could do something to land themselves in [prison],” said Guerra.

In November of 2012, Guerra was released from jail and placed on one year of parole. In total, from the day of his arrest to the day his probation ended, incarceration lasted around five years.

Guerra was accepted back to BU in 2013 and took five classes to finish off his degree in January 2014. Guerra prioritized school and received straight A’s, something he had never achieved before in college.

“It was a whole different dynamic,” Guerra said. “I worked and went to school and that was a blessing for me because every day I could not be working, not be in school. I could be back in jail,” said Guerra.

With a refreshed mindset and new beginning, Guerra went back to the project he had begun before his arrest: Lost in Sound. During his incarceration, his team supported him by sending money, books and letters each day.

“BU support and the support of Lost in Sound was so vital to getting me through that part of my life,” Guerra said. “I got back involved and helped lead us into a new place. We started operating as a business, we’ve got a really tight team now and we’re hoping to make bigger waves then we ever have before with live music.”

Guerra’s experience in prison gave him a new perspective and magnified his appreciation for education. His love for music, culture, community and the arts is apparent through his work as a booking agent and PR representative for musicians and artists.

“With the numbers of Americans that are locked up every year and the amount of energy, money and opportunity for those people to do the right thing when they get out, there is such a disparity,” he said. “I hope that this becomes an issue that our country and people start to focus on because so many of us are affected by loved ones that are incarcerated or loved ones with drug issues. Education is key.”

To sum it up: Use your head. The phrase may be short, but it’s these three words, the motto of Lost in Sound, that forever changed a life.

Interested in human rights and the justice system? Check out the Empowerment League to see how you could be part of the conversation.


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