Local Collective Ascetic House Will Send Its Cassettes to the Incarcerated -- For Free

At the beginning of May, the folks comprising the mysterious arts collective Ascetic House -- responsible for releases by bands like Destruction Unit, Marshstepper, Body of Light, All Anal, and many more -- issued an open letter on the group's site stating that from that point on, cassettes, zines, and ephemera created by the organization would be shipped to any prison institution in the United States free of charge.

"We imprison more of our own population than any other country on Earth," the statement read, which went on to detail prisons as "the corrupt system's best method of perpetuating itself, with the main focus of state policy being social control."

"I'd like to mention one important point, where I made a mistake in the published letter," Jess Aurelius of Ascetic House and a member of Marshstepper (a band that we've referred to as "swamp disco," though Aurelius stresses "we have never used that term to describe our music") says explaining the collective's effort.

"I'd like to clarify that 'we' (myself, Ascetic House, or even the general American public) had nothing to do with imprisoning anyone. It's the state that is doing it. We have no say in the matter. I think it's important to stop thinking in collectivist terms like 'we' when referring to demographics that are made up of individuals."

We further discussed the group's goals and aims.

Up on the Sun: What inspired Ascetic House to take this stand?

Jess Aurelius: I suppose it's pretty straightforward . . . There are millions of human beings across the U.S. sitting in cages right now simply because their circumstance or morality doesn't match the status quo. It's really easy to remain willfully ignorant, and it's really easy to forget the struggles of people that you don't actually visually see every day. Whether there's anyone in prison that would actually enjoy the work we do is irrelevant. The letter was more so published to remind people of the struggle against the prison-industrial complex and to hopefully inspire other creators, businesses, artists to consider similar programs. Ascetic House is very much an apolitical organization, but we're not talking politics here. We're talking about real people in slavery. If we can help people get through a few days, it's worth it.

Have you had anyone take you up on offer yet?

We've gotten a few requests. The letter has only been published on our website so far, so I'm not sure how far the word has spread. Destruction Unit is making an unrelated announcement this week that I'm going to try and append the Upwards Program prison letter to, hopefully that will get it some more exposure. But like I said, the point is more to hopefully inspire other people with more influence or more capital to consider a similar program. We release a wide range of stuff though, from rock to pop to rap to poetry, fiction, non-fiction . . . and everything beyond. So there is certainly something anyone could enjoy. My initial idea was to try and get Destruction Unit's music onto the [inmate music program] Jp3 music player for free, but there's more bureaucracy involved in doing something like that.

It's interesting timing -- Spin recently published a great article about cassettes being shipped to prisons. It feels like a striking parallel to me: cassettes are a format embraced by a cultural subset or niche -- at least musically -- but in the case of prisoners, they are set of people deliberately cast aside, and often forgot about.

Yeah, its true. It's a huge population of people. It's really heartbreaking. It blows my mind how evil people can be, tearing families apart and putting good people behind bars because they have a different idea of how to enjoy their own lives. We have a program called the Upwards Program that focuses solely on cultural revolution and influence. Some projects are public, some are not . . . But we definitely have more ideas for the future.

"We" as in Ascetic House ?

Yeah, it's an internal program.

What more can you tell me about it?

Well, it's an extension of a lifestyle. A new lifestyle that I think people are ready for -- they just don't know how to move toward it. The best way to influence that is to show people that they can be free. Lead by example. We're not trying to brainwash or convince anyone. We're not trying to live in a utopia. There is no right or left or liberal or conservative. There is only free people. We intend to utilize any and every resource to move things in that direction. A total assault, because it's the only way we can live and the only thing we know how to do. People need to realize there is no reason to be afraid of total freedom.

I take it that defining that "new lifestyle" would go against the principles of the cause somewhat?

I have no interest in defining anyone's lifestyle. I do have an interest in encouraging people to stop trying to do just that.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.