“We built the music program at NSP,” said Scott Schlingheyde.
Guitarist Schlingheyde and drummer Donovan Martin are the founding members of the heavy metal band DownTime.
“You know what NSP means?” Martin asked. “Prison. You know it’s prison?”
Schlingheyde and Martin met in 2000 while serving sentences at Nevada State Prison on drug-related charges. They explained that the NSP warden at the time was working to expand programs for inmates. There’d been a music program at the prison in decades past, but the equipment was old and worse for wear—much of it dating back to the ’70s and ’80s.
“We basically made a recording studio out of nothing, like we were MacGyver,” Schlingheyde said.
“People started buying their own guitars,” Martin explained. “We got a drum set donated, and then everybody started chipping in on a PA system and then they bought their own amps.”
DownTime’s first album was recorded at NSP in 2004. Originally, DownTime was comprised entirely of people who’d served time in prison—thus the name.
“We were down,” Schlingheyde said. “We were in prison. That’s a lot of downtime.”
Martin helped clarify the parlance, explaining that people who meet in prison will ask one another how long they’ve been there—how long they’ve been “down.” Martin was down 10 years and 45 days between 1998 and 2008, Schlingheyde for 10 years to the day. He was released in time for Thanksgiving in 2010.
Though Schlingheyde and Martin are the only two remaining members of DownTime to have served prison sentences, they actually met another of their fellow band members there.
“I met them somewhere along the line,” said Mark Wright, the band’s rhythm guitarist. “I probably handed them a food tray or two, or some shit like that.”
Wright was a corrections officer at NSP for 10 years. He joined the band after answering a Craigslist posting from Schlingheyde. When the two talked on the phone before Wright’s audition, Schlingheyde asked him where he was traveling from so he could give him directions.
“He goes, ’OK, well, don’t laugh. I’m coming from Carson—I’m a corrections officer,’” Schlingheyde recalled. “I busted up laughing. And the dude showed up. I never thought in a million years that he would have showed up.”
DownTime has played together for more than a decade. In that time, members of the band have come and gone, some have switched roles, and—as of May 2012—the Nevada State Prison has closed its doors.
Bassist Jim Wilson and singer Tommy Furlong are the newest members of DownTime. Both joined the band in 2015.
Some of the original songs DownTime recorded at NSP can still be heard online at www.reverbnation.com/downtimereno. The feelings of isolation and despair reflected in these early songs are carried through into the lyrics of the band’s newer songs, many of which are written by Wright. While he’s never served a prison sentence, Wright said his time as a C.O. helped him relate.
“I talked to these guys all the time,” Wright said. “You get a lot from that. You can hear the struggle that a lot of them go through just talking on the phone. You can hear. And I would take time to talk to these guys when they were in there, just man to man. I got to know a lot of those guys, and I wasn’t a hypocrite. Everybody’s done something that they could have went there for. They got caught. I didn’t. That’s the bottom line.”