Most performers shoot for record deals. Many of Heather Layneâ€™s fans, however, have sought deals on their record â€” prison record.
Layne, a guitarist, singer and songwriter from Clovis, California, reaches out to the incarcerated, the suffering, and those in 12-step programs.
Itâ€™s all part of her own recovery, having suffered through some hideous teenage abuse that led to taking her message and music on the road, mostly to churches.
With her husband and drummer, Dennis, at her side, Layne hit the road starting in 2010, on the heels of a radio-friendly country single, “Close Your Eyes.â€
It was just over a decade ago that Layne attended a 12-step meeting that led to her first original song. That became another song. And another. And before she knew it, she was inspiring those in recovery, herself the product of a painful past.
“The funny thing is, not all addicts are alcoholics or drug users. I was not alcoholic or in denial,â€ she said. “But I was a wreck. And 12-step helped me get to know God and that God loves me and has a plan for me and that my life wasnâ€™t over. It gave me a road map.â€
A decade earlier, Layne appeared to have it all. An attractive blonde, a high school cheerleader, straight “Aâ€ student. And she got herself into an abusive relationship with a much older man who basically held her hostage.
“I learned how to put a smile on my face and tell everyone that Heather was fine,â€ Layne said. “But there was a lot of abuse mentally … physically … I lived with that for three years.â€
Escaping that horrid relationship, Layne soon married another man. Not good.
“I was in no shape to be a wife. I needed a lot of help,â€ Layne said.
She soon lost the husband and gained a 12-step meeting that included Bible study.
“My life hit bottom and I was just desperate,â€ Layne said. “I started going to the group and started writing songs.â€
She taught herself guitar. She wrote a song, “The Journey,â€ and was cajoled into performing in front of 150 people at church.
“I was scared to death,â€ Layne said. “And after, the 12-step pastor came up to me and said, â€˜Do you want to be our music leader?â€™â€
Layne accepted and started a “recovery bandâ€ that included a bass player and a drummer who eventually became her husband.
The band lasted three years and led Layne to invitations to perform at rescue missions and prisons.
“I learned a lot about myself,â€ she said, believing it was time to divulge the abuse from a decade before.
“I needed to get real and be really honest,â€ Layne said.
She turned more than a few heads.
“I think they see a blonde chick and think, â€˜Whatâ€™s this all about?â€™â€ Layne said. “I think theyâ€™re surprised. They donâ€™t know or realize the depth or magnitude of my â€˜boot campâ€™ or the healing Iâ€™ve gone through that made it necessary to minister and understand broken people.â€
Layne realized her mission was to help the hurting.
“We can have compassion for people and not push them aside,â€ she said. “Everyoneâ€™s precious to God.â€
That particularly includes the women in prisons to whom Layne brought her message and music.
“I was absolutely floored the first time I went,â€ Layne said. “I thought theyâ€™d be mean. I was really nervous, especially when they told me, â€˜If thereâ€™s a riot, get on the floor and donâ€™t move…â€™ But when I went out and played, there were ladies sobbing through the whole concert.â€
Layne talks about her past between songs and believes the incarcerated women “were deeply affected by the end of the concert. There would be a line of women that wanted to shake my hand, or sign their Bible or want my autograph.â€
When Layne performed at the womenâ€™s prison in Chowchilla, California, they lined up more than an hour to meet her.
“I didnâ€™t know how they would perceive the music,â€ Layne said. “Even though I had never been in prison, I had been in my own prison. I had been wounded a lot in life … and I had a ton of hang ups.â€
Layne met one 11-year-old girl at a rescue mission who came from the streets, with a background of meth use and prostitution and who had been kicked out of her house.
“I learned we donâ€™t all start out on a level playing field. A lot of us are born into situations we didnâ€™t ask for,â€ said Layne. “I think broken people especially really connect with my music,â€ Layne said. “At a prison in Texas, a chaplain there said they havenâ€™t quit talking about my songs and concert. I feel some of my songs are an anthem for them … a voice “
And now itâ€™s time to hit the road again in 2014, with a tour in September to the Pacific Northwest, and another U.S. cross-country tour in October.
“My husband and I are grateful that God has given us a second chance at life. Weâ€™ve been married almost nine years and feel like we were meant for each other, and meant to do what we do,â€ Layne said. “I feel like weâ€™re the most fortunate people on earth to get to be a part of what God is doing in the earth today. Whether itâ€™s a group of 10 people or 60,000 people, the thing thatâ€™s most important is that our music is impacting someone. We all need to know weâ€™re not alone we all need to know there is someone out there who understands.â€