We don’t usually publish poetry in The Union Democrat but when Kathleen Malloy sent me some poems written by inmates at Sierra Conservation Center, I felt these men needed to be heard.
Malloy works with the Arts in Corrections Program at the Jamestown prison, a program supported by the William James Association. The same program encourages inmates to paint, and some of their work was on display at Columbia College. There’s also a guitar class and Malloy has just started a yoga class.
The prison also has launched a program with Friends of the Animal Community to train dogs with the help of an obedience trainer who goes to the prison weekly. The dogs sleep in kennels in the inmate’s cell each night.
It’s easy to see the reasons for such programs — to encourage people whose lives somehow went off course to regain their sense of humanity, to become whole.
Prison is a place of conformity and tough rules, a place where an inmate has no control over anything they do.
Many years ago, a new prison was opening in South Carolina and the Department of Corrections invited reporters and community members inside to spend the night. I went to do a story for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
We were fingerprinted, mug shots taken, sheets doled out, bed-making inspected. We cleaned bathrooms and then were locked in cells for the night. At one point in the early morning hours, guards created a commotion in the hallway and because of the way the windows were located in the doors, we couldn’t see what was happening. Panic.
A local insurance agent was so freaked out she pleaded to go home. They let her, of course. This was after all, pretend prison.
In the debriefing that followed breakfast of runny grits and what barely passed for eggs, the abiding sentiment was we realized just how dehumanizing the experience was, even in the abstract.
Here’s what some inmates here have to say about their lives.
Dressed in Blue and branded.
CDCR stamped across backs
In golden block letters.
They come to write -
Away from the 24/7 contained chaos
That is prison.
They write to discover, to uncover
New ways of Being
The people they can still become.
No longer oppressed
Poetry of the Imprisoned.
This is NOT My House
This is not my house,
My cellmate is not my spouse, my friend, my anything.
We just exist together,
in this constant bad weather of luck.
This is not my house,
So don’t tell me to take it home c/o,
I see no front yard with grass, no kids with loud laughs,
Just my cellie passing gas in his sleep.
This is not my House,
I create no illusions about this place,
And I doubt this place will change that.
Strange that, we all don’t get it.
This is not my house,
I’m too grown for a bunk bed,
I’ve bumped heads with the police to get my point across in the past.
Did it last? Not at all.
But this is not my house,
That’s not my mouse on the tier,
The music I hear,
The leak on the roof,
This anger is proof, that
This is not my house…
So, don’t say it, don’t play it in my 8 track mind,
So I’ll be blind to doing time.
I’m just locked up -
This is not my house.
— C. Rose- 2/12/19
A Place I’m From
I come from a place….
Many miles and years away.
Where darkness like night
In day exists,
Except for the staccato flashes of lightning
Splintering the skies
Like fire from the end of a barrel.
A place of Louisiana Storms
And raindrops big as nickels.
With deafening drone
Pierced only by the baritone voice
Of thunder that still echoes deep within.
A place that exists and doesn’t both,
A place that was, and is, and could’ve been.
A place that’s quiet
Where memories crackle
Like wood within a fire,
Or drift along as bubbles upon a brook,
Or scents upon a breeze.
A place I wish to one day revisit
Yet a place no travelers go -
A place there’s no one to call ahead
Because there’s no one left I know -
A place that I can’t Google or search for anymore,
A place that lives only in pictures
Or stories that are told.
I come from a Place….probably like you
Which we thought we’d left behind,
But realized in the end
That we packed and carried it
All the time.
— R. St. Andrews
As the sun chases the moon
The light infiltrates,
The darkness moves as the Light grows.
What once was dark begins to glow
Positive energy increases its flow.
Intimately penetrating the darkest womb, nurturing brilliancy.
Birthing elements of independent light shows blindly lit.
Potential is unknown, yet learned until Life’s light knows
Then brightness is known.
Empowered with a flames prowess
Which motivates and inspires the light to be shown
The beacon fully grown
When the sparks of above’s unknown, Brightly lit
Never leaves the moon alone.
Protecting life’s love from the depths of darkness
Until the sun comes home
As the sun chases the moon.
— D. Scoggins