«EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Marisa Fein CONSULTING EDITOR Robert Johnson COVER DESIGN Carla Mavaddat TEXT DESIGN Sonia Tabriz BleakHouse Publishing 2016 Ward ...»
TACENDA LITERARY MAGAZINE
Ward Circle Building 254
Washington, DC 20016
NEC Box 67
New England College
Henniker, New Hampshire 03242 www.BleakHousePublishing.com Robert Johnson – Editor & Publisher Sonia Tabriz - Managing Editor Liz Calka - Creative Director Casey Chiappetta – Chief Operating Officer Alexa Marie Kelly – Chief Editorial Officer Emily Dalgo – Chief Development Officer Rachel Ternes – Chief Creative Officer Carla Mavaddat – Art Director Ella Decker – Art Curator Copyright © 2016 by Robert Johnson All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information contained herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions.
Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.
ISBN: 978-0-9961162-2-0 Printed in the United States of America
A NOTE FROM THE EDITORTACENDA: n., pronounced ta’KEN’da ‘things better left unsaid’ At BleakHouse Publishing, we know that life continues behind bars, that humanity endures within the confines of a prison cell.
The following collection aims to put a finger to the pulse of the criminal justice system. Each poem or short story highlights the systematic injustices and prejudices of a system who has and continues to forever change the lives of those it touches.
Whether it be a first-hand account of everyday prison life or a reflection on racial biases, every entry holds a mirror up to our culture of crime and punishment and is not afraid of its reflection.
Our work would not be possible without Professor Robert Johnson, our Consulting Editor, mentor, and unwavering supporter. Thank you for all that you do to encourage us to look passed labels and instead see humanity.
And, as always, thanks to our readers and contributors, those who have and continue to support this journey of working toward a better tomorrow.
Marisa Fein Ed
In with a word Out with a thousand In as a man Out as a number Forgotten, invisible Out, but never completely Always a part of you remains in Moments, dignity Stolen by the courts Processed by the machine A day in court So many lives A man, a woman, Pleading Too many, silent, Knowing too well They might end in a cell In and out But not in a second Never just a quick day in court People processed, people waiting Far too long, Out of life, in the court Slave to structure Free of thought 7
Freedom is my wife And without her it’s tough I could feel it in the air That I will get another chance before my time is up Because she wants me back And plus I’m a visionary She realizes all the good I’ve done And the less bad I did That’s one of the reasons I married her 8
I live inside a world full of lies and deception Where money is an obsession And I’m judged by my complexion Please understand that this isn’t a philosophy But this is me expressing my feelings by thinking logically I’m from a race that suffers from poverty Low class black folks unfit for the American society I live inside a world where I am guilty until proven innocent Modern day slavery, my place of imprisonment Only 18 and yet my time is almost equivalent Said to be a threat and danger to the American citizen I live inside a world where police harass me everyday Where I’m listed as a suspect in every case Know that this is me speaking for every young black male in every state Who has been a victim to the system in every way False convictions is what they call justice!
20 year sentences is what they call justice!
Unfair trials is what they call justice!
And I live inside a world where justice Isn’t justice when it comes to just, us 9
Have you even seen an elephant at the zoo Locked up with so many chains it can barely move?
It must know that it’s big enough to break those cuffs But it thinks it’s a failure and that’s why it’s stuck They put chains on it when it was very young And it fell on its face when it tried to run Eventually it gave up hope And now that it’s strong enough to break free It only mopes I often feel the same pain At one point I was free but I fell for the game But I’m worse than the elephants, I have to be Because the oppressor that put me here was me 10
It’s been my view 2 the world 4 many years The trees still there Strong and majestic as they seem or appear 2 be At times they look weak without their leaves My window daydreams, be wishing 4 things never achieved My window nightmares, be haunting and to the point I can’t stand 2 sleep Now my hours feel longer, I’m just trying 2 make it 2 another spring That means goodbye winter, my days are getting warmer I’m getting older, my physical telling signs of aging It’s the small things I pay attention 2 lying dormant Like which way the wind blows, or how far up the sky goes I mean, do I have a place in space maybe?
Am I a product of the cosmos? Cuz my window world is crazy Wishing I had a bird’s eye view Amazing how they play with freedom I even seen them play on the grounds of prisons Teasing me, look how they just fly over the fences I wonder, do they know how important they are?
(blessings) And how cruel man is 2 trap them in their cages When I look out my window, I see lost hope with defeated faces Messages of prison expressions, enduring hard times, mentally stressing Yea, I chipped my tooth taking a bite out of crime But damn, you can’t compare me 2 those wearing dentures 11 They went way above my guidelines, for a first time felon I never hurt a soul, but I’m still writing from a hurt soul, looking out my prison window Looking at another offender, “we don’t call them convicts anymore” That’s the quotes from these C.O.s Things changed, it’s like slavery revolved back like recidivism’s door Its new name: Department of Corrections How can u fix something that was never broken?
U can’t break me, I’m bitter like cool breeze Heart strong like concrete, u made me!
I’m the dragon in your dungeon, spitting spoken fire constantly I won’t let you degrade me When I look out my window, I try 2 see as far as I can see I know the only thing that can stop me is me There’s no limitation 2 thought Who created that mountain? Or the air that we breathe?
What about the sun coming in from the east? Or the depth of the seas?
As long as I got my window, I see what u see Prison’s not physical, it’s a curse of mentality 12
Cast up into heights of liberation By bleeding air from the big blimp balloon That had arisen out of stalwart eruptions of emotion Taking then launching him Happiness surrendering to hard stares and encroaching staggers of justification As if laughter mattered in the face off with destiny newly invented Piling treasure on carpets woven in history Before you woke up to The possibilities slumbering in subconscious travel On to where you're supposed to be Believing in whatever could be Despite it never having been seen In his lifetime Yet There is always room Somewhere For change 13
“Why do you talk like that?” the kids at her summer camp asked.
The camp was located not in the suburban white bread neighborhood where she lived with her mother, but in the much browner neighborhood of her grandparents’ home.
Here they played jump rope with two ropes—doubledutch, they called it—their dexterous hands twirling faster and faster as they turned the ropes for the girl in the middle who was little more than a flurry of movement.
She counted aloud with them as her sneaker-clad feet pounded against the pavement.
“Like what?” the girl asked, but no one answered her.
They continued counting. Wrong, their eyes said, different.
“Like she’s white,” she overheard one girl say as she walked unseen toward the swings, the only solitary activity on the small playground.
II "You're not a normal black girl," Alexis said at lunch as the girl finished eating as quickly as possible and stood, poised to leave, her book bag hoisted onto her shoulder.
She tended to stay in the cafeteria only long enough to scarf down a sandwich or half of one. She preferred to spend her lunch period shelving books and flipping through the ones she found the most interesting, typing their titles into her phone to add to her Goodreads “toread” list later. It wasn’t the first time Alexis had said it or something like it, but every time she somehow managed to make it sound like a compliment. Alexis’s friends, who were not the girl’s friends, nodded in agreement, placid smiles on their faces.
The girl was quiet. She didn't know what to say. She never did. Well, what am I? she wanted to ask. Instead, she murmured a faint goodbye and left, hands coming up to grip the straps of her book bag.
She didn’t have to ask to get her answer. She was, according to them, an Oreo—black on the outside and white on the inside. At first it bothered her. She was being herself, who else did they want her to be? In time, she came to realize. Their acceptance of her—of her blackness that seemed like whiteness because it was different than the black they were used to—made her part of the us. The other black kids at school, the ones who shouted to each other in the hallway or had rap battles in the cafeteria.
They were the ones from whom she was different. They were them. If pressed, she would admit that they were also part of the reason she preferred to spend her time in the library.
“You’re so smart,” Mr. Reynolds commented in her next period as he handed back papers before class. An Amarked the right hand corner of her paper in red.
It was one of her favorites—her American history class.
He said it as if he were surprised. And yet he avoided looking at her whenever black people popped up in their class discussions, which happened often considering the class followed American history from the late 17th century to the present.
15 The girl shrugged. Should she thank him? “I just…like history.” The older man nodded, his tie moving with the force of it. It was like an
painting, flecks of brown and gold and blue. It made for an ugly tie, but a good place for her to train her eyes on instead of looking at him directly. “Right. The history of African Americans in this country is a fascinating one.” She had said history. She hadn’t specified whose history it was that she liked. A spark of irritation lit the kindling of little stoked emotion within her and she felt the burning need to correct him. “Sure. But not nearly as fascinating as the role that religion played in the Tudor period of England. It was amazing how many people could die for their beliefs depending solely on the monarch of the time, don’t you think?” Mr. Reynolds forced a smile and said nothing as he moved away from her desk to finish handing out the rest of the papers.
“Can anyone tell me what life might have been like for a slave during the Civil War?” he asked later in the class period, his eyes skipping over her like she was a scratch on a record. It could have been worse. He could have asked her directly like some of her teachers did when black people were introduced in class, as if she could call on her ancestors and have them relay their tales to the class like some twisted version of show and tell.
The girl learned to sink a little lower in her seat then, to avert her eyes first before they had time to avert theirs or to fix them on her with a strange fascination that made her uncomfortable.
16 III “Where did you come from, Cassie?” her mother often asked with a smile.
“Your stomach,” the girl replied after dinner one night, her hands wrist deep in soapy water as she began to wash the dishes.
“16th century England,” she said another night, glasses sliding down her nose as she glanced up from her history textbook.
“Who knows?” Cassie sighed, halfway up the stairs on the way to her room after another long day of school.
The answer was different every time.
Cassie sat between her mother’s legs, trying to get as comfortable as she could. In all the years that they had taken up these exact positions, with her on the floor and her mother on the couch, she had yet to find a way to keep her back from hurting. Not that it mattered. She knew that in a moment the sharp yank of the comb through her freshly washed curls would overshadow any back pain that she felt. Still, her mother’s hands in her hair offered her a comfort that she had yet to find anywhere else.
“How was school?” Her mom asked.
“It was good.” IV 17 The girl likes Tumblr. Rather, she used to. Cute comics and fan art quickly turned into #TrayvonMartin and #MikeBrown and #blacklivesmatter. Once, she came across a list of all the names of black people killed by police in the first few months of that year. She found that she could only read some of the names before her palms began to sweat and her eyes filled with tears.
William J. Dick III, 28 Jared Forsyth, 33 Desmond Willis, 25 Richard August Hanna, 56 Alexander Myers, 23 She reblogged it and then she logged out and simply stared at the computer screen, feeling numb and angry and scared.
How many more names would be on there by the end of the year? What was to keep her name, or those of her loved ones, from being added? They all shared a similarity with the people who had been killed: brown skin.