«EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Marisa Fein CONSULTING EDITOR Robert Johnson COVER DESIGN Carla Mavaddat TEXT DESIGN Sonia Tabriz BleakHouse Publishing 2016 Ward ...»
I was warned there’d be times like these But nothing could’ve prepared me for Dr. Swartz Who comes around once a week Peeking in my cell like he knows me better than I know myself I’ll bet he gets a kick out of seeing a twenty-two year old Who has been locked away in a cell since he was 16 Who has thirty more to go if a blessing doesn’t come through this damn wall That he’s been starring at for the past six hours I often come to this wall to somewhat free my mind Or to drown out my annoying cellie Who can’t stop talking about his boring relationship with his girlfriend he can’t seem to stop fighting Even though she calls the cops on him every time Or sometimes when the lights go out and the prison raucous is done for the day I guess to seek mental refuge from this place Other times just to reflect on what life was like before 23 and 1* When it was cookouts, Huggies and hamburgers Yeah, that always brings a smile to my face Lately that’s been the routine I start reflecting and end up with this smile Starring at this damn wall!
Then here comes this Dr. wanting to know why I’m sitting here smiling at the wall I give him the usual “nothing” But to be honest I smile to keep from crying
Stuck in this world Where I feel so all alone Froze on face, a cold stare Like the arctic was my home Keep calling on God But he never answers the phone Where else am I supposed to turn When a house is not a home?
Six feet deep Is the only time I’ll sleep ‘Cause if you close ya eyes once Then the devil surely creeps Black birds on the sill But they never make a peep Eager vultures on the watch Waiting on the lost of feet Feel my pain Like aching bones from when it rains It’s a permanent strain Wish I could get out of this game Where everyone loses And the winner becomes insane I welcome a quick death 21 guns scream bang, bang!!
When I write, I allow myself freedom to remember things that would otherwise be too scary or painful. I am locked up and there is also the sadness of loss attached to even my happiest memories. Yet in the act of writing I find wholeness. I can unearth the parts of my life that I keep most hidden and once they are set on paper I can plumb the solace and peace of my own depths. Writing is my gift to myself.
In front of a typewriter, computer terminal or notebook, I am safe to strip away my armor. The layers of intellect, humor and aloofness that serve me all day long don't serve me when I write. The din of my noisy prison surroundings fades away. Hundreds of rules that dictate my behavior disappear. There is no razor wire. There is no life sentence. No line to wait in, no pass to show.
Within this crazy, harsh environment I create my most private intimacy.
I have discovered that here is a great well of sadness within me. It is the anchor that holds me down, it keeps me from floating out into the universe. The shape and the weight of this melancholy define me. When I write, I am able to touch this black mass. I can finger its edges and palm its heft, put my cheek against its cold surface. In writing here, while I am confined, I do not write to exorcise this sadness, but rather to absorb it.
On paper words shock me. It is as if my fingers on the keyboard know better how and what I feel than my brain ever has. They recognize what my heart cannot bear. The paper does no judge me; the notebook calmly accepts my 57 burdens without complaint. The shame of my childhood sexual abuse was something I couldn't tolerate speaking about until I wrote it.
And if the sadness that I write from doesn't turn to happiness like Oprah or Dr. Phil say it should, that is okay too, because it is mine. Because I was brave enough to tell it.
46 years old 15 spent on death row Taken without batting an eyelash — Beaten in a cell Frozen in winter Boiling in summer — Strip-searched on a whim Ignored 23 hours a day Forgotten — When the inmate dies?
Newspapers mourn the loss And society forgets again.
As I sit looking through the window Consumed with finding the source of my emotions I feel anger, sorrow, regret, and yet with all my pondering I can’t seem to pinpoint the reason for all the commotion Am I angry because of my actions and choices in the past?
Or is it because I’m secluded from the people I hold dear to my heart, secluded from their smiles and laughs?
Do I feel sorrow because I can’t be there to be a brother, or son, or a friend and lover to some lucky one?
Maybe the origin of my sorrow is from me getting up everyday And feeling lonelier with every setting of the sun Could the regret that I feel crawl from where I’m at and where I could’ve been?
Possibly, I beat myself up over the fact that I regret so much and don’t move on and forget about that stuff like trash in a trash bin.
I’m sitting with unfocused eyes Paralyzed in the hunt for my answers 60
Step out of line Do some time In the name of safety Lines drawn and re-drawn Impossible to keep track In the name of safety Men and women vilified System feeling justified In the name of safety Inescapable record Modernity’s chain gang In the name of safety Families separated Humanities destroyed In the name of safety We are all accountable (In the name of safety) 61
A billion pieces of my life lay shattered, scattered and forsaken.
I cut myself trying to gather them up as if fixing them were an option.
My destruction is total.
Shunned and alone I sit at my personal ground zero.
Only pain and despair fill the void left by my ruin.
I am everything they say I am.
Failure, worthless, criminal.
My only relief is a frightening suicidal clarity.
When there is not hope tomorrow is a curse.
Yet the smallest flame a desire to survive remains deep in my belly.
I shall endure.
Report Drunk Drivers, the signs say as if ubiquitous roadside crosses don't, pretty, to ease the pain, warn others.
The long straight highway going no place for miles seems designed to claim lives, exact its toll across a landscape of boulders piled like wishes, red clay-bottomed washes, parched creek beds which must return to life in cruel flash floods.
We drink to kill the pain, begetting more, drink to fit in and find ourselves forced out.
My brother, the man outside Taos Pueblo said in thanks, Thank you, my brother, and the blood bond may have been deep.
Perhaps he too survived to everyone's surprise the alcoholic world with few escape routes, avoiding suicide, prison time, being memorialized on a small white cross.
It's a happy thought anyway in a land, harsh and bleak, where feathered survivors have supernatural powers and may someday compel the dead to speak.
Walking the yard is like a never-ending journey, one filled with reminiscing and yearning sadness and hurting.
But you keep on walking and spending time alone pondering your past, wishing you were home, hating your mistakes and wanting to atone.
And though remembering what you’ve lost will be painful it is a hurt that you should learn from, so face it and be grateful.
You’ll walk and find yourself wanting to shed tears but you won’t because of your peers and their opinions of you heightens your fears.
But they’re thinking and feeling the same thing, still no one is honest with themselves and that’s a strange thing, so how do we change things?
And you walk on looking at fences, fences, and more fences, while the cold attitudes and concrete heightens some and numbs other senses.
The conversations you hear is ignorance spilling out the mouths of fools, so silly they’d cause your ears to bleed, childish men whose lives went unschooled.
The birds above mock your confinement but you will walk on, often alone 65 while the clowns around you, mock your refinement.
But you keep putting one foot in front of the other patiently persevering, moving closer to your sister, mom, father, son, aunt or brother.
You endure because you must because to do otherwise is to abandon faith and that betrays His trust.
So you keep walking this never-ending journey because there’s always a glimmer of hope that you will fulfill your yearning.
ABOUT THE EDITORS AND CONTRIBUTORSMARISA FEIN (Editor-in-Chief) is thrilled to serve as the 2016 Tacenda Literary Magazine Editor and would like to thank everyone who has made this issue possible, especially Professor Johnson. As an undergraduate student at American University pursuing a degree in literature and gender studies, Marisa has developed a passion for social justice, particularly within the context of gender equality. She has previously worked to further women’s empowerment by leading community education events and interning with the DC branch of the National Organization for Women. Through her work at BleakHouse Publishing, she has furthered her interest in prison reform and has become an advocate for social justice.
ROBERT JOHNSON (Consulting Editor) is a Professor of Justice, Law and Criminology at American University, Editor and Publisher of BleakHouse Publishing, and a widely published and award winning author of books and articles on crime and punishment, including works of social science, law, and fiction. He has testified or testified expert affidavits on capital and other criminal cases in many venues, including US state and federal courts, the U.S. Congress, and the European Commission of Human Rights. He is best known for his book, Death Work: A Study of the Modern Execution Process, which won the Outstanding Book Award of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Johnson is a Distinguished Alumnus of the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, State University of New York.
ANTWON is a 26-year-old member of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, currently incarcerated in federal prison.
Antwon’s poetry has previously appeared in the Free Minds publications The Untold Story of the Real Me and They Call Me 299-359. Antwon loves to read books about AfricanAmerican history 67 CIERA BURCH is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C. majoring in Literature and History. She hopes to use her passion for writing and storytelling to make sure that diversity and representation are more than hashtags.
CURTIS is a 23-year-old member of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, currently incarcerated in federal prison.
Curtis’s poetry has previously appeared in the Free Minds publications The Untold Story of the Real Me and They Call Me 299-359. Curtis is studying African-American Literature while incarcerated, and one of his goals is to travel across the country.
D’ANGELO is a 21-year-old member of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, currently incarcerated in federal prison. D’Angelo’s poetry has previously appeared in the 2015 issue of Tacenda and Free Minds publication The Untold Story of the Real Me. D’Angelo dreams of owning his own business.
ISBELLA DIAZ is currently the program manager at the National Press Foundation, a non-profit in D.C. that works to make good journalists better. Prior to joining NPF, Isbella worked as programming assistant of news for Washington’s WMAL 630 radio station, reporting and writing on both international and local Washington issues. Isbella also worked for both the digital media and talk show teams at CCTV America. She helped maintain the channel’s social media accounts, website and online broadcasts. Isbella graduated from American University with a MA in International Media in 2015 and a BA in Broadcast Journalism in 2013.
DIMITRI is a 24-year-old member of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, currently incarcerated in Maryland.
Dimitri’s poetry has previously appeared in the Free Minds 68 publication They Call Me 299-359. Dimitri wants to go to college and become a personal trainer.
MAUREEN GERAGHTY has been teaching in alternative school settings for 25 years. She and her two school-aged children live in Portland, Oregon. She self-published a book of poetry entitled, Look Up- Poems of a Life and has poetry published in ReThinking Schools, mamazine.com, mothering.com and Teaching with Heart. Her essay, "Our Better Angels," will appear in the anthology Stand There Shining. She and Jevon published an article, "Writing Outside the Bars" with the National Writing Project's journal, The Quarterly, which is a portion of a book they are currently working on, entitled Between Writers and Lifers.
ANNA HASSANYEH studied Law at the University of Westminster and worked for the Crown Prosecution Service in London, England. She has also worked as a teacher. Anna’s published short stories include “The Discarded Ragdoll” and “Daisy Train,” both published in Writers’ Forum (a UK Literary Magazine), and “Demons and Lollipops,” published on Litro Online. Still living in London, Anna now runs a computer security company with her husband and spends most of her free time reading and writing.
JOANNA HEANEY, an alumna of the American University class of 2015, uses poetry to express her reactions to illogical workings of the criminal justice system. Originally from Rhode Island, Heaney was drawn to Washington, DC for its vibrant political climate. Heaney now works in food & hospitality PR in Washington, although she continues looking for chances to further her understanding of the concept of justice.
KIMBERLY HRICKO has been incarcerated in the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women since 1998.
Kimberly is an active member of her prison environment, 69 often pushing the administration for positive change. She has worked as an AutoCAD Space Planner/Designer for the Maryland Correctional Enterprises since 2006. She lives with her rescue cat (Friends of Anne Arundel County Animal Center's Prison Rescue Cat Association www.faacac. org) on the Merit Pod, a housing unit for those with excellent institutional records. She was able to start a Book Club with the help of Judge Brenda Murray (American Association of Women Judges). The club is quite successful, about to begin its twentieth session and tenth year. The Book Club eventually spawned a Writing Seminar facilitated by Peter Carlson, author and former Washington Post Columnist.