“After the coalman left” by Anonymous (incarcerated for 51 years)

I don’t expect anyone to to understand what the early memories of family togetherness at Christmas means to a person who has been confined in prison for 50+ years. When I was a child in the 40s and 50s we didn’t have lights or ornaments on our tree; we made a colored crayon chain made out of paper and glue, like the ones we used to make in school, and we wrapped it around our tree as decoration. Later Christmases revealed trees with lights, ornaments, and garland. My father, an illiterate, hard-working, self-employed roofer always tried his best to provide. Dad didn’t talk a lot. He was a quiet yet deliberate man. I’ve seen him struggle when he was down but also noticed his generosity towards others when he was doing well and had plenty. He struggled with life because of his lack of education and a bum-leg he acquired from slipping and falling on ice at the age of 29. He never liked taking handouts. At Christmas, our house became as grand-central-station. After the coalman left, neighbors suddenly appeared at our front door. At Christmas, the spirit of thoughtfulness and kindness filled the years and mind of many. I remembered thinking later in life, that if only that spirit prevailed all year long, it would a wonderful world to live.

“Reward system” by IPWW student

Owen was obsessed with the little stickers that college football teams put on their helmets. Over the course of the season, players received these stickers for their accomplishments. Owen didn’t have a clue what the specifics were, or if the reward system was individual or team-based? Season after season, as the unquestionable summer sunshine gave way to the crunchy crumbling of orange and brown and yellow leaves of fall- Owen felt like nobody cared but him. Would each tackle by the defense produce a sticker? Or just sacks on the quarterback? Forced fumbles? Owen grew tired of just grunting like a linebacker tackling a running back. Everybody else shrugged him off between plays and sips of beer and awkward crunches of Tostitos. So he did the only logical thing he could think of: he decided to develop his own sticker reward system. Since he didn’t have a football helmet, he used his ’97 Volkswagen Jetta. And since he was sick of stickers, he superglued little toy figures to the hood of his car whenever anybody on his “team” accomplished anything. For job promotions and raises, he glued little army men to the Jetta to symbolize the soldiering through that transpires in places of employment. Whenever his friends announced successful first dates, one-night stands, engagements, pregnancies, marriages-he stuck to the old-school red and blue cowboys and Indians to represent the eternal tension in relationships. And when anybody had the chutzpah to ask him why all those toys were on his car, he would reply “Why do college teams put stickers on their helmets?!” And only the keys in the ignition of the Jetta could break the awkward silence.

“I Remember” by IPWW student

I remember growing up wishing that I had more than I did. Times were rough when I was coming up. Son of a single mother that raised seven kids on her own.

I remember learning how to cut grass so I could go to McDonald’s or the corner store to buy candy.

I remember Mom using old bedsheets to make our costumes for Halloween and pillowcases for our candy.

I remember shoveling snow just to buy my mom something for Christmas. I was ten years old.

I remember complaining to my mom about sitting at the welfare office all day long and her telling me “If you don’t go to school and get a career you gon’ have to do this when you get older.”

I remember not getting new shoes for years at a time. I was used to not getting anything new. Mom always made sure Christmas was special though. She always had something under the tree for us. I love her for trying to make us smile.

I remember Mom telling me to lock the door behind her and to open it for no one because she had to go to work. My older sisters and brothers had run away from home.

I remember walking to the grocery store with my mom because she didn’t have a car and having to carry the bags back. She’d tell me “You got it son, show me how strong you are.”

I remember not going on field trips because my mom didn’t have the two dollars. Things were different back then. It made me grateful for everything that I receive.

I remember.

“I Remember” by Jeremy R., IPWW student

I remember my sister pulling my ears until they popped.
I remember running around the house, curling my lips, singing and imitating Elvis.
I remember pretending to be a working man, fixing things.
I remember the smell of incense and booze mixed with cigarette smoke clouding the air and the night that was to follow.
I remember joining a union at 18 years old and starting my career.
I remember building my own home at 21 years old.
I remember the birth of my firstborn.
I remember smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and that same smell that filled the air.
I remember my first OWI.
I remember the births of my next 2 daughters.
I remember living a beautiful family life.
I remember getting hit by that car.
I remember the pain meds and how they made me feel.
I remember realizing I was addicted. Only no incense, smoke, or smell of booze filled the air.
I remember the darkness that came over as my addiction consumed me.
I remember losing everything. 

“Revenge of the Mad Cow” by Joe A., IPWW student

My mom and I lived in a small two-bedroom red-brick house. Our front yard had four pine trees and a giant oak that became my hiding spots, forts, climbing domain, and all-around playground. The neighbor to the south owned a plot of land that was humongous to me, as long as two football fields running east and west. At the neighbor’s fence line was another fence separating their yard from a big cow pasture.

Being mischievous (as many children are), I would play in my backyard and have the urge to throw things, thinking I was a great quarterback or some outfielder in the major leagues. So, what better way to perfect my skills than throwing apples? And what better way to measure my success with distance and aim than throwing apples at cows 50 yards away?

The cows seemed to enjoy eating the apples. But my main intention was to hit the cows, like playing dodgeball-except the cows didn’t get the dodge part down. Every now and then, I’d be dead on target and smack a fat cow with my apple ammo. I couldn’t tell if it hurt the cow or just irritated it. After what happened later, I am 100% certain the cows didn’t forget my apple attacks. One day my best friend Brad and I were headed to the wooded trails at the end of our neighborhood.

We decided to hop the fences and take a shortcut through the cow pasture. About five minutes into our journey, I heard a faint rumble in the distance. I stopped, turned around, and looked back to see a stampede of cows running toward us. I didn’t even know cows could run! Brad and I screamed and ran for our lives from the thunderous sound of running and mooing cows.

Finally, we made it to a fence. This was one of those old cow fences with squares of wire six by six inches wide. Good to climb on and over quickly but easy to put a foot through too. In my haste to climb over the fence, my foot snagged, and my shoe fell off, landing in the cow field. There was no time to jump down and get it because the cows were already there. What was the farmer feeding these things? Jeez, they were fast. Were these Olympic cows?

So there I was, one shoe on and one laying directly under one of these giant bovine creatures. The cow seemed to have a personal vendetta against me. Was he the one I routinely pelted with apples from my backyard?

The squares in the fence were large enough to reach through, so I slowly tried to grab my shoe. As I reached in, the mad cow snatched up my shoe and began chewing it like a cud of grass. What the hell? First cows that run, now cows that eat shoes.

Trying to explain to my mom how I lost my shoe seemed more dangerous than any renegade cow. With our day ruined, I took the slow walk of shame back home. This story is my fondest memory of my first home.

“I Remember” by Kevin B., IPWW student

I remember growing up wishing that I had more than I did. Times were rough when I was coming up. Son of a single mother that raised seven kids on her own.

I remember learning how to cut grass so I could go to McDonald’s or the corner store to buy candy.

I remember Mom using old bedsheets to make our costumes for Halloween and pillowcases for our candy.

I remember shoveling snow just to buy my Mom something for Christmas. I was ten years old.

I remember complaining to my Mom about sitting at the welfare office all day long and her telling me “If you don’t go to school and get a career you gon’ have to do this when you get older.”

I remember not getting new shoes for years at a time. I was used to not getting anything new. Mom always made sure Christmas was special though. She always had something under the tree for us. I love her for trying to make us smile.

I remember Mom telling me to lock the door behind her and to open it for no one because she had to go to work. My older sisters and brothers had run away from home.

I remember walking to the grocery store with my Mom because she didn’t have a car and having to carry the bags back. She’d tell me “You got it son, show me how strong you are.”

I remember not going on field trips because my Mom didn’t have the two dollars. Things were different back then. It made me grateful for everything that I receive.

I remember and I’ll never forget.

“Adjustment” by Danny S., IPWW student

I wonder about the power of strength. Is strength measured by physical stature? Is it mental fortitude, or the ability to endure emotional hardship? My life has been one hardship after another with no big windfalls, or high points – only a constant struggle.

In prison, it was easier to be strong physically and not care mentally as one’s path was laid out, and that used to be my foundation for survival. For better or worse, it was comfortable enough. Now, plagued with uncertainty, I find myself drowning in a world I do not understand and with problems I was never taught to fix. Every job denial – because of my criminal history – is a slap in the face. The cracks in the wall grow deeper, exposing the shadows and darkness within of defeat. Still, I push on.

What will I become? Will I be reduced to nothing and fade away as the light shines upon the places I hide. Will I regress into what I had once become in the name of survival and embark on a mission of self destruction? Or will I rise once again and rebuild with greater strength than before?

“I Remember” by Phil R., IPWW student

I remember getting a whooping for doing something I had no business doing and my grandaddy would always say, “Take the trash out son, and I’ll give you a dollar.” So I would take the trash out, he’ll give me a dollar. Then, he’d tell me to ask my uncle Charlie to walk me to Walgreens to get me some ice cream. He knew I loved ice cream.

I remember the very first and last time I ever saw my grandaddy run full speed. He used to work for Salvation Army, ringing bells during the holidays. He was supposed to meet my grandmother and I at the bus stop when he got off work, but we didn’t see him. Then, my grandmother said, “Look, there he is.” He was racing to the bus stop wearing a full Santa Clause outfit, beard and everything. She said, “Run Forrest Run.” We all burst into laughter.

I remember my grandaddy used to eat raw onions like they were apples. He was a savage. He would sprinkle on a little salt and pepper and devour them. The way he ate them made me curious. I had to try it. I went to the refrigerator, grabbed an onion, peeled it, and sprinkled a little salt and pepper on it. I bit into that thing and felt sick. I was so mad. I tossed the onion in the trash and my grandmother caught me and of course I got a whooping. My grandaddy told me, “Take the trash out son, I’ll give you a dollar.” So I did, then asked my Uncle Charlie to walk me to Walgreens so I could get me some ice cream.

I remember – when I first had girl problems – moping around the house. My grandaddy asked, “What’s wrong, son?” I told him that I was going to break-up with my girlfriend. His response, “You only had one girlfriend?” I told him that you’re supposed to only have one girlfriend. He said, “Son, just imagine that you’re going on a road trip, and one of your tires go flat.” My eyes went wide, like I figured out what he was saying. I said, so I’m supposed to have two girlfriends grandaddy? He said, “Son, you’re listening, but you’re not paying attention.” So now I’m confused. He said, “What if every tire on the car goes flat?” I’m good at math and did my calculation. Am I supposed to have eight girlfriends? He laughed and said, “You’re damn right!”

I remember the day my grandmother passed away. My little sister and I were at school and our stepdad came to pick us up early. When we got in the car, he broke the news. I screamed at the top of my lungs. My little sister was confused and I repeated what our stepdad said. “It’s grandmother; she’s dead!” He told us that she suffocated. When we got to the house, my entire family was there. It was the first time I saw him cry. When it came time for us to leave my grandaddy asked me to stay. He didn’t want to be left alone. He said, “Take the trash out son, I’ll give you a dollar. There’s ice cream in the refrigerator. You can eat as much as you want to.” So, I took the trash out, he gave me a dollar, and I ate ice cream until I fell asleep. 

“My Grandmother’s Love” by Phil R., IPWW student

The pain is unimaginable. I close my eyes. All I can see is the face of an angel. I see my grandmother’s face, but she isn’t here. I scream for her at the top of my lungs. Tears drop down my face, falling like treacherous rain, but the skies are blue. Clouds look like pillows floating in an ocean of my emotions. My grandmother still isn’t here. I’m screaming for her like I know for a fact that she’s going to come rescue me from this pain. A pain that I’ve never felt before. My eyes are closed, like vault doors trying to hold back the tears. I feel someone grab my hand, and tell me that everything is going to be okay. I open my eyes, and there she was. My angel. My grandmother. She held a wet cloth, and a band-aid. Even though the pain was still there, it didn’t seem so bad anymore. My tears slowly stopped falling because somehow I knew that everything was going to be just fine. I mean who knew that scraping your knee would hurt this much. To a five-year-old, it felt like my world was crashing down. I had jumped my neighbor’s fence to get my football, and when I was climbing back over, my foot slipped. I slammed my knee into the top of the prongs of the fence. I still have the scar.

“Release Day” by Gregory T., IPWW student

The day of my release was a blur. The anticipation of that day made the reality of it hard to process. The state employee driving me and two others was lost in his own thoughts. The other two guys babbled on about mundane topics barely earning my attention. My senses were feasting. It was July and the sights of beautiful straight rows of corn fields, waving grain, and rivers flowing beneath the bridges, along with clean smells and new sights kept my focus. As I arrived home, the businesses seemed different as did the road system entering my small town. Processed for probation, I was fed a dose of harsh talk and browbeating by my new Big Boss Man, my corrections officer. Being very used to that narrative, I smiled and nodded my head. A friend picked me up and we went to a nearby convenience store where I became a kid in a candy store. There were piles of everything at my disposal, but I opted for a fountain Coke, and although I hadn’t smoked in years, I bought a pack because I could. I recognized a toothless girl in line and asked her for a kiss. She beamed and gave me one! Two blocks down the road, my friend stopped again to enter his apartment and fetch a guitar for him and a harmonica for me.

“But what if I forgot how?” I winced.

“Shut up and play.”

As he started playing a blues riff in C., with a tear in my eye, I realized you never forget.

Since that day, life has been a journey. The smell and taste of delicious food, different each day, has made a distant memory of the terrible prison food as well as of my waistline. I desire to spread love to friends, family, and even strangers each day and to fill the void of a life without drugs. The hardest transition so far is the one that everyone is in – social distancing. I want to smile, talk, and hug, but the world is different. I am now financially stable and healthy. What did I gain from prison? I count my blessings now instead of assigning blame or finding fault. I am now a glass-half-full guy who finds his purge from any anxiety encountered by letting my pen hit the paper thanks to the Indiana Prison Writers Workshop.