“Happy Birthday” by Phil
Can you believe that at age 29, I’ve never had a birthday party? Sucks, right? Imagine being seven or eight years old, going to your sister’s birthday party, or even a friend from the neighborhood and not having a party of your own. No cake or ice cream. I’ve never made a wish. I’ve never blown out candles. I don’t know what that feels like. I’ve always wondered: what do people wish for when they blow out the candles while they’re making their wish? I wish I had a birthday party.
Phil is an inmate at Plainfield Correctional Facility. He is a participant of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. Once released, he plans to start a not-for-profit for performing arts helping minority youth. “I’d like to show them the alternatives to running the streets.”
“Only Human” by Daniel
I am only human. There’s nothing special. I’m just me. I have no super powers that allow me to fly faster than a speeding bullet, freeze time, or control the weather and storms with the power of my mind. I consist of bones, skin, muscles, blood and hair, to name a few things. I am very lucky as I have had faulty parts replaced and have a computer keeping my heart going and in sync with my body. I have a million dollar plus body and to the eye you would never consider it true. Scars and imperfections seem to dominate not only physical imperfections, but also mentally, emotionally, and even socially. I’m not a great catch or that good compared to many that I know and see. I am just me. I am only human.
“Remembrance” by Foosie
It leans on my soul – my memory. Fried chicken and collard greens clung to the curtains of the house like the woman held on to the scars left by the man who long left. And in their wake, they left an invisible sight of smell…the kind that scratches at your mind like puke-colored carpet.
There’s a swinging lamp shade in the front room that feels like money that was left balled up in a jean pocket, long forgotten. There’s a pristine looking love seat that hides the piss stains on the springs – left by a little boy who was lost in a dream.
There are burnished bronze baby shoes with name plates and pictures – and the lemon pledge-scented wood reminds you that even the past must be wiped clean to be kept pure. There’s a tanginess to the beads hanging from the doorway that are only meant to be felt and heard.
And if the entrance of this brick castle in the ghetto could speak – each little creak of the wood floor under the rug would let you know that there’s love here.
“Heaven” by Daniel
Will there be gum in Heaven? Such a strange question. We often hear it asked whether there will be pets in Heaven…but gum?
If our bodies are truly made perfect again – everyone will possess real teeth and won’t be limited to only Trident anymore. Gumballs, Bazooka Joe, Double Bubble, Blow-Pops, and Hubba Bubba – here I come. To many children Heaven would be someplace like Disney World. But this can’t be Heaven only if you can get gum there. With all its perfection you won’t see it there. Characters will never break form, you will never see a dying plant, and you won’t be able to purchase one thing…gum. Clothes, hats, jewelry, food, and trinkets galore – but no sweet touch of gum. It was decided that stepping on it would ruin the experience, so it was banned.
But I digress. Gum could be seen as the perfect learning life experience. We start with a hard piece, break it down, form it and shape it into a thing of beauty or a glob of slop. For the beauty and the taste. If all dogs go to Heaven…I hope they bring gum.
“The time I got lost” by DeMarr
I got lost in life. Am I a kid again? Why am I wearing a onesie? What is this food called “Frito Pie”? I have to take a shower with all these guys standing around me. Are you serious? It smells like a football player’s locker room after a rough game in the pouring rain. I guess I’ll go outside. Wait – the door is locked and this isn’t “come and go as you please.” It’s hot as hell so I guess I’ll take off my shirt. Then, I hear a yell. I can’t. I can’t take off my shirt. Then, as I look around at the men around me and I realize we are in a cold, lonely place warehoused away from our families. Prison.
“My shoes” by Foosie
Right before school was about to start, and before I started forth grade, I went to Lafayette Square Mall with my OG and my Nana. We were breezing past a Foot Locker shoe store and I casually picked up a pair of the new Deion Sanders Air Turfs. They immediately caught my eye because they were all black with a purple bottom and they had these gold mesh chains on the side, and strap with a gold mesh swoosh on the top. They were dope. And my Nana stopped and said, “What you lookin’ at Jordan?” I gave her a nonchalant reply about the shoes. Then she asked me, “Do you want ’em?” I started to fumble and pussy-foot around with my words and she said, “Just say what you want!” And just like that, I was starting the fourth grade with the freshest pair of Deion Sanders’ shoes and even though there was one other kid who had ’em – he still had the kiddie size … so mine were kind of one of a kind.
“Every time I cry” by DeMarr
At the age of 25, my reality still hard to believe. Where did my life flip upside down? I recall a day that still brings me to tears. It was one of life’s reality checks. I remember the screams of my first-born son yelling, “Daddy, Daddy…and tapping random people pointing at me screaming, “That’s my Daddy,” like I was a winner of some reward. But I wasn’t. My son’s face was full of surprise as if he knew he belonged to me or he was waiting to receive the greatest gift of his life. Inside his little mind, he didn’t realize this would be the last day his father would be around for the next four years of his life. I felt heavy, like bricks sitting on my neck. My tears became a natural flow that I couldn’t resist. The judge smacked the gavel and the sound of wood reflected the sound of my heartbeat. I was escorted away from the life I created. The only life I knew. I miss my son.
“Perfectly Human” by Foosie
I’m only human but that doesn’t diminish my perfection in the slightest. When I was born – I was perfectly loved – and nothing has changed since that day. So, let me be one of the first people to ever tell you that I’m perfect.
Born out of wedlock to an OG who already had two kids by two different Dads…perfect. Born a tone of brown that hasn’t always been held in the highest esteem when it comes to pulchritude…perfect. Big nose…perfect. Big lips…perfect. Gap tooth smile…perfect. The water beads off my skin like candy paint fresh from the carwash…perfect.
Tattoo of a lost soldier on my arm…perfect. Gun powder dust on my sleeves…perfect. A mug shot instead of a graduation picture…perfect. Blood on my hands forever…perfect. I woke up this morning…perfect. I have hope for tomorrow…perfect. I’ve got a story to tell…perfect.
Perfect…not in thought or in word or in deeds but in reality. Perfectly flawed and perfectly loved. And He is. So am I in this world.
“Break Free” by Brandon
I have forgotten what true freedom actually feels like. I’ve been in confinement for so long it seems like nothing around me is totally free. Take for example the common sparrows that I see every day in my surroundings. These are caged birds that sing prison songs in plantation fields to condemned men with hopeless dreams. They don’t even seem to fly high, building their nests in razor wire confines, raising their baby birds on chow hall scraps of bread, cake and cornbread crumbs. Reduced to mere pets and convict wildlife, that depend on scattered givings that they’ve been trained to accept since their eggs hatched. I secretly harbor feelings toward these jailbirds for settling for the charity of what is given and not facing the world to fly free and hunt for their own, so I don’t feed them. I see them basking on littered scraps, and wonder do they think this is heaven? A bird. God’s gift supplied from somewhere higher than their scared wings can fly. But even those are no longer a gift of freedom – just mere crutches used for the task of journeying from one part of the prison yard to the next in search of their daily freebie. They might as well have legs being as I deem their wings useless. These birds have become content and lazy and it fills me with dread and sadness. Will it be like that for me upon my release? Will I be so institutionalized that I depend on welfare, food vouchers, and the kindness of others through charity in order to make my way? Can I even survive outside of the guard towers without free bed, meals and medical? Or am I too, broken like these birds I view? Will I be able to see the hope in me after a caged bird breaks free? I secretly hope one day people stop feeding them so that they can fend for themselves and make it on their own like nature intended. For they should wake up and fly away to greener pasture never to return or create a future generation of eggs to hatch which will be born into freedom. To fly high and explore the endless sky.
“Dimensions” by Albert
I sat up on many gloomy nights staring at the cell walls. And a small ray of hope ebbed itself through me in a small cell where you are able to see the embers of dust present themselves as snowflakes dancing in the shadows with their angry dirty faces. For many decades, I’ve adjusted to incarceration: the faint smell of the zoo and predators move themselves back and forth hoping that some soul would reach in, not to harm but to feel the warmth of a kind heart. Existence for me became a 4×10 foot cell, in many cases, and as I reached out my arms the cell becomes smaller in size. Dimensions are an illusion. What they don’t compute is the toilet, bunks, and sink. In some prisons, I can put a hand and shoulder against one wall and it’s not a far reach. Your existence is a cement dungeon, dry, stripped of all feelings. In these circumstances two men will get to know one another and some will form a tight-bond while others will want to kill each other before the first week is over. Cell size will depend on the relationship. I’ve seen so much violence and grief. For there is a camouflage of bloodshed and a reflection of a man’s eyes through the mirror, and I’m hoping to get a glimpse of some other soul, but really, we only see the screams and a sense of not being heard. I remember the fights behind the walls at another prison and the smell of copper and the blood engraved blanket we wrapped with a man’s flesh and a body being carried out. We chose the life because we were born into this life.
“Imagine” by Krazy Dave
I can’t imagine a life without my father or mother. My Mom is my rock. I tell her everything – stuff I need advice on and even some things she doesn’t wanna know or shouldn’t know. I don’t lie to them whether the situation is good or bad, but I do think things would hurt, scare, or shock them and so I don’t bring it up.
Would it be wrong to be selfish and want to be the first to leave this world – just so I wouldn’t have to endure the pain and suffering of losing one of them, if not both.
I fear the day of losing anyone I love who is dear to my heart. I don’t deal with loss well.
“Under the Mat” by Phil
Two inches of cotton wrapped in plastic, formed and fitted to resemble a mattress placed on top of a steel frame is where I lay my head every day with two sheets and two blankets and a pillow that wasn’t issued. Nope, I had to make it. That pretty much describes every bed in prison – just to give you a little insight on how we’re living. But, what makes each bed different? It’s not how the bed looks. It is what’s under the mat: a lot of legal mail and paperwork from the courts, pictures of loved ones showing support, swimsuit magazines and hood books of all titles, state envelopes, newspapers, some version of the Bible, a fairly new jumpsuit only to be worn to visits that is creased and neatly folded to give that “fresh” appearance, request slips to counselors that will never get a reply, broken down razors for a haircut and a line. And there’s that one thing we all hate to see: a calendar. But for some reason we still take a peak – that itself gives us a reason to never come back and put the things we cherish most, under the mat.
“Daddy’s Little Princess” by Phil
You’re Daddy’s little princess.
Your light shines bright,
in the midst of my darkness.
Your voice takes the pain away.
Your laughter can run the rain away.
You’re such an angel.
Your wings are made of gold.
He sent you straight from Heaven.
Baby girl, you warm my soul.
I miss you like the sky misses the sun at midnight,
and that brings me joy, for the sun will kiss the sky
again at sunrise.
And I too, shall kiss those chubby cheeks soon.
You’re my joy.
You’re my life.
You’re my love.
You’re Daddy’s little princess.
“Testimonial” by Brandon
This creative writing class is an outlet that allowed me to vent my frustrations while creating something therapeutic and ultimately timeless from my unique point of view. All my life experiences are connected. I liken it to my Culinary Arts juncture where I was able to utilize my creativity in constructing meals, blending flavors, and designing menus for different functions. By learning that, I was able to understand how all my past involvements enlisted multiple skill sets that could be transferred to my writing. It was like I was mastering the perfect recipe of me. The ingredients being past courses and classes I took, and the values they embody became like spices added in to enhance the product. Ms. Debra helps create an artistic atmosphere where the students can learn as well as create. An environment that transforms into a safe space filled with ideas as well as support. A place where you can learn to trust and be yourself without judgmental eyes of others surrounding you. I’m grateful to be able to enter this state of mind before my release because it has given me a new way to see my daily life in confinement as a series of stories. My regular dramas are now great plots with my fellow offenders, staff – and even volunteers as the characters push my otherwise mundane life to become an adventure. Through writing, I can see how my pain and hardship have also become my saving grace so now I write every day for myself as well as my future to be able to release my frustrations and find the talent within myself is a gift more precious than gold.
“The Recipe of Me” by Brandon
I am the sum of a road long travelled before I was even thought of. The product of two intersecting lives who survived long enough to collide at a certain moment in time. My parents at one point certainly vibed. They married and never divorced but separated before I experienced my first hug, which didn’t matter to me, because I have no doubt I was created out of love. I was born at a wedding on the 28th day of February during a year that leaps. A healthy 12-pound baby nicknamed “Fatboy” with a head full of hair and two front teeth. If you wonder why I talk so much, it’s because I had an early start, by age one I could speak. At two I could draw, and I could walk at the age of three, read a little and ride our dog like a pony through the project halls. I grew up adventurous and full of mischief and thought to have “a gift.” What for? Nobody could seem to say though I was special in certain ways, thought to be ahead of my days. Everybody knew I had a gift, but nobody warmed me. It was a maze. I was good at a lot of things, got enrolled in a lot of classes where I demonstrated a lot of talent, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to find my passion. Art was an ability that just came naturally. I took it for granted and didn’t hone my skills, because it came too easy. Sports were cool but not my coaches. I was treated like a project and once I got hurt – they didn’t need me. I made my classmates laugh, and my teacher called me the “class clown.” The confusion of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations started to bring me down which led me to search for something I eventually found. The streets have a gravitational pull that is all on its own. A whole underworld of enticement can make you leave your home for the unknown. Instant gratification modified my sense of rules and regulations. I took on a whole new education without the text books. My teachers became criminals with wayward looks. I tore down my dreams and reconstructed them as schemes. With nothing to lose, I have everything to prove and so much to gain, but it required some pain. Thus, I left home at fourteen years old under the pretense I was a man full-grown. This was my chance to have status in a society that regarded me as a kid, because in the counter-culture you earned respect by deeds of dirt that you did. But there is fine print on this pamphlet I failed to read. My arrogance that I was gifted made me believe I’d succeed. But, what a tangled web we weave when wants outweigh needs, and I seem to have made all my decisions based on greed. I planted these seeds that formed strong roots, but I was unaware of this new strange fruit. Time hung on the vine like laundry on a clothesline, now tally up your entrance, because you chose to do the crime. At eighteen I was given thirty years to reflect. After seventeen years I can now see the cause and effect. I am the sum of my totals, the project of my recipe. I am whoever I make myself and whatever I choose to be.