“Yesterday” by Terry S.

“Yesterday” by Terry S.

I am a son, a brother, an uncle, a dad, and also a grandpa — and my days and nights are full of sighs. My heart is a thirst. I sit here, a smoldering fire of pain. Lonely, but here. The air of my surroundings grieves. I look out the window at the leaves about the wind’s swift feet. My soul feeds on the memories. I drink sorrow in cups filled with tears. I mourn for imagined joys that were denied. A place where even grief can weep. To feel the public’s hateful stare, as I walk through this narrow space. At length, I exist within this cage. Will I go unspotted to the grave? To pass from life unheard, unseen, until silence settles over me. Lord of Love and Sympathy: is sorrow the consequence? For the moment, an interval of quietness fills the room, as I lay this day. Fighting with thoughts of death and life, as the scalding tears run down my cheek. I pray for sleep constantly.

Finally, my tears fall fast and free.

“Five years in the free world after an 18-year prison sentence” by Branden A., contributing IPWW writer

Five years ago, I left prison after eighteen years incarcerated, which were life-changing years. Gone was the skinny teen with the “no fucks given” attitude, who focused on emotions and anger. Gone was the desire to have it all like fast cash and a street-mentality and lifestyle. I’ve replaced that lifestyle with a more levelheaded approach and humble practice. After eighteen years behind bars, the world had changed, and so had I.

My first day out of prison was like a dream. Imagine your greatest day, something akin to a birthday because you are celebrated, but also like a family reunion because it’s nothing but loved ones in your presence.

I soaked it all in and shook hands while cherishing every moment of it and prayed for this sweet dream to never end.

The next day, I got a job. It was a role in food services, and I was proud to have gotten it – especially after everyone told me how hard it would be to get a job. Securing a job hadn’t been hard for me. This pattern of jumping back and forth from food service to factory became a constant.

I would do six months at one, then find another company and roll with them. I was looking for a spark in employers that really was not there. I started to understand how people adjust to the everyday grind and do the best they can. You endure because you have bills, responsibilities, and other obligations that must be met. No one prepared me for my return. I felt unprepared.

So I took the bitter with the sweet, learned the lessons from my mistakes as well as others, found purpose, and educated myself to be worthy and ready for the blessings that I knew would come.

I disciplined myself so once free I would be able to resist any temptations and not get caught back up in a system that has no understanding or forgiveness for my circumstances. But I wasn’t prepared for more struggle. I realized how hard it is for the everyday person to juggle the stress of life. It is a part of life.

Now I am a regular working man with a complex past. I became a symbol of change and growth for those that know me. It’s been five years since I’ve been released after 18 years in prison and have been doing well.

I have enjoyed traveling the country and now have a son. My writing has been consistent and an inspiration to others who want to process the past, showing others how to pick up after a fall. It has not been easy rebuilding my life, but it has also not been impossible. Looking back, the best advice I can offer others is that it all starts with what’s inside of you. You must believe in yourself, do the hard work, and dream big. Anything is possible. I was once caged. I took a creative writing class through Indiana Prison Writers Workshop, and that sparked my ability to write, and it was something I was good at. After five years of freedom, I’m doing more than alright.

“Reflections” by Steven S. (Alabama)

Everyone has a story. I had often heard that. I’d also heard everyone could write a great story. That I wasn’t so sure of. Now, through this program, I’ve seen that each of us has creativity and many stories within us.

These classes have given us the tools and the opportunity to develop that talent. Not everyone gets this chance. Because we have, on behalf of the Advance Creative Writing class I want to thank Debra for giving us this opportunity through the Prison Writers Workshop. And I want to thank Amy for being here every week, teaching us, guiding us, giving us the tools, and maybe more importantly, the encouragement that we’ve needed.

I’ve learned, gained confidence, and grown tremendously from these classes and also from my classmates. I’ve used elements of their writing styles to improve my own: imagery from Carlos, reality from Ladaniel, honesty from Larry, timing or pentameter from Billy, word selection from Demetrius, fantasy elements from Chris and plotting from Julius. Each one has taught me something valuable, so I want to thank my classmates for what I’ve learned from them.

To Nate, to Chris, to Randy, and to all the other folks with CORE, thank you for the work you do to make this happen. And on behalf of all of us, again and especially, to Debra, to Amy, and to Lindamarie—this is life-changing!

Steven S.

“I am a prison” by Billy S. (Alabama)

I am a prison. I’m damp, and I’m cold. I hold men who are young and men who are old. I’m surrounded by fences and gates that have locks; my walls are made of concrete blocks. I am a prison. I’m feared by all. I’ll give you a chill when you hear me call. Your name becomes a number, your face just another. I’ll show you no pity, boy. I’m not your mother. I am a prison. I’m designed to be rough. I’m where society houses its tough. Nobody has beat me, though many have tried. Mostly, they all still remain inside. I have no answers, so don’t ask me why. I put tears in your children’s eyes. I am a prison where nobody wants to be. I confine men who once were free. I control their pace. I slow down their stride. I strip them of their dignity. I take their pride. Like an animal you might put in a cage, I contain these men and watch them age. I am a prison. I’m full of despair. I can be a man’s worst nightmare. I have been here for many years with loud slamming doors. I am a prison; a place you don’t want to live. I’ve so much to take, but nothing to give.

Billy S.

“Just Tell Yourself” by Christopher S.

Let go of the wanting.
Find the joy.
Live for the moment.
Be where you are.

Can you control it?
Don’t deny pain.
Let it come.

Face it.
Feel it.

Let it come and go
like the river,
like the flowers,
like the rain,
like sparrows in a field.

Don’t worry about it.
Why worry?
Paint a smile.

Just tell yourself this.

Try again.
Nothing to it but to do it.

– by Christopher S.

My poem “Just Tell Yourself” contains the mantras I use to get through the pain of my past. I’ve made a lot of mistakes during my life which has led me to recovery and Buddhism. I’ve also been gifted with two amazing little girls. These mantras allow me to focus on the present so that my future is possible.

“When We Look with Love” – by Kate Jones, IUPUI student

(A visual school project based on IPWW prose)

I started the journey of this painting project with nothing but trepidation and curiosity, an eagerness to find within the words of others a glimpse into the grandness of life. I can tell you now I found that and so much more. These past few months have been spent reading and re-reading the works of the students of the Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. After nearly 30 hours of work, I present to you a visual representation of the heart you’ll find in their writings. I don’t think we spend as much time as we should believing in the power of our words, how they provide for us a way to remember and to commune with ourselves, our pasts. Or that, in general, we don’t listen enough; sometimes to ourselves, sometimes to each other.When we do, we see what is ugly but also what is beautiful. I know they exist together. These writings, these souls, are a testament to that.

I have learned so much from the writers of the IPWW. From Chris, from David, Andre, Thomas, Greg, and so many more. Thank you for sharing your hearts with us. I won’t pretend that this art piece is revolutionary or saying something someone else hasn’t already said. But that’s because this isn’t about me. It’s about us, it’s about the writers whose lives are presented, in some small way, in this art piece. It’s about the captivity of our minds and bodies, of social and physical death, of power and control. But really, it’s about the power of words and the power of creating, communing with our pasts and presents, our futures, our families. This is me, taking a small step in the process of engaging with the world around me, the people I exist in this world with, those who we might not think to not forget. We can’t afford to misconstrue our sight of one another. I want you to take it in, look at each image and each word. Go back to the writings they come from. What can we learn from the artifacts, the ruminations of thought and mind from those who have written the imagery you see before you? What can one learn, finding out for themselves, what these images might be if they were to look into their lives and their minds as the students of the IPWW have? What do these images, from the hearts and minds of those asked to focus themselves on a prompt of exploration and of healing, say to us? When they’re asked to give themselves over, in words, to the lives they have lived and the stories they own.

When they’re given space to go back, or stay in the now, and just create, just learn, just focus, just listen to what their souls have to say, to look back on or forward to. Words are powerful and so is the power of listening? Please look. Please listen.

“I Remember” by Gregory S.

“I remember the clouds, the air of mother nature, the trees and birds. I remember my family and freedom and the excitement of doing what I want. I remember home. I remember cooking in the kitchen with family near. I remember going to work and being a provider. I remember being me.

“Dear Younger Me” by LaQuinton L.

Dear Younger Me: A Letter

This isn’t a letter to forewarn you or alter any decision you’ll make in the future. Instead, this is a letter intended to inform you of the hidden jewels that lie deep within you, undisturbed, like the treasure from a wrecked ship at the bottom of the ocean. My hope is for this letter to act as a compass that’ll assist you in finding these riches. There are many different elements that the ocean will bring to you along your journey.

There are the storms that hit the surface tossing you to and fro. In those times, remember to keep your faith and peace amongst the chaos. There’s darkness that surrounds you as you dive further away from the surface. But in that darkness is where you’ll find the light to guide you. There’s the pressure that comes along with being in the deepest depths of the ocean. That pressure will produce the diamonds within you. And most importantly — always remember that you are the ocean and the explorer.

“Prison is home” by Thomas B.

Time cannot be undone. Time holds our memories hostage for the duration of our lives. Those of us who are serving time suffer from this truth. When the cell door closes and you hear the final turn of an officer’s keys, you feel the loneliness. There are moments when the silence plays with your mind. You feel weak, needy, and starved for interaction. You feel soft and ashamed because of these thoughts, so ashamed that your mind wanders to the act of suicide. You contemplate where to hang the sheet, but then you feel like a coward for lacking the courage to finish the action. Once again, you’re left with your loneliness and silence. However, prison can offer more than just punishment. It can offer more than just being locked in a coffin, left to our own thoughts, and trying to understand how we became a part of the living dead. Sometimes, something amazing occurs. The same turn of a key that locked you in this coffin can also free you from your thoughts. It’s a new day! You step out of your cell and you are met with laughter, handshakes, and hugs. You not only get to witness, but to live and experience the compassion, empathy, and love us prisoners have for one another. Camaraderie—our version of the word, anyway. It means how we care for and look after each other. At times, I hate this environment. There is still pain, deception, and stereotypical views. Yet, I understand that prison has helped me become the man that I am today, a man of pride and integrity. I would have died young if not for prison. Did I want to come here? Hell no! Are you crazy? However, prison did what no house, no apartment, no family member could do. It placed me around others like myself—broken, damaged, and in search of something better.

Prison gave me a place to belong. Finally, I have a home.

“An early memory of Alabama” by Steven S.

It was summer and I was 5 ½ years old.  We had just moved to Alabama but not to an Air Force base.  I’d only known life as a military brat, and now something was different.  And I don’t mean the gnats.  I’d never seen one before and now they were everywhere.  Only the breeze could keep them away.  That breeze carried the smell of the Gulf.  We were near the beach but not right on it.  So different from Texas.  My parents, my older sisters, a younger brother, me, and a horse named Cameo.  We’d moved here near where my dad was from.  My mom had lived in Alabama, too.  When she first came from England, it was to an Air Force base in Selma.  So, now that we were here, why weren’t they happy?  There was a cloud over my parents.  So tense.  Was it my fault?  I didn’t understand. 

Then they told us Dad was leaving.  He’d brought us to where he felt we’d be safe, but I didn’t feel safe.  I didn’t understand why he had to leave.  Where was Vietnam anyway?  Things were different, but I didn’t yet know that this was the end of the life I’d known.  That my parents would never be together again and would get divorced as soon as Dad got back.  That I would never understand, and that I would spend years thinking it was my fault.  That’s how kids are though. 

A lot has changed since that summer in 1967.  One thing hasn’t…I still hate what that war did to my family.

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