Heaven

by Daniel B.

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.

Daniel B. is an inmate currently living at Plainfield Correctional Facility. He is a participant of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. Once released, he plans to finish his sentence on house arrest and get back in touch with his church family.

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Remembrance

by Chris L.

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.

Chris L. is an inmate currently living at Plainfield Correctional Facility. He is a participant of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. Once released, he plans to share his soul in the form of songs and storytelling and giving back in any way that will help hurting hearts heal.

Ugly Beauty

by Chris L.

My ugly beauty is like a mirror with multiple cracks – that makes one flaw “seem” like ten, but if you really look at yourself then you’ll find what I found in my reflection – the sobriety that comes which no longer being drunk on the perfection of the past. That’s why my growth is constant because my whole existence is defined by the vibration of a school bell. I never know what the next classroom holds. And some of my greatest growth happens whenever I say, “I didn’t see that coming at all!”

Chris L. is an inmate currently living at Plainfield Correctional Facility. He is a participant of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. Once released, he plans to share his soul in the form of songs and storytelling and giving back in any way that will help hurting hearts heal.

Dimensions

By Albert H.

I sat up on many gloomy nights staring at the cell walls. And the small ray of hope ebbed itself through me in a small cell where you are able to only 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 well 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 in California, 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.

Albert H. is an inmate currently living at Plainfield Correctional Facility. He is a participant of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. Once released, he plans on continuing to write and spend time with family.

On why I work with inmates and chose to submit their writings to the Spirit & Place Festival blog’s 2018 theme: “Intersection”

by Debra Des Vignes

They notice birds that sing prison songs in plantation fields to condemned men with hopeless dreams. In 2017, I founded Indiana Prison Writers Workshop, a creative writing program for those living in Indiana correctional facilities, where I lead a group of inmates through different writing prompts. The questions they ask: “How have our lives come to this and what will we find waiting for us on the other side?”

As I meet these men in their brown jumpsuits each Sunday, their lives intersecting with mine, I am struck by their poise, candor, and eagerness to express their vulnerabilities. It’s true, the sliver of light that appears through a window in an airless room, gives one an odd perspective of the world, and I no longer observe them through my narrowing eyes. We write about crime, the lives that stretch ahead of them, and the intersections we all face each day. At times, the walls around us feel heavy, but we persevere – unearthing deep emotional issues that were once too painful to let out. At times we jump back into our shells and silence settles among us like the weight of the sweltering sun on a muggy day, until we feel light again.

There’s a reason why so many inmates use storytelling as a coping mechanism, a tool to get through the day, the weeks, the months, the years. Being in prison strips one of their “self” where each day, from morning until bedtime, there is a fight to maintain one’s sanity. At times, Chris’ eyes go wide. “Oh, man, is this class for me?” He describes the writing program in this way: “We were immediately given permission to see ourselves as majestic creatures who are allowed to come and go as we please, fly free, and feel the wind beneath our wings. As caged birds we sing our little hearts out!” he proclaims in awe of the freedom he was given. “Now I’m writing a novel.”

These men are not numbers assigned by the Department of Corrections, but true artists. Writing builds confidence. It gives them hope at a time when hope is the one thing keeping them alive. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a new life, where fast-paced tempos once matched a hectic pace of a life, gives way to a calming melody of self-reflection. And where birds, once invisible in some trees, are now squawking. We’re all at an impasse.

In 1950, there were 265,000 prisoners in the U.S. Today, more than 2.3 million inmates sit behind bars in federal, state, and county prisons and jails around the country.