My Community

by Brandon

Right outside my narrow penitentiary window is a vibrant never-ending landscape just beyond my reach. Every day, I sit and watch the world move and shake with the grind of living in this new day and age, and I remember.

I am almost two decades removed from my era and the world that I knew. I remember a time when things were different, when my parents listened to grown folk music like Al Green, Sam Cooke and B.B. King and threw late night house parties and got drunk. They did dance routines while I drew pictures and told jokes, and it was all good fun for everyone as I wafted through liquor fumes and cigarette smoke. I remember a time when kids were made to go outside and play. I remember my sister and I would debate all the awful things that would happen if we dared drink.

Then, I remember when it all ended: when court-cases heartaches separated my friendships, when gang banging became my way of life, when the Department of Corrections became my plight, where guns transformed into knives, and wrongs replaced my rights.

I cannot forget solitary confinement and realizing how far down the rabbit hole that I went. Surrounded by the suicidal swings of being buried alive and someone still trying to keep a glimmer of false hope inside, even after my Daddy and sister died. I struggle on, remembering where I came from, what I lived through, and the future that I’m headed toward.

I am meant for greatness. I’m meant for more. I can’t wait until the day I can only remember looking out of this narrow caged-in window with the shitty view and instead embrace the feeling I had leaving behind a mountain of misery that kept my soaring spirt shamefully glued to the floor and having pride with my head held high, leaving out the oppressive penitentiary door.

Brandon A. is an inmate currently living at Plainfield Correctional Facility. He is a participant of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. Once released, he plans on pursuing a career in culinary arts by operating a food truck while continuing writing.

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Intersection

by Debra Des Vignes

Nobody warns you that empathy is an unraveling; that familiarity becomes untied when you’re no longer familiar to yourself – like when you arrive at a place where life gives new meaning. This happens to me each week in prison. I place my keys, purse, and book bag on a scanner for the first guard to search. I pass a second guard station. Then, I walk along a cold concrete floor where emotions are bare, where guard-inmate relationships are distant. I assume the felon position; arms outstretched and sign in with the purpose of my visit. Sounds of steel doors reverberate like a 12-guage shot gun. I settle in a classroom alone, locked in, waiting for eleven men to share their ideas, hopes, thoughts, dreams, and vulnerabilities with me. When I’m having a bad week one offers this advice, “While other people may be able to stop you temporarily, you’re the only one who can stop you permanently.” It’s true, and I use the advice through the week and it gets me through the next. They are at a crossroads in life but so am I.

My students wear tan-colored jumpsuits that button up the front over white T-shirts. Sneakers are all white. My job is to teach them how to write, so I make a list of prompts, but by the second class I find that I am the one learning too. “Scratch” means “money,” “wiped down” means “robbed,” “a dime” means “ten years.” And “The Slam” is the staple food of correctional institutions: Ramen, peanut butter, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and ranch dressing, and I learn how to connect papers by tearing off the ends to make a staple. I ask them to describe an everyday noise that drives them crazy. A favorite holiday. Their first love. Amazed by the ease with which they open-up and their willingness to share secrets – then I lose two students along the way to early release dates – and I feel the loss harder than I expected. And I ask myself, was there more I could have taught them?

Author Samuel Johnson said, “Everything that enlarges the sphere of human powers, that shows man he can do what he thought he could not do, is valuable.” More than the humid smell of eleven bodies joined in a room each week – what permeates this place isn’t the stench of suppressed energy, testosterone buzzing like a thousand-volt live wire – it’s the sacred space we create – a sense of home that moves us beyond these prison halls, away from our past, and away from our troubles – into a place where only light grows.

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.

Phil is an inmate currently living 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.

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 currently living 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.

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.

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.

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.