Art room

I sat outside the Art room running the instrument check-out program, mainly guitars. It it the weekend and AA and NA programs are run inside the Art room on Saturdays.
Geese, first thing in the mornings, before the geese hater comes around, come to greet me and eat bread and apples. Baby spring sparrows come to get some crumbs.
Ken, a co-worker of mine in the Art room who runs the blues band, sat outside the fence composing a blues tune, strumming on a nylon string acoustic guitar.
Across from the Art room people are going upstairs to visiting, below the stairs the holding cells have two prisoners in them. They were cellies, one accused the other of a sexual assault. Word is it did not happen, the two prisoners just could not get along.
Monday in the Art room, there will be Marco's rock'n'roll band from 8 to 11 am, and then Ken's blues band from 11.30 til 1:30 or 2 pm. And after everyone's gone I'll sit outside the Art room and ponder and hang out with a bird or two. August 22, will also be my birthday. I use to look forward to those, and enjoy meatloaf instead of a cake.


What's a day like?

What is my day like? Nothing big, I get up at 4:30 and do my stomach work, while still on the thin metal bunk. I ponder for a moment then get down and make coffee. I get my books and paperwork ready for the art room. I get my sack lunch and breakfast is passed out. I save the bread for my bird friends; sparrows, black birds, pigeons, and geese, sometimes I save an apple or two for the geese.
At the art room, I wait outside on a milk crate and commune with Mother Earth, I wake up with her and my bird friends. I share my bread with them and play the flute for them. Sometimes humans come by and tell how splendid it is to hear the flute at dawn. Occasionally I talk to passer-byers usually about my flute playing. When that happens I get humble and shy. I prefer silence and the sweet tunes of Mother Earth.

Prison days

I spend most of the day sitting outside the art room where you see me on the cover of ”Longer Ago”. I feed the birds there and answer art questions by other prisoners or prison staff and I also run the instrument check out program where prisoners can check out guitars and go on the small yard and play them. I read out there in front of the art room, sit and ponder and of course play the flute. I commune with plenty of bird friends there. I go inside the art toom to run my prose class and my poetry class and for the book club but they don't meet that often. I also go inside for Jim's graphic art class or to listen to my co-worker's art drawing class, music theory or guitar class. I go in sometimes to listen to the small R&B group, the Blues band or Rock band. I go when we have guest poets or writers or other artists from the free world. I also go whenever there is a concert by fellow prisoners or with someone from the streets. I like working on the stage carrying the heavy stuff, but someone else must hook up the wires and cords.
Sometimes I sweep and mop out in the corridor where the art room is located. Actually I sweep almost every day which allows me to get out of the cell earlier because when I go for my finger stick diabetes check in the morning I just stay out and commune with nature before most of the other prisoners come out.
In the evenings I'm in the cell. We are allowed phone calls, 10 minutes almost every night and often in the day time. I think it would be cool to have a Twitter site if I can find someone in USA who wants to run it. Then I could twitter every day.
They count us every day between 4 and 5 pm. They no longer serve red meat and the vegetables are less than fresh. No red sugar or anything that taste good. They do allow food sales from the free world where we can get good food once a quarter (four times a year).

Delicious names

I can go off on the system and the food here is still horrible and getting worse. Soups from the store and pouch fish is what we live on, and the stuff we can get in our packages once a quarter. If one looks at the state prison menu the food sounds great with great names - delicious names, succulent names, but the vegetables have no freshness to them, the fruit is often rotten or of the poorest quality. The meat, chicken or beef they serve has no chicken or beef in it. The pancakes, waffles or oat meal mash has the same taste as watered down card-board. No citrus is served. The bread is mouldy and never fresh.


By Heart

At nineteen,one cannot grasp the depth of a no-parole life sentence.There is nothing to compare it to, other than death. At nineteen , one does not think he will do a life sentence. A life sentence does not sink in immediately. It can take seven to ten years to begin to understand. Life without parole is too big to grasp, or come to grips with, in the moment.
I sat down to breakfast my first morning in prison in a dining hall stuffed with prisoners. The noise and the mood of the place was maddening, like stepping into a huge, dark cave full of hungry bats. I could not find any familiar spot inside of myself able to relate to the bars, the concrete, and the steel, to the guns, and the guards barking out orders to hurry and eat.

I was ignorant about all prison ways. I came from the desert, the natural world – purple and red clay mountains, open spaces and there was nothing natural about cells. Even the air was tainted, and twisted with unrealness, fleeting hope, and violent unrest. I was naive, and also unconnected to any inner spirit. But my will to survive took over. I learned quickly to keep my laughter, smiles, and feelings inside and hidden behind a mask. Silence and dead-eyed frowns kept the strangers and guards at bay.
Besides, what cause was there for smiles and laughter? I had killed someone. There was nothing to talk about and no one to talk to, no one to hold my hand, nothing to dream or hope for. Never had I been so alone in a crowd. I felt I walked among bodies in one dimension while I strolled in another.
What could I compare this new life to? Perhaps the flood control tunnels under railroad station we roamed in as kids, the way those tunnels shrunk and grew darker and more suffocating the deeper we descended. Could I compare my life in prison to Campy, the greyhound that caught five rabbits, but died slowly at home under the shade tree never catching his breath? Or could I compare this excistence to hiding under our green house? I watched everything,then, a completely unseen little boy. As though I was invisible, which I wanted to be.”

Excerpt from “By Heart - Poetry, Prison, And Two Lives” a double memoir by Spoon Jackson and Judith Tannenbaum, published 2010