by Isa Berliner, JAC Intern
Troy Glover has always been a storyteller. He remembers entertaining his little league baseball team with ghost stories on rides home after games and writing poetic letters to the girls in his elementary school class. “That should have been a sign I sucked because I didn’t get a girlfriend until the 10th grade!” Troy jokes. Over the years, Troy stopped telling stories and writing poems, but during his incarceration, he reconnected with his childhood love of words.
“I had to reteach myself the rules of grammar: like a verb is not a vegetable; a conjunction is not a prisoner whose parent is a junky (con junky’s son). I still struggle, yet as I re-establish my childhood interest, I find a freedom I forgot was at the edge of my grasp. I began to travel to worlds beyond my bars. I began to live vicariously through my literary characters. Yeah, that can get kinda weird when you’re suffering from bouts of soul wrenching loneliness pulling you down to the deepest depths of the nocturnal abyss, AAggghhhh!!! Sorry, got caught up there for a moment. Anyway, I’ve learned that my past playtime has now helped me to grow, mature, and see beauty again.”
When Troy is writing stories, he starts by deciding on a premise, theme and plot in his mind. From there, he can sit down and write the story as it plays out in his head like a movie. This first draft usually ends up with a lot of dialogue, so he goes back through to flesh out all the scenes. Troy shares that not only is this process very productive, but it allows him to be entertained for free. “All I need is a box of popcorn, supersize drink, some BonBons and nachos and I could be set. But I would then charge myself $35 dollars so that wouldn’t be cool.”
Troy describes his creative writing process as a bit more peculiar: “I’m a little embarrassed to share. You promise you won’t laugh? Okay, let’s just make sure nobody else is listening (looking to the left and now the right). For poetry I strip down to my boxers, put on my headphones, then dance until I’m inspired. (Hey, you promised!). Yeah, I’ll listen to country, rock, or R&B. I allow my heart to be open to the words and my spirit to the beat. Hey, my feet move too. Though I dance like Carlton from the show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Still, whatever joy and happiness, sorrow and sadness pierces my being. That’s what I write about. It’s like I’m dancing with my muse.”
For writing novels, Troy has yet another creative approach. “During the early days of my incarceration I would be so lonely that as I laid in my bunk trying to sleep, I would imagine myself as a sword fighting cowboy (Hey I’m from Texas) riding town to town saving the day and getting the girl.” When Troy started having ideas for novels, he would lie down, conjure up characters in his head, and think through their conversation like actors and directors on a movie set, asking his characters for their input on scenes, plot, and setting. “It can get strange at times and the heroine may sneak off the set for a while. But it’s my head and you’re not the boss of me!” After thinking through this conversation, Troy finds he can usually fall into a peaceful sleep and have vivid dreams of the rest of the novel: “my own personal escape.”
Before COVID-19, Troy’s days were extremely busy. He worked 10 hours a day, went to four 2-hour classes a week, and facilitated three 5-hour rehabilitation programs three times a week. He reflects that this left him with very little “ME time,” so while it saddens him to admit it, the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has been a welcome reprieve, allowing Troy to get some much needed sleep. Now, Troy is enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree program and is glad to have the extra time to learn about Academic Writing. “Like, what’s a Critical Eval? Is that when the villain graduates from the evil academy? (Evil-u-ation).”
Troy has faced many hurdles as a writer. He describes how it can be difficult to find places to publish his works as many agencies expect writers to be familiar with the type of literature they publish before submitting pieces. In prison, Troy can’t do that kind of research, so he has no choice but to send his works in “blind.” He often asks publishers to donate a past issue of their magazine so he can learn the type of audience they market to and submit writings accordingly, but many organizations don’t do donations.
Another hurdle Troy describes is the difficulty of getting good critical feedback on his poems and short stories. He shares that most people inside who he could ask to read his work have around an eighth grade education and only read for entertainment. “They’re not equipped to give a critique on narrative flow or plot progression,” he explains. The last challenge Troy describes facing as a writer is not having the funds needed to purchase writing supplies or make copies of his work. Mailing manuscripts to potential publishers can be a heavy burden, so in Troy’s words: “unless you have a means of support (Texas does not pay inmates) it’s hard to maintain a writing lifestyle.”
Despite the many hurdles, obstacles, and rejections Troy has had to overcome as an incarcerated writer, he continues to persevere and find the motivation to write, and for that he credits his greatest inspiration: his two sons.
Troy knew he had a son, but after 16 years in prison, he learned he had a second son. After a DNA test confirmed he was the father, Troy was devastated. “For sixteen years I had been playing penitentiary games to distract myself from the shame of not being in the life of the only child I had. And now I find out that I had neglected two sons. I felt like someone had reached into my chest and pulled out my heart; then they beat it with a hammer, placed it on hot coals, then ran over it with a steam roller. For two days I cried. I could not eat or sleep. I had become the man I promised my mother I would never be — My own father. A man for whom I have not a name.” Unable to pay child support, Troy wanted to be able to give something to his boys. He contemplated “getting into the prison underbelly culture of fast money,” but Troy knew he was not that type of person and it would have been “an affront to the men I was supporting in their life changes.”
One day, Troy saw an interview on Good Morning America about a couple who saved themselves from “financial ruin and home foreclosure” by writing a “steamy” novel. Troy thought to himself, “I could do that,” and joined with a co-author to write around sixty stories like the one on GMA, convinced they had discovered a best-seller. But after six years and what felt like a thousand rejection letters, Troy retired the manuscript. From there, he began to focus on short stories and poetry contests. There were still many rejections but Troy finally found some success and every dollar he won was placed into a savings account to be invested for his kids.
In addition to his poems and short stories, Troy has been working on a novel with the hopes of selling the rights and being able to give more money to his boys and their mothers. He is proud to share that he has finally finished the rough draft of his novel. “I’m doing this not to buy their love or pay for their forgiveness. They don’t even have to keep the money, they can donate it to their favorite charity. I just want to give them something more than my unknown father ever gave me. And to let them know I have always loved them even though we don’t know each other.”
Troy shared his website and asked that if you feel moved to, please buy something or share with a friend.
Ebi ni mo fi okan Here you lay down your heart by Troy Glover What beauty is found in Prison What music from bars do listen Suffering is the sound From the madness around To quench Hope is T.D.C’s mission. There’s a secret people don’t know a sliver of light they won’t show a seedling on the rise fed by the tears and the cries by the blood of our shame it grows. This must stop all the guards do shout take their smiles and change them to pouts deprive, beat, or gas’em with a case, club or lash'em by our boots we must stump it out. Desperately they keep us apart but the songs of our souls passed start though we’re chained to the ground to the skies we are bound though Here You Must Lay Down Your Heart.