As the End Comes (a tribute to Alice Walker)

by Mardie Swartz

Mardie Swartz has spent 29 years behind bars in Texas. This poem is about the time approaching when she will finally be beyond bars.

I remember beginnings –

The first time I was molested

Sold, abandoned, raped

The first drink, snort, shot of

Whatever would numb some

of the pain. The first time I

ran, and the first time I

just stayed and closed my eyes.

The first time I tried to hang.

 

I recall pissing on myself

In fear when I entered jail

at sixteen. The smell of

vomit, stale bodies, and

broken lives seeping into my

skin and hair as

I huddled in a corner

trying to be invisible again.

 

I can still feel the smooth

slice and burn of steel parting

flesh. The pulse of my lifeblood

racing forth when I tried to

Give the state back my seventy-five years –

The easy way…….

A cascading red necklace

made of anguish and despair.

 

As days became months,

became years

then decades which melded into

monotonous monologues with different

faces but familiar themes,

hope became dust motes in a sunbeam –

briefly glimpsed, but intangible,

Weightless

Subjective

Meaningless

 

And yet.

With the changing of the

calendars, the changes in

the mirror, came the

changes in my soul –

Emerging from the shattered

mess of degradation and shame

arose a survivor, a warrior

an unconquerable heart

who dared to look up,

lift my head,

and piece together a life amid the dross and dregs

of the irredeemable.

 

As the end comes,

I realize

everything I’ve heard

about it

is false.

 

Betrayal no longer matters

Hatreds are forgotten,

forgiven. Abrupt

Partings for weird reasons

are resolved, and love

comes crashing against

my heart’s door.

 

There is no longer fear

of the unknown

but a gripping, relentless

excitement

as months become days,

become hours,

minutes,

seconds –

 

And I walk out the gates

to a new beginning

toward my own

until now unimaginable

destiny

without fences and bars

I Wanted To Remind Us We Were People

by Elana Pritchard

About the guest blogger: Elana Pritchard is a cartoonist in Los Angeles.  Before she landed in jail she worked as an animator on Ralph Bakshi’s film, Last Days of Coney Island.  She is currently doing a Kickstarter to finish her animated cartoon, The Circus: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/341471863/the-circus

It’s been about a week since the comics I did inside the LA County jail system were first published in the LA Weekly, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the response.  People from all over the world have written to me expressing their support for what I have done and their contempt for inhumane practices for incarcerated peoples everywhere.  I have been in communication with the LA County Sheriff’s department and they have told me that due to these comics they have issued a new policy that all inmates must be given showers within 24 hours of entering the jail.  We are scheduled to meet next week to discuss further improvements.  And throughout all of this it seems the original, humble message of these comics is sticking: that we were people.  Even though we had a barcode on our wrist with a number and were called “bodies” by the staff, we were still people.

Many people in jail are still on trial and haven’t even been found guilty or innocent yet.  Many people made mistakes that you or I have made before in private, only they got caught.  There were mothers in there that missed their children.  There were kind people in there that cared about the arts and cared about each other.  I drew these comics to make us all laugh and remind us that even though there was a whole group of of people with badges and better clothes than we had telling us we didn’t matter… we DID matter and we WERE PEOPLE.

In that the comics were successful, and for that I am proud.

Elana Pritchard

All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015

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“Mr. Jailer” – A Freedom Song

By Madeleine Twyman

About the guest blogger: Madeleine Twyman is a Singer/Songwriter/Dancer from Toronto, Canada. Madeleine trained at The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City and was a member of the Martha Graham Ensemble. Ms. Twyman’s original music and choreography earned her an Underground Music Award nomination for her live show ‘Madeleine’s Mind’ which graced stages at The BB Kings Blues Club, Webster Hall and The ING NYC Marathon. Madeleine blends music, dance and social commentary to empower as she entertains.

Since a child I have been fascinated by prison. An idea even then, that I was unable to wrap my head around. The caging of a man, of a mind, of a soul.

I could go on and describe to you all of society’s ailments and explain the heinousness of the prison industrial complex as I plead with you to heed the undeniable stats and facts of the disparities in the justice system…

But alas the audience comes to be entertained and I, the troubadour, the artiste, the performer must be beguiling and clever in my approach. In today’s fast food music industry any form of unpleasant truth could be mistaken for an irritating self-reminder.

Martha Graham said that Artists are messengers of God, and I do not disagree.  Art, whatever the medium, is about telling the truth. It is our confession of the best and of the worst in us. Radical art is the kind of amazing work that The Prison Arts Coalition dedicates itself to with their countless examples of the healing power of this transformative gift. Art is the inspiration that lights the match of action in unity. We need art work that vitalises, galvanises and enlightens. Art that gives a voice to the voiceless and exposes the wrongful persecution of our brothers and sisters – this is what I have tried to depict with my song “Mr. Jailer”.

Ancient Egyptians believed the body to be a prison for the soul, and I do not disagree. I explore this theme in my song where we are all enslaved by our egos, the ‘jailer’ of our minds. What is the root of our mental captivity and what is our escape plan from the prison of our socially conditioned thinking? Questions I hope to engage the listener in as they have their own internal dialogue.

The man I describe in my song is a real friend of mine. His name is Manual Pinero, but he is just Manny to me. Charming, intelligent, kind.  I looked up to him in many ways. His incarceration affected me deeply and truthfully, this song is for him.

Mr. Jailer

New single off Madeleine’s Mind forthcoming EP ‘Chinese Bamboo’

Written/Composed/Arranged by M. Twyman, P. Bardos (SleptonStudios)

Produced by Jon FX Music INC (credits include Gyptian, Mavado, Shabba Ranks)

Mixed by Grammy Award Winning  James Bonzai Caruso

Mastered at Sterling Sound NYC

City Prison Writers

by David Coogan

With a new bag of pens and some legal pads, I invited the men to write their ways out. I did not teach the guys who could not write their names—the ones with deficits, disorders, dementia, or some intractable disaffection. There were no serial killers, complete psychos or pedophiles. I didn’t go to reach the unreachable. I didn’t want to be a hero. My currency was common sense.  I refused to believe they were always and forever products of some environment. But I also refused to believe they owned every choice that got made in their lives. Five months into the workshop, a core group had emerged: Ron Fountain, Stan Craddock, Andre Simpson, Greg Carter, Chuck Hicks, Kelvin Belton, Naji Mujahid and Dean Turner. These were the ones who kept writing after our time at the jail had come to an end, sending me drafts from prison, keeping me up to date on their progress into their new lives even when they found it hard to write. And these were the ones who helped expand the idea of the workshop: in prison, Kelvin sent Terence Scruggs; Naji sent Brad Greene, Kyle Brown and Tony Martin. Phase Two, the correspondence course had began like that.