Category: Writing by Prisoners

Mar 12 2014

Poem of the Day: No Lady by Anonymous

Political Prisoner (1976) by Rupert García.    Smithsonian American Art Museum

Political Prisoner (1976) by Rupert García. Smithsonian American Art Museum

No Lady
Prison didn’t improve me none.
There was ten of us girls in the county jail
five white, five black awaitin’ trial for sellin shit.
The white girls, they all on probation.
Us black girls, we all go to Dwight. Me, three months gone.
An I ask myself sittin on them concrete benches in the county.
How come? How come me an my sisters goin to jail
An the white girls goin back to college?
Their mothers come in here an weep — they get probation.
My mama come in here – nose spread all over her face — she weepin too
But I goin to Dwight
An I think about that — But I don’t come up with no answers.
Ain’t got no money for a lawyer.
Hell, I couldn’t even make bail.
Met the defender five minutes before my trial
An I done what he said. Didn’t seem like no trial to me, not like T.V.
I didn’t understand none of it.
Six months to a year they give me…
They ride us out there in a bus.
See my playin’ the game — goin to charm class an the body
dynamics, (to learn my Feminine Role)
An I take keypunchin, an I do real well.
My boyfriend, he come to see me twice, and then he stop comin’
An when I have the baby, I give it up.
Weren’t nothin else for me to do.
They give me twenty-five dollar when I get outta there
An I wearin my winter clothes in July, an everyone knows where I comin from
Six month I try to find a job, make it straight.
But the man who give the job, he say I flunk that test
Sheeit man, I didn’t flunk that test.
You think I’m a criminal. I done my time, but you ain’t reclassified me.
I always be a criminal to you…
One of the counselors say I “mentally ill,” I needs treatment.
Two hours a week they give me group therapy.
The other hundred and fifteen, they lock me up — like an animal.
An I ain’t got no neurosis noways.
Sheeit, it’s this place make you ill…
Other night, I took sick with the cramps;
There weren’t no doctor ’til mornin.
He poke me in the sore spot an say,
“Girl — You jus wanna go to the hospital. Get you some tea an toast.”
Tea an toast!
My girlfriend — she die of diabetes, before they do anythin for her.
She come outta here in a box. Looks like it won’t be no different for me.
That’s how it is, Lady.
No. Prison didn’t improve me none.

– anonymous, reprinted from The Chicago Seed (1981).

Feb 23 2014

No Way Out by Dollree Mapp

I’ve written about Dollree Mapp here in the past. Today, I wanted to share more of her prison writing.

No Way Out [Source: Off Our Backs, February 1979]

On entering Bedford’s prison, she sought an interview with the Warden. After knocking lightly on the door which read”ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE” — and answer, she cautiously turned the knob and the door opened to another door which read, “RIGHT” or “LEFT.” Believing in righteousness, she chose the door marked “RIGHT.” Through that door there were two other doors which read “WARDEN” or “ASSISTANT WARDEN.” Wanting to fully understand what she would be confronted with while in prison, she naturally chose the door marked “Warden.” Upon entering that door through dismay, she ran smack into two more doors which read “PUNITIVE” or “REHABILITATION.” Now, thoroughly confused, and stopping to distinguish between the two doors, she reluctantly chose the door marked “REHABILITATION” as she remembered the pompous judge telling her she needed to be rehabilitated.

WOW! she thought, “At last, I’ve made it, no more doors.” When she entered the “REHABILITATION” door, feeling that the Warden would let her know what her “RIGHTS” were, there were once again two more doors which read “BLACK” or “WHITE.” EUREKA! she shouted. Being Black, she hurried to the door marked “BLACK” thinking that all her questions would be answered and she would let the Warden know what she wanted. Upon entering the door marked “BLACK,” she fell thirteen stories to her DEATH!

by dollree mapp

Jan 28 2014

Poem of the Day: Clandestine Kisses

Clandestine Kisses
by Marilyn Buck

for Linda and her lover

blooming on lips
which have already spoken
and now await
stolen clandestine kisses

A prisoner kisses
she is defiant
she breaks the rules
she traffics in contraband women’s kisses.

A crime wave of kisses
Bitter sweet sensuality
flouting women-hating satraps
in their prison fiefdoms
that love
cannot be arrested.

1990, Washington, D.C. Jail

Dec 28 2013

10 Creative Ways That Chicagoans Addressed Violence in 2013

** This is my final recap of 2013…

Chicago has been in the spotlight over the past few years as the epitome of urban violence. The city has been dubbed the “murder capital of the U.S.” even though this is actually untrue. I’ve written and will continue to write about the various organizing and advocacy efforts by Chicagoans to address interpersonal and structural/systemic violence. Lots of people in this city are working to address violence; many in very creative ways.

Today, I want to focus on some of the creative interventions to address violence in Chicago that I’ve either been part of or have otherwise come to my attention in 2013. Thousands of people were engaged through these projects. There were of course many other efforts that I left off this list. I invite you to submit your suggestions in the comments section. Think about how you can contribute to ending violence in your own communities and then get to work!

1. 500campaign

From NBC 5 Chicago:

After the murder totals in Chicago started racking up after January of this year, South Side native Bryant Cross decided he’d seen enough.

The 28-year-old speech communications professor started thinking of effective ways to spread an anti-violence message and came up with the 500campaign, head shots of Chicagoans with the slogan “Angry Because Over 500 Youth Were Murdered in Chicago.”

**Note: The 500 youth number cited is not at annual number. Over the course of 5 years about 500 young people under 20 years old were victims of homicide in Chicago. One is too many but it’s important to be clear about what these numbers represent.

500campaign (2013)

500campaign (2013)

See more photos on pinterest or instagram.

Below is the founder of the 500campaign, Bryant Cross, talking about his campaign:

2. How Long Will I Cry? A Play and A Book

According to the Steppenwolf Theatre website:

“Woven together from interviews gathered by journalist Miles Harvey and his students at DePaul University, How Long Will I Cry? provides raw, truthful insight into the problem of youth violence. By giving voice to those who know the tragic consequences of violence first-hand—families of the victims, residents of crime-ridden neighborhoods and especially young people—How Long Will I Cry? inspires all of us to join together in search of a solution.”

The play was performed for a month earlier this year and the stories have now been compiled into a book that is available for free to Chicagoans.

“The book contains interviews with 35 people, told in Studs Terkel-style first person: current and former gang members, parents and siblings of young people who have been killed, and cops, lawyers, nurses, and community activists who are working to stop the violence.”

How Long Will I Cry – Book Trailer from Big Shoulders Books on Vimeo.

3. Uproar Chicago: A Community-Curated Audio Collage About Chicago Violence

I initiated this project and solicited support and help from friends to execute it. We asked Chicagoans to summarize their feelings about violence in one sentence. We used a central hotline to gather responses from people across Chicago. The responses were assembled into audio collages. In late April, community members gathered to listen to the audio collage and to participate in a peace circle where we could discuss our experiences and the impacts of violence in our lives.

I talk more about the project here. Below is the main audio collage.

Visit Soundcloud to listen to all of the audio from this project.

Read more »

Nov 12 2013

Poem of the Day: Son

By Jessica Muniz J
From recent issue of Captured Words

When I think of you,
I think of your eyes,
How they are sparkling pools of blue,
That always calm me when I see you.
When I think of you,
I think to myself how much strength you give me,
You are my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,
Just knowing that you are waiting for me
To be home,
Helps me to carry on.
Ever since that day you left,
Loneliness had taken its toll.
You are a very special part of my life,
A life that has had its twists and turns,
I know I have missed out on a lot,
But somehow I know that I will be given another chance,
To prove that I really am a wonderful mom.
When I think of you, Son,
You lift up my spirits.
So many of my smiles depend on you.
You bring me so much happiness,
I hope you will never forget,
Not even for a single day,
How wonderful you are to me.
When I think of you, Julian,
I am sorry that I hurt you,
It’s something I must live with every day.
I never meant to do those things to you.
I want to show you a side of me you do not know.
Julian, my Son, you are my reason for all that I do.

Nov 05 2013

Poem of the Day: Chained and Bound

Chained and Bound
by Marvin X
A song based on how prisoners are brought to federal court “chained and bound”

You got me chained and bound
But you can’t keep me down
I was born to be free
To have my liberty
By any means necessary

Our time has come
Our day os here
Black man stand
Have no fear
Dare to struggle
Dare to win
Then the world
Will be ours again
You got me chained and bound
But you can’t keep me down.

The devil is a paper tiger
He rules with the gun
But there will be no law and order
Until black justice is done
You got me chained and bound
But you can’t keep me down.

Come, My Brothers, seize the time
No more dope, no more wine
No no no/no no no — No!
You got me chained and bound
But you can’t keep me down
Come, My Brothers, break the chains
There can be no peace til freedom reigns

You got me chained and bound
But you can’t keep me down
No, no no/no no no — No!

Sep 28 2013

Poem of the Day: Sun Up to Sun Down

Sun Up to Sun Down
by Timmy

From sun up to sun down I think about how I’m doing 8 to 9.
I sit in my cell and pray to God that I ignore negativity so I won’t catch time.
I think about the situation I put my parents through and all the money they spent when they could have spent the money on the loans they signed.
As day by day goes by I hear and see the same people eating nasty food and going to school all year round. I wish I could have changed my mind.
I sit in my cell and think of that one girl, the one that hugged and kissed me all the time.
I wish I could go back in time to realign my mind.
I sit in my cell and think about how my life would be like if I haven’t committed a crime.
So now you see, I’m doing 8 to 9.

Poet: Timmy
Facility: St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility, St. Augustine, FL

This poem can be found in a new anthology titled “Words Unlocked.”

Sep 11 2013

Poem of the Day: Attica Reflections


Attica Reflections
By Hersey Boyer

It isn’t strange to awake in the silence
Of midnights,
To hear MEN weeping, in harsh and gravelly voices
That turn away your lies,
They have witnessed the slaughter
And heard your songs of merriment
As you filled your cups with blood.
Anoint yourselves in madness,
Dance with Hitler’s ghost.

Born: August 19, 1941. Education: 9th grade Junior High School. Birthplace: New York City, Harlem. Time: Life. Desire in life: to be a man wherever I am!

You can access several resources about the Attica Uprising (including a primer and zine that I co-wrote) here.

Sep 09 2013

Attica Prison Uprising: Day 1 (September 9, 1971)

From Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer written by me with contributions from Lewis Wallace and illustrations by Katy Groves:

September 8, 1971:
There was an altercation between correctional officers and two prisoners. Later that day, correctional officers led two prisoners whom they believed to be responsible to Housing Block Z (HBZ), the disciplinary housing unit where inmates were locked down for twenty-three hours per day. Ray Lamorie, one of the two, had not been involved in the altercation. Observers saw officers strike Leroy Dewer, the other prisoner, while taking him to HBZ. Prisoners believed that HBZ was a site of routine, brutal beatings by correctional officers.

atticaphoto4September 9, 1971:
The revolt begins. Prisoners subdue Lieutenant Robert Curtiss in a tunnel that divided the prison yard into quarters. A group of fifteen to twenty-five prisoners eventually overpowered four guards and locked them in cells. The uprising quickly spread to the other cell blocks, with more than 1200 prisoners congregating in Cell Block D. Although members of the Attica Liberation Front did not participate in the initial rioting, they quickly joined in to move the prisoners toward more explicit demands for reform. The prisoners create a committee to negotiate with Commissioner Oswald and demand that outside observers be present.

Once the inmates of Attica Prison took over the facility on Thursday, September 9, 1971, a committee of inmates drew up five demands as preconditions to end the takeover. These five demands would be broadened into “15 practical proposals” that would form the basis for the attempted negotiations among the prisoners, the committee of outside observers, state prison officials, and representatives from the governor’s office.

Read more »

Aug 09 2013

“My Experience with Racism”, by __________


It’s a privilege to publish the following words written by a young man who is currently incarcerated. One of the founders of the Circles and Ciphers program shared the story. If you have any thoughts that you want to send to the young man, please feel free to leave a comment or to email at

Circles and Ciphers program participant (wished to remain anonymous)
(incarcerated at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center)
The Inside and Out Project

Once my friend and I were walking down the street. We were at Wood Street and 45th, and we had just come outside (it was 9am).

Then the cops came – deep, three cop cars. Because my phone had a weed plant on the screen they wanted my PIN number to unlock my phone. But I said, “I’m not going to give you my PIN.” So one of the white cops punched me in my stomach and put me inside the cop car. He told me, “You are going to give me the PIN number.” I said, “No.”

Then they let my friend go to his house and took me to my house and told my mom to unlock the phone. My mom said she didn’t know the code. So the white cop left me with my mom and gave my mom the phone. He left.

I went back to the block and saw my friend I had been with earlier and some other guys and told them what happened. I was so mad and my other friend told me to relax. He and I jumped in the car to pick up his baby girl at school. I was telling him the details of what happened, but then the same white cop that took me to my mom’s house stopped us and told me to step out of the car. He put me in his cop car and drove me into the territory of another rival gang, called La Raza. He dropped me off there. On my way trying to get home I got jumped and almost killed for being in La Raza territory. I ran fast as I could back to my house.

I called my friend that I had been in the car with and asked him, “What did the cops do to you?” He said they had let him go. Then I had to get off the phone because my baby brother needed my help, so I helped him with his homework. Later, when I was finished helping him with his homework, my friends came to my house and we smoked some weed.