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At Home in Hell

August 3, 2011

by Rina Terry

Lifers understand me best
these days, they say, apartment, not cell,
and the jitterbugs, the gladiators,
make us both twitch. There’s no point
in trying to explain it all, unless you appreciate
the perfected rhythmic sway of a shackled walk
and the dignity of the thick leather belt that holds it
all together at the wrists. Except for those beat down

one too many times, some toothless because
they can’t get fillings here, only extractions
and there’s the art of being extracted—specialty
training at the Academy. Darth Vader gear a tip-
off—there’s trouble on the tier. Someone tripped
and fell through a third-tier window, into the yard,

gets 172 stitches and disappears North for
Ad Seg. Later you hear the rumor he’s dead
or worse. Got himself a woman on the inside,
then you know, his last appeal was one turn down
too many, parole, just one hit after another,
he tells his lady to fa’get about it. Move on

with her life. Now Juan’s back, his lady will phone me. Beg me
to call him out and talk to him. She’ll tell me about the kids,
how they are crying to go see their papi, how she truly loves
him. She will wait as long as it takes. Juan, he’s usin’ again;
I see the junkie sweat, even though he cleaned up, used oils

for our date and put his khaki’s between Mass Movement’s
mattresses, to press a crease in his pants. I have hot water, a rule
I break every day, and offer him herbal tea. He gave up caffeine
two bids ago, says it makes him mind when they push up
and that’s dangerous. We remember how he slit Chico’s throat
with a box cutter, though neither of us mentions it today;
we talk about my publication and he nods in approval, Mi
Reverenda, he says, gruff with affection. High praise; I blush.


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Rina Terry lives, writes and works in Cape May, New Jersey. She is a United Methodist Minister and spent seven years as Supervisor of Relgious Services at an adult male population state prison.

Categories: Imprisonment Tags:
  1. August 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Holy wow.

  2. August 3, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    She has imprisonment blues down pat. Bravo!

  3. Debbie Chapman
    August 4, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Well done, Rina!

  4. valeriefox
    August 4, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Excellent poem–amazing, vivid voice–

  5. Tara Branton
    August 4, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Imagine – I love this piece and it does not even rhyme!!!
    Fabuloso!

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