Archive for the ‘Imprisonment’ Category

The First Four Days

September 7, 2011 2 comments

by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

 I thought there’d be bars in here
but the plexiglass pen doesn’t allow
that sliver dream of privacy or shade
                            as if there were a sun 
  where windows aren’t allowed

The window bars drag patterns on the wood
floor beside my futon
                                    that twist and curl.
Soon I’ll know what time of day I’ve woken up
                               by the fatness of the heart.

 I tell the man who sleeps above me
I didn’t do it
                          he tells me
to get a job in the kitchen
so I can eat the scraps
and buy better soap

         My roommate’s making something spicy.
The wok sizzle seeps under my door.
                 I wait to wash my dishes
until she’s asleep.

 I’d rather have a number than my name
tongue-&-toothed in mouths above blue
polyester draped arms that wear the gloves
No one says they’re innocent
          while they’re being searched in here

No one has said my name in nights
“Chinese delivery.” ”Four-fifty-seven.”
                                      is all I’ve heard
   since he said my name
and Shh. 

 I tell the man who sleeps above me what I’m in for 
He laughs and calls me a BAMF
                                                      Why would I tell him I’m innocent?

 Standard greeting back to work: 
what did you do with this long weekend?
                  Tell them:
                                      rest.        Why would I want to explain 
there’s no point in reporting
crimes you can never prove?

Download the podcast

Since completing her MFA at New College of California in 2004, Elizabeth Kate Switaj (website) has published Magdalene & the Mermaids (Paper Kite Press), Shanghai (Gold Wake Press), and The Broken Sanctuary: Nature Poems (Ypolita Press). She is currently an Editorial Assistant for Irish Pages and a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University Belfast.

I Hear a Bird

September 6, 2011 Comments off

by Daniel Lear

You’ve made it now, out of the low-middle class, all its striving
now nothing to us, see how we forget in lavender
lawns under the sweep of low willows? How is it to you, dear,
this dearly won salvation from the dimestore and the thrift?

Pass the salt in its crystal dish and do not
tip the candlesticks in their slim burning
while I lean careless on the delicate chair, and swig the wine like water
far far down to the dregs, contemplate the cellar yawning
cold beneath us, the dusted bottle racks, the yearning thick, distilled.

One day I said the vagabond life is good enough, but startled
by the sly slide of your eyes I understood the dark taboo,
and stumbled into your mute conviction
that more is always more but never quite enough.

Or were we more in the front seat sweated as ripe plums bruised
and ready for the tear of teeth? all that pure bleeding pure
as my breath in your mouth, a hot hardness against the snow of thighs,
the air scattered with static and a looped tape played.
My nails were bitten down
and all my jeans had holes. I hear a bird

trapped in spiny briars just at the moment you lean near
to slide your fine-pored hand across the linen, it comes to mine
like a well-fed snake into its burrow.

I imagine leaving:

at the last corner past the bank I stop because I have no place beyond this
curb, or yellow paint as warning, or sign leaning on its spindled post
or blank storefront glass half-draped with burlap
no, no place beyond right here and grit beneath my shoes.
Sitting, I become statuesque or granite-lined, or become
west of here perhaps a wider space or east
a narrow gorge, north become the blank tundra never thawing or south the shift and sigh of sand.

None of these becomings more myself than here
unless straight upward is an option despite wingless.

Download the podcast

Daniel Lear writes while attending nursing school and working (elsewhere) on an MFA. He describes himself as “a husband, a dad, a builder, and a farmer. Just the usual stuff.”

Categories: Imprisonment Tags:


September 2, 2011 2 comments

by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi

All my life I’ve been fighting
Saturn, the keeper of hours:
More accountant than divine,
Perverse minister of irresolute time.

What is an hour? What are four?
The question was submitted to
A bookkeeper of such things.
His cheeks shadowed in reddish rings.

Habits: I try to brick them up
Like a builder of a makeshift shack,
In weather likely to bring doom.
I hang a clock in one unfinished room.

But the wager of our finitude,
Each a custodian of our own
Demise, is a more bearable freight.
Till then—

Let all the world wait.

Download the podcast

Maryam Monalisa Gharavi’s poetry and translation has appeared in Anamesa, Amerarcana: A Bird & Beckett Review, Washington Post and The Dudley Review. Her films have screened at Townhouse Gallery of Art, Pacific Film Archive, Harvard Film Archive, and several festivals. She is translating Syrian-Brazilian poet Waly Salomão’s book Algaravias, and is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University. She blogs at South/South.


August 31, 2011 Comments off

by William Aarnes

qualcuno c’è morto contento
—Cesare Pavese, “Poggio Reale”

Some of the convicts
must die content,

at least somewhat satisfied
their life sentences

fit their crimes, at least
somewhat comforted

by prison routine. Some books
improve with rereading,

sometimes estranged children
visit with their toddlers,

some friendships develop
between those who enjoy

catching each other cheating
at cards, some chaplains

make sense of their faith
by admitting to doubts,

and some loners grow gregarious
explaining to their cellmates

the problems posed by life.

Download the podcast

William Aarnes teaches at Furman University and lives in Clemson, South Carolina. His poems have appeared in such magazines as Poetry, FIELD, Seneca Review, and Anti-. Recent poems have appeared in Poetry Quarterly and Stirring.

Categories: Imprisonment Tags:

Two collages and a letter from an inmate

August 30, 2011 17 comments

by Jennifer Myers


The Affliction by Jennifer Myers
The Affliction (click image to enlarge)


Stillness in Chaos by Jennifer Myers
Stillness in Chaos (click image to enlarge)


Inside/Outside Prisons: A Day in a Life at a Prison Camp

August 20, 2006
FPC Alderson

Dear Ian,

Sometimes the gap between the realities inside prison is huge. Today I worked out. I felt better after I got off of the elliptical. Last night the four o-clock count had been late by an hour. We knew something was going on…somewhere. This morning we found out one of the inmates had attacked another woman and she had to be taken to the hospital. The inmate had put a lock in her sox and beat the woman’s face with it. Scary. Later today Leah and I made popcorn balls for the birthday “party” we’re having for one of the inmates. What a 24-hours. Which way do I look… which way do I turn? Chaos inside, chaos outside… go to work, get counted, workout, read — relax (if you can). I have to admit some days the prison looks stunning, situated where we live in the basin of a mountain. The animals remind me of a Walt Disney movie. The squirrels walk back and forth across the sidewalk and eat Jolly Rancher’s out of our hands — then, there are these crazy things that happen. No matter how may times I’m seduced into believing I’m not in prison, immediately I’m shaken back. I remember I’m a prisoner every time we have Standing Count. When I reach into my locker for the ID badge I have to wear — can’t go out the door without it. Oh…a day in the life of a federal prison camp. I feel sobered, my mind tough. I’m tired of wishing, wanting, and dreaming — not action. Tired of my desire to win… sick of ambition and jealousy. I wish I just wanted to give to the world. But actually, what a part of me really wants when I get out of prison is to be taken care of, by a yuppie husband in a nice home by the sea. Yet, I know I’d be bored with this life within a year. I don’t have energy left over at the end of my prison day to resist my ego’s demons. I guess I have no choice but to surrender and let go of the inner torment… and breath. Is this the gift I’ve been given — an unlocked heart? I’m beginning to think so. Prison takes away, but does it also give? I don’t have the answer, but what I do know is after the chaos of prison I don’t want “complicated”. But I can’t escape myself, and I feel complicated. Although I’m physically locked-up, I’m still racked with painful self-judgment, and pain from other’s judging me. Every day when I walk the compound I feel the uncomfortable feelings I can’t escape. I hate to admit this, but it’s easier to cover up the feelings I don’t want to face on the outside. There I can choose my distraction; iced-mocha coffee from Starbucks, a glass of wine, soft music, incense, fluffy pillows and nice sheets. I’m not saying I want to be in prison — I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone to spend even one day locked-up. In prison I’m confronted with myself like I’ve never been before. Something needs to change, but inside… I’m tired of living with “fear.” During the past year I’ve been incarcerated I’ve had moments of glorious inspiration. The rest of the time I’m mentally hanging by a thread. I want to run… I want to escape myself… I want to clone myself and live six different lives at once; find my life-partner, have children and a business, live in another country, take a backpack and walk the Santiago, go to India, find a guru and travel to Morocco, live in a house by the sea, live a yuppie life, a bohemian life, be an intellect, and then throw it all away and come home at night to my white picket fence house with a Mercedes 500 in the drive, and a husband with a stable job. I don’t know how the different parts that live inside myself will ever come together.

What the hell is going on?
It’s manic in here.

I love you.

Download the podcast

Jennifer Myers received her BFA in modern dance from the Ohio State University in 1991 and spent the next seven years of her life performing and choreographing in Chicago. “It was during this time,” she says, “when, romanticizing the dark side — and the wrong kind of men — I placed my love and trust in a marijuana dealer: Within a year, I was driving the drug cross-country myself. In 2003 I was charged with marijuana conspiracy, and in 2006 sentenced to three years in Federal Prison Camp. In prison my love of writing and art became a vehicle for the pain and isolation I experienced.” Upon her release, she founded LAMYERS, a company that prepares people for the experience of federal prison, and she is finishing up a memoir, Trafficking the Good Life. Her writing received an honorable mention in the 2008 PEN prison-writing competition and has appeared in the SUNY Press anthology Razor Wire Women.

Categories: Imprisonment Tags:

To Save the Body and the Soul From Death, Damnation

August 26, 2011 3 comments

by Louisa Howerow

justification for force feeding suffragettes, Holloway Gaol

I can’t lean far enough away
to escape the wardens,
their eager footsteps,
outstretched hands.
These women press me
to the bed, bruise down
my flailing limbs and head.
I clench my eyes against
the doctor who steals in,
against his fingers pulling
at my lips, the metal rod
he forces through
to find the childhood gaps
between my teeth. A twist
cuts gums, cleaves mouth,
ensures a tube’s relentless
push toward my breast.

Nothing here is of me:
not the medicinal gruel,
not the vomit, not the sobbing…

Download the podcast

Louisa Howerow’s most recent poetry appeared in FreeFall, The Nashwaak Review and Room. This poem is part of a manuscript that gives voice to the rank and file members of the British suffragette movement. Two of the poems in this collection appeared in The New Quarterly, guest edited by Diane Schoemperlen. Another poem in a slightly altered version was published in Room.

Categories: Imprisonment Tags:

Balloon Boy, Later

August 25, 2011 Comments off

by Courtney Druz

What I was smelling doesn’t match the rest—
dust, old cardboard, sawn wood, insulation foam.
Gray light rose from the edge of the trap door
but I saw only high blue, ice-cream smooth
and tongue-tingeing, flying.

I knew I was in a box.
But I was gone too, riding the big silver cloud
away from their combs and cameras,
wind prickling, coasting over sky like fresh snow
under my inflatable sled. And everything down there
was Legos, lame toys, little ant cars creeping.

I remember Dad yelling not to touch the balloon;
I’ve seen the video. And my secret pulse then,
knowing what would happen, the Mylar frosted in light
and soaring. I’m not sure why I hid.
I know what people say, but after so many years
it’s all a jumble. What is certain:

Finding the portal to the unknown crystal place
and sailing off, hoisting my strength
against a gelid, consequential world
and being discovered in an attic,
dragged back down, grounded.

Download the podcast

Courtney Druz (website) has worked as a graphic designer, an architect, and, for the last seven years, as an at-home poet-mom. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals including Euphony, Prick of the Spindle, The Other Journal, specs, and Zeek.

Categories: Imprisonment Tags: