Poems inspired by the conversations, writing, and conversations during class at the Ulster County Jail. Sean wrote a poem in response to a writing assignment and I wrote this one in response... and kept writing poems. *Names have been changed
Judge away, like the other day / Through the doors, sprung from Ida May / I’m your teacher, here to drop knowledge / Thirty-two years, two degrees from college / My face feels hot, curious eyes look up / Sea of orange suites, no where to duck / Mask the rush and shortage of breath / Sharks smell blood but here I feel depth / The vibes are calm, but with an edge / Two on the phone, making a pledge
“I’m Leah”, I said, I use the pen to vent / I write my dreams in present tense.
My life went dark, glimpsing my mental prison / Riding the four train for hours, unearthing what was hidden / In Viktor’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning / I recognized my power and start scheming / I will move to a place with mountains and salt water / Watch sunsets on the coast, city stress, not a bother / I listened to Lamar rap in his battles / Fight the paradigm, don’t get lost amongst the cattle / Sufjan Stevens for evening time play / Carrie & Lowell, helping black fade to grey / He lost his mom too but she was cray / Schizophrenia was her plague
I pull up to the pod, what to expect? / Some gangly dudes, not allowed to get wrecked / Reggie walks up, specks on his head / Seven feet tall, ready to get ahead / Nate is curious and ready from jump / How could it get worse inside this dump?/ Playford is down, he’s got a sweet vibe / Maybe he’ll score some drawing supplies / Jerry knows what’s up, met me at G / I’m no Benji, but exude that good energy / Matthew was ready the day I got the job / Blonde highlights, just stop, I know you didn’t rob / Dark skinned dude asks me, “What kind of rap?” / He came once or twice but doesn’t come back.
Mike makes jokes but doesn’t come through / “You do yoga now”, he comes day two / Shawn with bands, doesn’t smile until Gump / He spit last week, leading us over the shy hump / Buddhism and Bachata, Franklin’s eager cadence / Hablando en espanol, pruebas mi skills and patience.
If someone told me I’d share poems in jail / I’d say that’s wack, I can’t give unless it’s bail / But I beg to differ on this twelfth of October / Nate is alive and walking around sober / We all have demons in our minds and souls / Make them into art, and play different roles / I stand before you, sharing this rhyme / I meditate, I practice, and I put in time.
This is the best class I have ever had / First CWs course, not too bad / Leave with this tip, besides yoga and meditate / Listen to your heart and your conscious will levitate.
You can always use the pen to vent / But write your dreams in present tense
Angels in Brownsville - 1/8/18
Channel the light I feel from above / Comes down pure, sea of love / I swear the best lines don’t come from me / There’s a matrix, meditate, you’ll see / ‘Cause every time I take a blind leap from love / A fig branch in my hand, dropped by a dove
Snoop asked day one, “Who made you come here?” / My guides told me, so I have no fear / But I’ll break down some reasons why I roll up / Y’all respect honesty and that’s what’s up.
See, I met a boy Nas the summer of 2016 / He shot a guy in the leg when he was sixteen / Born with dark skin in the United States / Chances of going to jail automatically a higher rate / Combine that with a Mamma who uses crack / The obstacles in his life continue to stack / But this young boy saw through me like glass / He knew I was good people and showed up to class / He gave me a chance from the very beginning / We painted and drew, we were both winning / This boy’s grandmother is his queen / She watched him shoot hoops, her face would beam
One day I felt frustrated and was a bitch to Mike / He snapped, got so angry I thought he'd fight / After lunch we came back together / Fighting back tears, Nas made me feel better / Mike shouldn’t have yelled but I triggered a trauma / The poor kid was so far from his Mamma / Nas came over, asked if I was okay / That’s all it took to help me get through the day / Remember that, next time someone gets upset / It's an opportunity to pay forward karmic debt
But the thing I found most fascinating of all / Is that Nas’s face appeared when I was most afraid to fall / Gliding along a zip-line in the jungle of Peru / I leapt and his face appeared, helping me through / Deep in a cell at Crossroads in Brownsville / I found a young man who is a walking angel
People are stuck behind walls of a mental prison / Light and love cracks them open like a prism / When that happens, every color is displayed / Jimi’s Bold Love expands and then fades / Challenge yourself next time negative thoughts invade / Face them and slice them open with a blade / Make them into art, dripping blood through your pen / Script your dreams again and again / Unblock the crap that’s clouding your inner voice / The more peaceful the mind, you’ll hear just one choice / The universe will guide you for your highest good / Let it reveal to you answers at the speed it should
I came in here, read out loud / No familiar faces in the crowd / D. Tom appears standing more straight / Walks to the room with smoother gait / Malon's so familiar, far from fake / “Have you done acid?”, I do a double take / Too much at once, like a massive steak / Why not soak it in like swimming in a lake / Different paths towards waking up, steady hits like Drake
Six days down, this class takes flight / Malon defuses before Vince gets tight / He’s the only one who told me his plight / But my purpose being here is to offer light / Show you that your insides can be bright / Frustration and anger brews internal fights / It’s an endless process, so take small bites / Slowly, consciousness will take flight / Unrecognizable strength will get you higher than a kite
Vic speaks of God and the Bible / When I listen I sense internal rival / Back in jail, this time a revival / These brothers are teaching more than just survival / Your walls are strong built over the years / Afraid to relive your worst fears / A maze of trap doors, testing your peers / Frustrated from reflections in warped mirrors / The only way out is to go in / Might as well love yourself before life is “fin”
Don, so grounded, so damn real / Hesitant to give me the genuine spiel / If CBT is on the menu for a meal / Write about it because it’s what you feel / Full speed ahead, you at the wheel / Script details with clarity, as the story reveals / If I feel uncomfortable I’ll ground through my heels / Be honest and connect to your prayers as you kneel
Fred you said you’re willing to learn / But where were you last week when it was your turn? / Studying Buddhism, grows the mind like a fern / Don’t skip classes--- that’s me being stern/ Make the most out of this before 12 classes adjourn
At the tender age of twenty-one / Ken, these guys take you in like a son / But it’s the internal battles that must be won / Self actualization more powerful than a gun / Get thirsty, read books, soak in knowledge like the sun / Pause / Then I read your note on love words in Greek / The disappointment as your try to steady your feet / Speaking your truth is far from weak / The upside of being low is one day again you'll peak / Just because there’s heartache doesn’t mean defeat / Sit through that shit, and cry when you need / Because running from those feelings will bury them deep / That energy will grow, and it’s not healthy to keep / Introspective work is a climb that is steep / Stitch up those wings because one day you’ll leap / And the benefits of this work you will one day come to reap
John, writes about generic girls / Practicing Creole, twisting those curls / Patience when demonstrating, fingers crossed, uncurled / Sarcasm in the mind but the brow unfurled / Yes you seem awake / But more than your advice I want to take / Sure, you appear to be calm like a lake / But dark thoughts come as you lay awake / In that space is where art can bake / And heal wounds as you move through gates
Scott sits pensive, wrapped in his cerebellum / Those fiery eyes lit like the cig of a felon / Inadvertently causing social rebellion / Opposing norms, never hesitating to tell ‘em / Wearing rose colored glasses clouding vision like vellum
Trevor said spit over a beat / Pen and pad in the driver’s seat / Blasting the heat driving down Pearl Street / Thinking about our conversations last week / Like Kyle, I grow strong while feeling weak / Vince reading scriptures, peace he seeks / But sometimes it’s time to change that tide / And take a closer look from that which you hide / Talk to Malik, he wasn’t always this fly / Once gang banging refused to wear a tie / Now on another level, that conscious high / He may share his secrets if you pry / Ask him to tell you about the time he last cried / But you must earn that trust before he confides / Behind fake walls with this one you can’t hide
I invite you each to use your pen to write your story / And not always the ones with sunsets and glory / Write the ones that make you sweat like you’re on Maury / Sit through that discomfort and show up to class, Corey / Trust yourself as you sink into the quarry / Shed light in places once far too gory
I’m here to be inspired / Looking in your eyes I fire / Not extinguished by being called a liar / Hoping this class takes you higher / And I’m not talking ‘dro, sativa or coke / I’m talking spirituals, but not a pope /It’s not church but keep it appropes / Crack open your psyche is my hope / Insights let your hearts and minds elope / And bring you on a journey to help you cope / Meditation, yoga, writing it’s gonna be dope / I’ve tried the 9-5s and my soul said, “nope” / Hooked on a zipline my life on a rope / I had an epiphany, no joke / Fear of heights on a cliff, tears coming down / Comforted by two friends seeking spirits abound / Sniffing for natural highs like a couple hounds / Scared shitless of change but can’t go home now / Callin all my angels to come around / I jumped off the ledge, nothing but air under / Sheer terror, my heart throbbing like thunder / Death, the result of a mechanical blunder / And then clear in the sky, the faces of Nasir and Angel Haze / Two boys from B-ville clear as day / I’d met them that summer when working for pay / Angel a rapper, 5 stars on his arm / Smooth talking and jacked, made more peace than harm/ Except when talking about Drake he’d ring the alarm / Defending his artistry like crops on his farm
Driving to work, listening to Illmatic / Try write lines all I hear is static / So I step back, reset and get back at it/ Teaching and not learning is problematic / I encourage y’all to be more emphatic / Dez telling me to chill, be less manic / I for Intellects, that’s the demographic
I’m disappointed to move on / But know to be strong / Carry with me the lessons that I learn along / The way to your hearts and mind, these lessons can’t fade / But are reinforced with each success that’s made / I’m deeply moved by the work we have done / Dare I say these classes were fun / I see you grounded in meditation and know we’ve won / Mental freedom not threatened by the force of a gun / John I hope you read your story one day to your son / Who looks up at you with admiration and wonder / How anyone so peaceful could ever make a blunder / That would land him in a cell and orange jumper / But I think these things happen for a reason / The struggles and triumphs changing like the seasons / Wells you feel the love through the teasing / Reading that first story out mostly to appease me / Then today volunteering, shit was breezy / Riddles and rhymes Don does his time / “I’m not reading it aloud”, OK fine / Didn’t say I can’t reference it in my lines / Mirrors and matters, time is fractured / No longer looked at in a linear pattern / Mental trips far out in Earth not Saturn / Vince is just worried about getting fatter / But I’m with you on that / Trying to trim my own belly fat / I think about it myself every time I hit my mat
Trevor, you’re a dad of four / They’ll light up when you walk in that door / Elations of love, making you sore / Listen to your heart, deep within your core / For it’s love that you’ve always been looking for / But who am I to say I’d rather be with loved ones and poor
So back to some facts that I learned today / COs downstairs sober since 1988 / Some of these guys came from “nothing” / Trying to make the world better, get benefits and do something / Minimal mediation training in the academy / There should be a traumatic training if you ask me / De-stressing classes would be a small fee / To cut back on conflicts caused by swinging Ds / Get some women up in here to help mediate y’all / Build a structure for healing and help you when you fall / The motherland culture knows the women are the Queens / It’s our power from love that makes men fein / Next time your girl hits you upside the bean / Assume the best and ask her not to be so mean / We’re born as witches, our uterus a cauldron / Give a woman a baby and watch her as she holds ‘em / Intuitive instinct to carry our species forward / But society teaches us our standards should be lower / Especially for those with a darker skin color / Drugs and drinking make your senses duller / Staying sharp and awake makes your heart fuller
When I’m surrounded by you taking responsibility for your actions / I am inspired and try to do the same in some fashion / When I die, it’s not money that gets cashed in / So I’d rather spend my life working with passion / So rub your hands, make some heat / One of you, please drop that beat / I’m not using my privilege to go tanning in Crete / Best believe I’ll make use of this seat / Hit the gym, Lil Jon chanting “skeet” / Split jerks and squats, no whiskey neat / The strange part is I’m not telling you what to do / Yes I’m a teacher guiding your through / But I don’t know what really goes on inside of you / And anyone that says that they do / Is just projecting their shit onto you / But I do know that truth is a rare find / And if I wasn’t intrigued by the human mind / I wouldn’t be here writing this rhyme / I’m not yet making much of a dime / But I’m inspired to have seltzer and not tequila with that lime
I reckon that if you write your thoughts down / It may help alleviate what’s making you wound / Writing helps prisoners, studies have found / Try with my support this time around / I want to hear about your feelings, what went down / I can smell your potential like a hunting hound / I don’t care about punctuation, adverbs describing nouns / I want to hear your truth, not someone else’s sound / And when it’s a wrap we’ll “Namaste”, a peaceful pound / Y’all are kings so adjust that crown
Baptize yourself / Praise good health / Stack the wealth / Respect the cards you’re dealt
Throw me the mic, I never got off / I’m gonna make money, burn dimes in Bergdorf / Doubt and fears, they’ll never stop / An uphill climb, without a top / I read Jen’s, “You’re a Badass” / Focus my intentions, slim my ass / Alicia in Cali says, “Baptize yourself” / Give thanks every day for my good health / I catch the sunrise, I’m usually up / Roll off the bed, sip from my cup / Fear slips in, “What am I doing today?” / “Time waits for no one”, the I-Pod guys say / What about the beat? Am I talking too slow? / You don’t really need one, Shawn said so
I come into this room and I feel alive / Day two, you all write, stars feel aligned / I sit and read your stories out loud / They so f-ing good, you should be so proud / I look in your eyes and sense you’ve been jaded / Once free of worry, now the sparks have faded / Arrested with a physical hesitation / Trapped in cells; the 13th an abomination / Take a breath, accept the cards you’re dealt / Choose to fight the demons inside of yourself / Fear and sadness comes from within / Religion oppresses, demonizing a heathen / But that’s for the sleeping, and ya’ll stay woke / A shift happening, and that’s no joke
I'm bummed to say our ten classes are done / Twenty hours together and look what we’ve done / Matt opened up, shared his story / Mike wrote about racing and its glory / Nate reflected on his battle with depression / Make art instead, the kryptonite of oppression / Jack twenty-one, three Rs in warrior / Folks don’t sleep, he’s com in’ out for ya / Go on get hyped you’ve got another day / Dice up words, don’t let the chance slip away / When you leave this place, you’ll be a new man / Damaged with a smile like Lieutenant Dan / When you wake up and find yourself here / Will moves you make come from love or fear? / I know I was born served with a golden platter / But it was love, not money that made my heart fatter / Fam won't agree with the changes you make / Some homies will say you’re being fake / But don't confuse your fears with their rejections / Be still like a mirror, and they’ll see their reflections / Is it love or fear? Question your intentions / Buenas vibras spread like an infection
If you don’t inspire me, get out my face / This is my day, and it’s not going to waste / Only you can say what goes in and out your mouth / And you decide who you let down south / Meditate and stretch, this isn’t child’s play / But it’s your life, so you can waste it away / Or place your gratitude into a cup / Read some Rumi, go on, drink up Lattice a net underneath yourself / So when you slip it’s there to help/ Remember, we’re just spinning in space / Explore your mind like delicate lace / Laced with a drug that removes the chains / Meditate every day, you’ll never feel the same / Be kind to yourself when you lose focus / Breath, mudras, mantras; do that Hocus Pocus / Don’t waste a moment, each of you have it / Potential is inside, tear it out like a savage / Work hard now, more doors will open later / “Knock knock” Who’s there?, Oh, just another hater.
Let’s play the game, the game of life / Show up to the table and roll the dice / Take time to appreciate your choices and vice / Use at as a tool to guide your advice / In a quiet moment ask, “What’s my price?” / The whole universe is within you / So, show respect and be nice
Ya’ll came in, from day one, took a seat / Chairs lined the rim, and I felt warm heat / I knew day one, this class had a god beat / Ready to heal, not giving into defeat / Rolling together but separate like a fleet / Of orange ships moving with a force / Introspectively looking to change the course / Holding space to share your remorse / Stories of drugs and drink while thinking about worse / Recognizing your kryptonite you carried in your purse / “But I loved him so much”, care taking like a nurse / But at what cost? Risking a ride in a hearse / Dancing with death, but your time is not yet / Let’s talk about this second chance, maybe a love you haven’t met / Serve again, that was a was a let / Tennis talk for, “it went in, but grazed the net" / Alright, I'll go in, and reflect on each of you / Celebrate your uniqueness even though I’m new / Butter and flour together we make rue / Thicken a stock of self-help stew / Only seven classes down and I feel like we’re a crew / Let’s celebrate with eye contact, no need for a brew
Kim, you share your optimism and your patience / Rubbing off on Melinda, like she’s your patient / Real talk about struggle of sobriety maintenance / Closing each story with a self discovery cadence / Becky over here, she’s one of ten / Helping the family out like a mother hen Feelings flush through but you come off pretty zen / Counting down the days you’ll be with your family again / Voice may be quiet, but please share your power through that pen / Melinda here for a second round / Searching for that inner peace like a hound / Using a smaller room intensifies things we found / It was that Tuesday class that became most profound / Use pranayama breath to make the ocean sound / Lengthen the exhale, relaxing muscles that’ve been wound / Cheryl, what’s good / Whistle blowing in the ‘hood / Feeling misunderstood / Came back ‘cause you could / Reminded by the rug, as you stood / Could have burned it down like dry wood / But you fight for your truth because you said you would / Vanessa, what happened? We missed you last time / Don’t worry, I hadn’t written this rhyme / You tell yourself it’s gonna o be fine / But how often do you really believe that line / Nine out ten times, you pray to God But I hope you dig even deeper while in A-Pod / Youthful family and a healthy bod / Keep exercising, strengthen those quads / You don’t share much writing but a lot is said with a nod / Eyes glued to the speaker, I see your wheel spinning Wondering, what makes them feel like they’re winning? / Advocate for yourself, as it’s just the beginning / And you’ve got some time now before the phone starts ringing
Jess, over here with her love for her son beams out / Going through college, projecting a different route / But locked up in UCJ she’s not about to pout / Self-help books in her cell continue to mount / Reflecting on addiction, inclination to down a stout / Of course your life will change after this ‘bout / Your love filled heart will conquer mountains, no doubt / Carol, you missed a few classes but got back in the groove / Last week talking through life, searching where to improve / Overwhelming if it analyzed in one fell swoop / Break it down into pieces and you’ll be dunking the hoop / Interrupt the self deprecating loop / That makes your feel like your stuck in a coup / Keep writing your stories, don’t worry if it’s goop / Think about the last time you couldn’t go poop / It can’t always be doobies and beers on the stoop
Erin, I’ve watched as you’ve begun to open up Sober, drinking only coffee in that cup / Trying to find balance like you’re standing on a sup / Afraid you’ll coming out of here feeling like a pup / Even though it’s scary there’s less of a haze / No longer walking around numb in a daze / You’ve already entered into a new phase / Your public speaking has improved in just 12 days / Hesitant of course, but your bar has raised
Sharing poems and learning how to play spades / Fears don’t go away but some begin to fade / Shed light in dark corners, that’s how change is made / The mind will tell you to remain afraid / Because the body wants to play it safe like your in first grade / But your prefrontal cortex has been made / It can problem solve through more than just how to get laid
But in order to tap into that untapped potential inside / One must recognize that the mind wants to hide / Neurons firing off faster than a roller coaster ride /But come back to this present moment and then decide / Who am I? To whose truth do I abide? / That goes for all you ladies sitting in the room /I hope that this class has damped some of the doom / It’s been an honor to watch you all bloom / Use that nurturing nature you’ve had in you since the womb / But, protect yourself from others energy fields / Recognize, what is their real deal / It’s not so much judgement, as just protecting your meal / Stretch, meditate, and, write and you’ll see what you’ll feel