2021 4 P.M. Count

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2021



4 P.M. COUNT 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Writer-in-Residence / Editor-in-Chief

Jim Reese

Assistant Editor

S. Marielle Frigge

Editorial Assisant

McKenna Cooley

Design and Layout

Stephanie Schultz

A Publication by Federal Prison Camp, Yankton, SD. All poems, prose, and artwork are used with permission of the authors and artists, and they retain all rights to their work published herein. Except for brief quotations in books and reviews, no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author. This book is not for sale. Federal Prison Camp Yankton P.O. Box 680 Yankton, SD 57078 Cover drawing by Michael Breaman.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Special thanks go to the following people for their help in the production of the 2021 issue of 4 P.M. Count: Dr. Beth Bienvenu and Lauren Tuzzolino of the Office of Accessibility at the National Endowment for the Arts. Deltone Moore, Recreation Program Manager for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Warden K. Bennett; Michael McCabe, Supervisor of Education; and staff at FPC Yankton: Cory Uecker, Dana Jodozi, Seth Hinz, and Kenny Kulhavy. S. Marielle Frigge for her continued guidance and support. Stephanie Schultz for her continued design expertise and editing. Thanks to McKenna Cooley for editorial assistance. And thanks to all of my new students. You guys are a talented bunch of writers—don’t ever forget that. Dr. Jim Reese

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TABLE OF CONTENTS 6

Jim Reese · Foreword · Introduction

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S. Marielle Frigge · First Notes for Creative Writing Students · FPC Yankton Style Sheet · FPC Yankton Value of Individual Tutoring

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Louie Thunderhawk · Where I’m From · Field Work Growing Up · Life on the Reservation · The Man I Was Supposed To Be

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Roberto Valdez · Act of Love · Art Manifesto · Santa Pat

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Seema Sehgal · A Letter

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John Gonder · Empty Chair · The Tree · Seasons · Lachrymose · Extinguished · Awaken · Without You · Empty Days · Ruined · Cell 13

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Adam Lawin · Getting Out · Tattooing Her Name on Your Neck Means It’s True Love

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Don Robison · Act of Love · Where I’m From · Absent

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FPC Yankton Artwork

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Pedro Carrasco · A Letter You Will Never Read · Empty Promises · Lost · Today I Marveled at Life

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Jarmell Mayweather · I’m Killing My Mother · The Greatest Love · A Real Christmas Story: A Mother’s Prayer · The Other Side of the Lake

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FPC Yankton Dog Program · Man’s Best Friend by Dustin Sullivan · The Best of Company by John Adams

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Keegan Strelnik · Brave Like a Sheep

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Education Board

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Jim Reese, editor-in-chief Jim Reese is Associate Professor of English at Mount Marty University. He is the National Endowment for the Arts Writer-inResidence at Federal Prison Camp Yankton. His book of nonfiction, Bone Chalk, was published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2019. A fourth collection of poetry, Dancing Room Only—new and selected, is forthcoming by New York Quarterly Books in 2022. For more information visit: www.jimreese.org. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff at Clay County Jail.

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Foreword by Jim Reese Dear readers, it’s been another interesting year. We’ve seen and experienced some unusual and frightening things. As I write this, I hope the worst part of COVID is behind us. However, we are still taking precautions at the prison and at the university where I teach. I believe if we continue to work together we will get through this worldwide pandemic. Through everyone’s perseverance, 4 P.M. Count will publish its fourteenth consecutive yearly perfect bound book. I’m not sure there’s another prison publication in the nation that can say the same. If there is, please let us know; we’d like to find out who they are and share ideas. The staff of FPC Yankton has gone above and beyond to help maintain programming through alternative methods. I have, with the help of Cory Uecker, Michael McCabe, and Dana Jodozi, been able to interact with my students by weekly lectures, writing prompts, and through Webex. Just recently I’ve been able to go back into the prison—although my class is still separated by units. It’s not ideal, but it is the world we are living in for the time being. I’d like to thank the National Endowment for the Arts and the Justice Arts Coalition for rallying during this pandemic. “The Justice Arts Coalition (JAC) unites teaching artists, arts advocates, currently and formerly incarcerated artists, and allies, harnessing the transformative power of the arts to reimagine justice.” I, along with other teachers, have shared ideas via Zoom on how to best execute our classes—to not give up when faced with adversity. Another very special person I’d like to thank is Sister Marielle Frigge. She’s the assistant editor for 4 P.M. Count. She has been working on the journal with me since its inception. For the second year in a row, we have decided to include some tools—“First Notes for Creative Writing 4 P.M. COUNT

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Class” and the very concise and brilliant “4 P.M. Count Style Sheet” in this issue to help other prisons and their staff navigate through tough times. Thank you to McKenna Cooley for editing assistance, and to Stephanie Schultz for your design expertise. As a team, we continue to persevere and bring 4 P.M. Count to the world. Education is an amazing thing. Can you imagine a day without learning something new? I think that is what hell must be.

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Introduction by Jim Reese Did you know around 70,000,000 Americans have some sort of criminal record? That’s almost one in three Americans of working age (White House). Ninety five percent of those incarcerated are getting out of prison (Bureau of Justice). “Do you want them educated or not?” That’s what our former warden, Jordan R. Hollingsworth, used to ask. “These guys are coming to a neighborhood near you. Do you want them educated or not?” He taught us to prepare men to be better people. Right now, there are approximately 2,200,000 Americans behind bars. The United States accounts for five percent of the world’s population, and twenty-five percent of its inmates. Each year, more than 600,000 inmates are released from federal and state prisons, and another 11,400,000 individuals cycle through local jails. From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled from roughly 500,000 to 2,300,000 people. Combining the number of people in prison and jail with those under parole or probation supervision, one in every thirty-one adults, or more than three percent of the population, is under some form of correctional control (NAACP). There are 1,800 state and federal correctional facilities and 3,200 local and county jails. To put these figures in context, we have slightly more jails and prisons in the U.S.—5,000 plus—than we do degree-granting colleges and universities. In many parts of America, particularly the South, there are more people living in prisons than on college campuses (Ingraham). WHY SHOULD WE CARE? Chances are really high that crime has affected you, your family or your extended family in some capacity. As a taxpayer, I know I don’t want to pay money just to lock someone up. I would hope incarceration is teaching these men something. Is just 4 P.M. COUNT

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locking someone up doing that? Statistics say no. Statistics say two-thirds of men will reoffend within three years unless they receive some education and/or vocational training. If those services are utilized, recidivism rates go down. I think it’s crucial to mention a 2013 RAND Corporation report that found strong evidence that correctional education plays a role in reducing recidivism. The study concluded that every dollar spent on prison education translated into four to five dollars’ worth of savings during the first three years, post-release. You can lock a person up and let him out after so long. Maybe during his incarceration you teach him a trade—that’s great. What you also have to do is help him tap into the emotional instabilities that brought him to prison in the first place. Writing, art, and more importantly, education in corrections helps open that door. If a person never comes to terms with himself, one more angry person will be released back into society. This has been the most rewarding teaching experience I’ve ever had. It’s made me a better professor. It’s made me a better person. I really feel I am making a difference in these guys’ lives—or helping make a difference. My students at Mount Marty University, where I am an Associate Professor, benefit, too. My creative writing classes work together at both locations to workshop their creative writing. MMU students visit the prison once a semester to see what an education program looks like in corrections, and to work with other creative writers. They get feedback and opinions on their work from inmate students who take their classes very seriously. Everyone benefits—and he or she is learning a lot more than just how to make his or her creative writing better. There’s a large empathy factor that comes into play for all the students participating. All of the students take this experience with them for their future endeavors. One can read about these interactions in the previous year’s journal. Mark Twain was quoted as saying, “The two most

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important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I really feel like what I’m doing at the prison is what I have been called to do. I’m human, I’ve made some mistakes in my life. I wish I could take them back, but I can’t. There are a lot of guys at the prison who are in that same boat. My students at the prison can do their time productively and walk out richer for the show. We have uploaded previous issues of the journal online. To read the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 issue of 4 P.M. Count please visit: www.issuu.com and type in “4 P.M. Count” in their search engine (issuu is the largest collection of free-to-read publications from publishers around the globe). Another book of interest that featured our program is the Federal Bureau of Prisons publication Making Changes. This publication highlights programs, events, inmate reentry stories, and more to showcase various ways the Bureau supports inmates in making a successful transition to the community. To download and read this, visit: https:// www.bop.gov/resources/publications.jsp. I am honored and grateful for being the National Endowment for the Arts Writer-in-Residence at FPC Yankton for the past fourteen years. I believe all people want to do the right thing—to live healthy, productive lives—to give to their communities, even if they’ve failed at such endeavors before. If people are given a chance to learn, lives can change. All of us make misdirected decisions, but that shouldn’t restrict anyone from the right to an education, or a right to a second chance. Sincerely, Jim Reese, Ph.D. NEA Writer-in-Residence Federal Prison Camp Yankton, 2021

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S. Marielle Frigge, assistant editor Marielle Frigge, OSB, holds an MA in biblical theology from Washington Theological Union and a PhD in theology and education from Boston College. She retired as professor of religious studies after 33 years at Mount Marty College in Yankton in May 2012. Since then she continues to teach and speak in various venues, including her own and other religious communities, the Avera Health System, and various local and regional communities and ecumenical adult education contexts. Sr. Marielle authored Beginning Biblical Studies (Anselm Academic, 2009) and a second, revised edition of her book was published in September 2013. Sr. Marielle also has written biblical commentaries for Liturgy Training Publications in Chicago, and serves as associate editor and book reviewer for The American Benedictine Review, a national scholarly journal dealing with topics of Benedictine and monastic interest.

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A Note on the Style Sheet by S. Marielle Frigge As noted in the editor’s Foreword, this year’s edition of 4 P.M. Count includes the Style Sheet for the Creative Writing class in use for the last decade here at Federal Prison Camp Yankton. I have been copy editing this journal since its inception, and after a year or two began to believe that many of the men in the Creative Writing class could benefit from having written guidance on use of Standard English at hand. As anyone might imagine, many of these students have sparse or ineffective educational backgrounds. On the other hand, as I often emphasize, upon their release these men will be job hunting, which will require writing applications, cover letters, and the like. Besides this practical reason, ability to use written Standard English can help students to communicate clearly and effectively in their creative writing efforts at present. The Style Sheet is certainly not exhaustive. I was guided by what I was reading, that is, I included elements of style that were most often misused or that caused confusion for some students. Throughout the class and in the Style Sheet, I emphasize two things necessary for both good writing and for daily life: an ability to communicate clearly, and consistency. In some cases, more than one rendering might be considered acceptable Standard English; in such instances, I designated one usage for the sake of consistency. Because more prisons at various levels across the country have begun or are considering writing classes, the FPC Yankton Style Sheet appears in this issue of 4 P.M. Count as a possible aid for such endeavors. In addition, it might help current students who are still in lockdown due to Covid-19 and unable to conduct in-person classes.

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First Notes for Creative Writing Class 1. In the beginning of this class Dr. Reese tells you not to worry about spelling and punctuation and grammar and so on, but just WRITE. This is an important beginning, helping you to find your voice. 2. HOWEVER—it’s not the end of the process of good writing—not by a long shot. 3. After you find your voice, and after you discover that you have something to say and can say it, you need to become more concerned about communicating well with your reader. A. Communication is always about two parties: • the one communicating (in this case, you, through your writing) • and the one/s you want to communicate something TO—your chosen “audience.” Audience awareness is an extremely important part of good writing that is too often ignored! B. Designate your audience: • other members of the class? • your teacher/s? • visiting writers? • your family? • the general public? (In general, assume this is your audience) • people who don’t think prisoners should be ‘coddled’ by having classes offered? • C. Analyze your audience: 14

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• • • •

what do they already know about what you want to say? what do they not know? how do they feel about what you what to communicate? if you want to convince someone of something, what are their likely points of agreement at this point? What are their likely points of disagreement? How can each point be addressed effectively?

D. Certain choices need to be made carefully before you begin a serious draft: 1) Time frame: past? present? future? Once you decide, be consistent; shift only for a good reason—a reason that you make very clear to your audience. 2) Point of view: • I/we: the writer is the actor/speaker, “I”, or one of a group, “we” • You: the writer is directly addressing someone/s (used least often) • He/She/They: Someone other than the writer is performing the action Again, make a decision, then be consistent or you will confuse your reader, damaging or destroying good communication with your chosen audience. 4. A good writing exercise might be to write a narrative in first person, then in third person, and assess which might be most effective for your chosen audience. Try the same with time frame. Try communicating what you have to say in prose and in poetry—which communicates what you want to say most effectively for your chosen audience? 5. These requirements for effective written communication are also of value to you as a person:

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A. Thinking through your choices and actions beforehand. B. The discipline of consistency (both words here are important!) C. Attention to and respect for the “other.” In your life experience, you might have been spared from some poor decisions if you had thought about others in your life, and how what you were doing or not doing might affect other people. D. Learning that “little things” can be extremely important. E. Experience in good communication.

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FPC YANKTON STYLE SHEET

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FPC Yankton Value of Individual Tutoring WHAT I SEE AS BENEFITS OF ONE-ON-ONE SESSIONS FOR MEMBERS OF THE WRITING CLASS By: S. Marielle Frigge There are several major benefits I see in having individual tutoring sessions with a copy-editor in the process of finishing pieces to be published in 4 P.M. Count. The first is a chance to meet the specific needs of each person. The educational background of the men in the class includes a broad spectrum, from those who have not yet completed high school or a GED to some who hold graduate degrees. So my guidance can be suited to each one’s needs, ranging from clarifying meanings of three different words that sound the same, e.g., there, their, and they’re, to discussing tone or word choice for the writer’s intended audience. When I explain the why of a particular grammatical “rule,” a writer will often say something like, “Well, I saw that rule on the style sheet, but I didn’t know why it was that way.” Once the why becomes clear, a writer often quickly begins to see for himself where further corrections are needed. I always emphasize the practical importance of an ability to use standard English; a recent study indicates that fifty-eight percent of employers immediately discard a job application or resume that fails to do so. There are also benefits, I believe, that can carry over into the men’s personal lives. I repeatedly stress “audience awareness,” the writer’s ability to analyze, understand, and place oneself in the reader’s cultural, intellectual, and emotional context. Such awareness ought to guide any writer’s choice of content and how that content can be most effectively presented to the designated audience. For 4 P.M. COUNT

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example, if one is writing a piece for the general public, prison slang or acronyms are not likely to be understood. Always, the fundamental purpose is communication; writing is not only about “expressing myself,” though that is part of the purpose. Good writing always truly communicates to an “other.” The writer who consciously attempts to communicate to a specific audience must take his particular audience into account when choosing content, point of view, voice, tone, and vocabulary. Regarding audience awareness, one of the men remarked, “It’s good to practice thinking about ‘the other’; not doing that is one of the big reasons I am where I am.” In addition, any good writer who wishes to communicate clearly must be consistent in all details, including use of capitalization, abbreviations, acronyms, numbers, time references, etc. Learning consistency can be an advantage in personal relations as well as in the workplace. There is another benefit not directly related to writing skill, but, I believe, a very important one. Tutoring sessions offer an opportunity for each prisoner to be treated like an individual human being, a person. I know from their writings that in their highly routinized and regulated life in a federal prison, some can begin to “identify” as simply “a prisoner” or the number on their clothing. One man asked me during a tutoring session, “Why do you do this? After all, we’re criminals.” I responded, “That is true, you must have been convicted of a crime, or you wouldn’t be here. But I believe you are more than a ‘criminal’; you are a human being, a person, created in the image of God. How will you learn to act like a person without being treated as one?”

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Louie Thunderhawk Louie Thunderhawk was a student in FPC Yankton’s creative writing class.

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Where I’m From Poetry

I am from a 302 V-8 motor, Ford Tough F-150 country: custom, Lariat, or Eddie Bauer Edition. I am from a straw bale home, self-made and load-bearing: 18-inch thick walls, that keep the frigid northern cold out and my loved ones in safety. I am from the sage, echinacea, and cedar fields. From the chokecherry & wild rosebush valleys--delicate in bloom, yet durable and surviving. I am from pow-wows and eagle plume hair ornaments, from Thunderhawks – Bordeauxs – and Two Strikes. I am from the build-your-own-truck and make-your-own-road clan. From where you do it right if you’re gonna do it at all – and where everything happens for a reason. I am from – where you humble yourself before the creator, the great spirit in, and grandfather of, all creation. I am from Santa Fe, New Mexico and the original protesting estates of Bavaria; although the former I’ve only been back to twice, and the latter I’ve never been to at all. From homemade jerky and heirloom spaghetti. I am from the north wall of a sturdy stucco home. A wall I share with pictures of my daughter, my sister, and her daughters; from birth to the present time, as a living testament and display, of my mother’s most prized possessions. 30

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Field Work Growing Up Nonfiction

During my childhood and teen years, one recurring theme ties all the different stages together. There was rarely a time that I don’t remember my mom, an archeologist, doing some type of summer field work – with me and my sister tagging along for the ride. There were the mountains of New Mexico when she was learning to use a compass in college and the Head Smashed In buffalo jump site in Canada. Campsites along the Snake and Salmon rivers in Idaho. The Hudson-Meng buffalo jump site in Nebraska, and even a years’ long adventure in Australia for research on her master’s thesis. One that sticks in my mind the most, though, was the work we did at Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Once we had moved to South Dakota when I was eleven, the southern Black Hills became a regular destination for us. We had originally planned to live there and even had most of our belongings in a storage unit in nearby Hot Springs for the first year or so after relocating from Lincoln, Nebraska. Even though we didn’t end up living there, the unique types of rock art carved into the sandstone cliffs and remnants of sprawling prehistoric campsites along the creeks keep my mom coming back even to this day. As a young man, I really didn’t care much about the significance of the work, although I’m a lot more interested now. For me the adventure was always in the land and the time of release from the cares of everyday life. For three to six weeks of every summer we would be out walking the wildflower meadows, redrocked river canyons and rocky mountain passes, covered in pines and aspen groves. At Wind Cave National Park, the majority of our work took place in areas that were recently burned. To have better control over the wildfires in the area, the park would conduct controlled burns of strategic areas during ideal weather conditions. One result of this was removing all the dry fuel on the ground and in the undergrowth so if a wildfire did happen it wouldn’t burn too hot and kill so many trees. The other major advantage after a prescribed burn was the rare one hundred percent ground visibility when all 4 P.M. COUNT

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the dry grass was removed, and this was what brought us out every year. Under a five-year contract with the National Park Service’s regional office in Lincoln, we would return after every prescribed burn or wildfire to walk the area in the search of archeological sites. During this time we found tons of sites, some that had been previously recorded and others that hadn’t, which we were able to name in the national registry as we recorded them. One type of site that was pretty common was a lithic scatter, or work site where people would sit and fashion stone tools to use for hunting, carving, scraping hides, or for battle. Quarries of the rocks used to make these tools were also common because the hills provided a treasure trove of these materials, difficult to find on the open prairie. Campsites were also something we came across a lot, identifiable by the circles of stones that held down the hide coverings of tipis, left in place when the camp moved. Seeing these stone circles along the creeks was like getting a look into the past, once I understood what they were and mapping out the location of each stone was how I came to understand. Since the stones were typically rolled off just far enough to free the edge of the hide coverings from the ground, it was usually pretty clear where the door was, from the absence of the stones. There was also sometimes a small inner circle in the center, where a fire pit would be in the winter campsites. Digging down into these inner fire pits in small excavations would usually reveal charcoal at some depth, which we could send off for carbon dating to get a timeframe of activity, some coming from over two thousand years ago. One rare site I remember coming across was a line of large rocks extending up a hill into the tree line, all the way down to a small cliff overlooking a creek. This was thought to be a drive line of some sort for bison, holding up a fence or barrier that would lead them down the hill and over the cliff where they would be killed and butchered. The campsite at the bottom of the cliff and lithic scatters on the surrounding hills paint the picture of a bison kill site full of activity. 32

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Piles of rocks on hilltops and ridges were also a common site we recorded. These stone cairns were usually a landmark of some significant place, such as an old trail or a burial site. One important component of the work we were doing was the cultural significance to the local Native American tribes, which indicated what areas needed special protection from disturbance or public attention. For this purpose, my mom had set up consultation with a group of elders from the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations, who were referred to as the “Grey Eagle Society.” This group of elders came out with us to the areas where we were working, as well as to other nearby sites, and gave advice and insight into the sacred nature of the places. I remember listening to them talk about the land and the people’s connection to it. They made it very clear that it wasn’t just these particular sacred places or old campsites that were important to protect, but all of the land. They told the creation story of the Lakota tribes in relation to the earth and, specifically, Wind Cave. The story they told was of the spirits of the people and the buffalo, dwelling underground at one time. There they had a beautiful place to live with no darkness, plenty to eat, no worries and no troubles. A spiral cavern, being Wind Cave, led up to the surface from this place. One day, the son of the chief was wandering up the spiral cave and saw a wolf looking down from the surface. The wolf, representing Iktomi, the trickster, told many tempting stories about life on the surface and convinced the man to get his people to come out of the cave. The man convinced six other men and their families to come with him to live on the surface, but once they came out they could not return. The men and their families had no idea how to survive on the surface and suffered as a result. The buffalo people, who had come out of the earth first, took responsibility for the people and provided all their needs. This is the reason the buffalo and the people are considered very closely related and have a responsibility to one another. This wasn’t the first time I had heard this origin story,

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but something about being out in the place where it all happened and hearing it from the elders made it one of the most significant. I feel a lot of what we did out there was significant to me because I could feel the connection with the land. Unlike some of the other summer field work experiences I’d had up until that point, I wasn’t just tagging along and staying at some campsite or room while my mom worked. During our work at Wind Cave, I was out walking the hills for ten to twelve hours a day, on the same sacred ground my ancestors had been for hundreds or even thousands of years into the past. This break from everyday life was a staple of my sanity through high school then, and now sitting in a prison camp on the other side of the state’ it is also a place I plan to get back to when released.

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Life on the Reservation Nonfiction

When I think of life on the Rosebud Reservation, I see the wide-open countryside, a nearly unspoiled paradise, still relatively close to the way it was when the borders were first enforced. Across much of the land, evidence of human existence is represented sparsely at best in power poles, barbed wire fences, and water troughs. With a little imagination, one can see a glimpse of the northern plains as it was two hundred, or even two thousand years ago. An endless sea of brown grass covers gently rolling hills for as far as the eye can see. Bald and golden eagles hover overhead, scanning the ground and swooping low into prairie dog towns before returning to their pine or cottonwood perches. A wise man once told me that one of the most valuable features the land base has is the amount of untilled ground. This island of undisturbed soil is interrupted only by the effects of natural erosion-carving table top buttes, badland formations, and wooded ravines. The untilled soil is the embodiment of thousands of years of plant and animal evolution, growing in a symbiotic relationship to its current state. It is soil held in place by the strength of adapted root material and isn’t disrupted easily by periodic drought or flood. To me it represents resilience through difficult conditions, and a distinct ancient wisdom held in the soil organisms unique to this part of the high plains. Beneath the soil level is the northern tip of one of the most pristine aquifers in the country. From the Ogallala Aquifer, crystal-clear springs bubble out of the ground, feeding creeks that empty into the winding Little White River. Along much of this part of the river is a dense pine riparian forest, an out-of-place oasis of plant diversity among the monoculture of prairie grasslands. Looking upwards is the peace and quiet of wide-open skies, picturesque thunderstorms, or fair-weather clouds. 4 P.M. COUNT

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The sky always feels closer to me at home, like a place you are already in, rather than something you’re looking up at. Postcard sunsets light up the land and surrounding air with bright reds, pinks, oranges and purples. Turquoise, royal blue, and navy skies chase the sun over the horizon as a brilliant display of countless stars lights up the dark above. In the country, outside of the towns and housing communities, the darkness is the commodity that makes these views possible. Having a yard or porch light that you can turn off makes the sky accessible, especially the more delicate details of the Milky Way or the northern lights in the winter. There are few places I have seen with less light pollution than in the serene country I grew up in. For me, life on the reservation is the smell of hard wood burning in cast-iron stoves. Cutting wood is often a big community event in the late summer and fall for the families in the country, because most homes have a wood stove for backup heat in the winter. There is a self-sustaining comfort in knowing that when electricity goes out, you will still have heat and can cook, as long as you prepare. For this reason, when the weather starts to change, the different households of my family get together to cut, gather, and split wood for the winter. When I was growing up, the main reservation radio station played almost only country western music from before the 1990s. For me the smell of wood and dust burning goes hand in hand with a continuous background of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams Jr., interrupted by the intermittent chatter of dispatch on a police scanner. Before cell phones and the internet, this was the way a lot of the older people stayed in touch with what was going on every day in the rural community I’m from. When I think of life on the reservation, I remember eating over-easy eggs, fresh from chickens, ducks, and geese in the backyard. I recall black coffee before hunting whitetails, mule deer, and wild turkeys as the sun came up in the creeks, valleys and fields surrounding our homes. I think of fried backstraps and venison jerky from good

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hunting trips and all the work it took to make wild turkey meat tender and taste right. For me the reservation is where my name is from: Thunderhawk flats, where my great grandfather and his family first settled near the St. Francis Mission. My middle name is in memory of Yellow Cloud bridge, near where my dad’s best friend once lived. I spent my childhood swimming here and later it’s where I hung out as a teen and young adult. These places are tied to my identity and experience, connecting me to places where my ancestors lived since the Great Sioux Reservation was divided and diminished. Dotting the prairie landscape are decaying log cabins, a reminder of this time period, when the people built their own homes and found purpose in self-sufficiency, survival, and the closeness of family. There was a time when I thought only of the negative aspects of life on the reservation. Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant, as well as unemployment, domestic violence, and suicide. This truth is a reality, but it is only half of the story. Today when I think of living on the reservation I focus on the positive because it is what I make it, and that is a place unlike any other on earth for me. It is a home full of meaning, memory, and opportunities for the next generation to experience what I did and more. This is what life on the reservation is to me.

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The Man I Was Supposed To Be Nonfiction

The man I was supposed to be is an academic and good father, a rock of support and grounding for his family, and a voice of positivity in his community. He is supposed to be an example of living a clean and sober life, breaking a cycle of substance abuse, denial, and codependency in his family. As a teen, I latched onto the release from feelings that drug use provided, and dug deep trenches of passive acceptance into those who cared for me the most. The man I became dropped out of college, one semester short of completing his bachelor’s degree. He has had only sporadic contact with his child, has been the main source of stress for his family, and has contributed to the problem of crime in his community. The man I was supposed to be was spiritually centered, following the guidance and direction given from above, by staying connected to the unseen and omnipresent. At the age of sixteen, I began to pray a lot and get what I was praying for, but did not understand that the result would not be on my terms or what I expected. As a result I rebelled, and as my actions stopped matching my words, I began learning the long and painful lesson of getting what you ask for and the importance of walking out your prayers. The man I was supposed to be had his life together by the age of twenty-five, keeping his priorities straight, using his experiences as lessons, and learning from his mistakes as often as he made them. At the age of twenty-six, a problem of overindulgence in drug use again became an undeniable obsession. Abandoning a third career opportunity in my field of study, I ended my last internship with incompletions at school and never completed the path I was promoting in the high school outreach program I helped create. The man I was supposed to be would guide the next generation in his family, by example, to lead productive and successful lives. Right now I sit in a federal prison camp 38

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making twelve cents an hour, for labor I used to charge fifty dollars an hour for in the world. The man I don’t want to be anymore still thinks of productivity and success in monetary terms, while the young men of his family have all followed his example, serving prison sentences of their own from the use or selling of substances. The man I was supposed to be would’ve kept them close in troubled times and let them wander their own paths when stress was low and life was good. He would teach them to turn the other cheek, be a better relative, and have the right intentions, despite adversity or circumstance. The man I am today has hope in the path he sees ahead. Though long is the way and hard, it is worth the road back to what’s right. When I get home, my cousins have jobs lined up for me as I return to the workforce. I have timebound goals to complete my degree and establish consistent contact with my daughter in the first year after being released. I have a recovery program to continue working and a community to support my journey as I remake the spiritual ties that give me grounding in this life. The man I refuse to be anymore might’ve thrown all this away at the first sign of trouble, getting overly frustrated with jumping through the hoops of reentry. He might’ve balked at the task of rebuilding a productive life, with honest and healthy relationships. But the man I am today will not, because the man I was supposed to be is still completely possible.

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Roberto Valdez Roberto Valdez spent his early years in his hometown of McAllen, TX. He grew up on a healthy dose of cartoons and comic books that sparked his imagination, beginning to draw as soon as he was able to hold a pencil. At this age he was drawing, reading, and playing video games that allowed his imagination to run rampant, with dreams of creating art for a living. Art as a career was not encouraged, but by his teen years, persistence led him to learn the art of screen printing, computer aided design, advertising design, photography and even developing his own film with the use of a darkroom. For the last twenty years he has resided in Chicago, IL, successfully creating and marketing various forms of art in all mediums ranging from painting, illustration, three-dimensionalsculpting, and computer-aided graphic design. His plan for the future is to continue marketing his own brand and resume work on his own comic book series.

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Act of Love Non-fiction

First Impressions Most people will look at me and try to avoid crossing my path, judging my appearance based on first impressions, I can only imagine what they think of me, a bald, heavily tattooed individual, with a black jacket, black heavy metal shirt, and black combat boots. I wear all black at the tattoo shop, because ink stains are easier to conceal with black clothing. We have to look presentable at work even at the tattoo shop; we mostly tattoo a lot of business-oriented people, especially college professors and students, as the shop isn’t too far from Loyola University. One gloomy, rainy day while leaving the tattoo shop I was about to cross the intersection of Clark and Devon, a highly busy street with congested traffic where people were scurrying quickly or distracted with their cell phones. At that intersection I saw an elderly lady who looked highly distressed. A small pool of water was overflowing from the gutters at the corner on the edge of the street; as I crossed she gave me a look that I can only describe as a plea for help. She didn’t care to judge me as she was standing there scared, but not of me; she was scared of falling, slipping in this flooded street. I looked out to her and she raised her hand, as I walked over to help her safely cross the street; we crossed the intersection, she then thanked me and smiled. She did not see a rough guy with tattoos, she saw a person. She was not quick to judge; she showed me an act of love with gratitude and a smile, without fear or disgust at my tattoos. In return, she had also received an act of love.

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Art Manifesto Non-fiction

The Making of An Artist “To live alone one must be an animal or a god. There is a third case, one must be both.” – Friedrich Nietzsche According to Sigmund Freud, an artist is a person who has withdrawn himself from reality into his fantasies. Whenever I have felt the need to create a piece of art, I can be the most creative when I am alone, secluded, and away from people. When boredom overcomes my being, I begin by playing music that allows creativity to take over, and that energy can take me wherever I want and open a portal to another world, sometimes surreal, sometimes abstract, where fantasy reigns supreme. Then I can create works of art that are abstract or bizarre. Where should I begin? I began drawing at a very early age. I can’t remember exactly when but I was around five years old. Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe and Transformers made a huge impression on me. I remember standing at the Burger King just staring in awe at the giant Darth Vader cutout promoting the Star Wars kids’ meals. I was hooked; the cartoons and movies of the 80s captivated me. My parents would often buy me the action figures and I also remember early on creating my own characters, consistently drawing them on paper. Nothing else captured my attention. I have an attention-deficit, hyperactive disorder that has affected me my entire life. As a child, I didn’t care for anything besides video games, comic books, cartoons, and my action figure collection, so I was never good at paying attention to any of my teachers or my parents. I enjoyed reading and spent a lot of time at the local library, but despite this, my grades at school were terrible and I continuously got into lots of trouble. I was really bad. I constantly got into fights with other kids, as I 42

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lived in a rough neighborhood. Once my parents realized that video games and comics kept my brain entertained and out of trouble, they began to feed my obsession with these art forms. My parents would often tell me: “You need to get good grades, study to become a doctor, a lawyer or a scientist. When you grow up, you’ll need to find a decent profession. You need to pay attention in school!” I would often reply with my usual, “But I want to be an artist and draw comic books when I grow up, that’s all I want to do!” After that they would tell me that I wouldn’t be able to make a living creating art, that I would not succeed in doing so. I would try explaining to them that artists created the cartoons and toys we watched on television, but they couldn’t understand the concept at the time. Back in the early 80s in Texas, most of the jobs were industrial jobs that required real work that meant sweating. I do not enjoy the heat, especially sticky, humid weather. I have thick blood; I’m better suited for cold climates. Anyhow, I couldn’t stand the South Texas heat and avoided being outdoors at all costs. Spending a lot of time indoors enabled me to get really good at drawing and playing video games. Besides avoiding the heat, I avoided the neighbors’ kids. In Texas in the early 80s it was very common for families to have chickens and roosters running around. All the small kids in my neighborhood were really bad kids; maybe their parents were just ignorant and let their kids run around wild like their chickens in the backyard. In junior high school we grew up on punk rock with a DIY punk rock attitude and I then began drawing and designing bookmarks that I would sell in school for two dollars apiece. Those were my first commissioned art pieces. It wasn’t a lot of money, but I sold them, and that evolved in high school when I began selling scratch art pieces I would draw on silver-foil cards. Then I began airbrushing or screen printing t-shirts for my friends. I really can’t remember what those used to sell for, but I definitely sold a lot of them. Music has always been a driving force

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behind my artwork, and had expanded my tastes to heavy metal and industrial music as well, so obviously my art had evolved as well. I had learned at an early age how to sell my own art and became a great salesman. My first real jobs after high school were at the mall in retail. Already knowing the power of selling (the more you sell, the more you earn), I was able to increase my earnings. I was making good money selling shoes for Footlocker. My managers saw my potential and eventually promoted me to full-time manager trainee, earning a salary plus commissions. Shortly afterwards I was promoted to assistant manager, and after a few months I was working for all of the local Champs, Kids Footlocker and Lady Footlocker, all owned by Kinney Shoes. I did not have a single tattoo at the time, although I tried practicing on some friends when I was young, and continued to draw any time I had the chance. Back then, I was offered a tattoo apprenticeship in Edinburg, TX, but I never actually took it up. That would mean quitting my day job which was not possible at the time, because I was married and had a small child. I needed to pay bills. An apprentice does not earn money; the major responsibility is to take care of the shop while learning the ins and outs of the business. My wife at the time did not see a future in art, and every time I tried to bring up the subject she would shoot me down. Back in South Texas, there were not many careers for artists, like in larger cities like Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, so that was out of the question. I showed her one of my new pieces of art one day and her response was, “Is that what you have been doing, just wasting your time on drawings?” That is the problem I had with getting married at a young age; we couldn’t get along because of our different views. After six years of marriage, we divorced. I would always carry hardbound drawing tablets everywhere I went and drew consistently. One day I was asked by a lady I had met if I would be interested in doing a painting for an art show. She was very impressed with the artwork she had seen in my drawing books. I had

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done paintings in school, large drawings, airbrush, screen printing, photography and I used various other mediums, but not professionally. Her offer was this: she would pay for the canvas and the art supplies so that I could do this painting for her and she would try and sell it at the show. If it sold, she would keep a percentage of it and I would get to keep the rest. I really didn’t have anything to lose so I drew up a sketch and then completed the painting in a single day. She sold it at the event, and gave me three hundred dollars in cash for the piece. Back in the 90s, that was a lot of money for a day’s work, especially in South Texas. I decided then that I would quit my day job and spend a lot of money on art supplies and paint full time for a month, taking a chance on painting. I needed to escape the clutches of a dead-end nine-to-five job. After a month I picked a few of my best paintings and took them down to the local art gallery and displayed my work there, then sold four of my best pieces after a few weeks of having my art displayed. I decided to leave Texas to find somewhere to expand my art and career choices and eventually moved to Chicago. My original intention was to get into the Art Institute of Chicago, but that was not to be that case. A friend of a good friend of mine told me, after looking at my drawings in my art books, that I should try tattooing. He said there was big money being made by great tattoo artists. He told me he was getting a tattoo the following day, so he asked me to come along with him. We all went to his tattoo appointment and the artist, a master tattooist, looked at my art book, and told me that if I would learn to tattoo like my drawings and paintings, I could easily earn a lot of money. He also mentioned that a tattoo apprenticeship would normally cost around ten thousand dollars, but he would be willing to teach me at no cost if I would apprentice under him. I was taught about proper sterilization, safety, cross-contamination, pigments, needles, etc. He taught me everything that I needed to know about the business. My friends quickly became guinea pigs for me to practice on, and within three months I had tattooed

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myself, and a lot of my buddies. My first portrait was done on my friend Ricky. At four a.m. after a night of drinking, he decided that he wanted me to do a portrait of Bob Marley smoking. I reluctantly agreed, and did my first tattoo portrait. The following morning he showed one of his buddies his fresh new portrait, and the guy asked, “Is that Buckwheat?” To this day, Ricky will not cover up that tattoo; he says it’s the first tattoo portrait I had ever done and he says he’s keeping it. Within those first three months tattooing, I had tried cover-ups, color, black and grey and portraits. Both of my legs and left arm were completely covered in ink, tattoos that I had done on myself, as I am right-handed. I was offered a job at the Jade Dragon Tattoo, the most well-known shop in Chicago with the highest traffic rate for tattooing at the time. After a while I quit, due to the hectic work environment. One of the reasons work had become so overwhelming was the high demand for tattoos. Management would pressure artists to hurry up and get the customers in and out as fast as possible. At the time Jade dragon was the most expensive shop in the city to get tattooed. Due to the high volume of customers and the cost of tattoos, work there had become a cutthroat type of environment. Other artists that wanted to be the top dogs would try and sabotage other artists, especially someone like myself who was doing high quality work, for they do not like competition. After that, I worked at another shop in Oak Park for some time, but quit due to some disagreements with the shop manager. I then ended up at Odin Tatu, which would eventually transform into Old Town Tatu. I worked long hours over the years and after six years at Old Town Tatu, I left and went to work for a few years with a friend at his own shop. He became a great mentor and broadened my work ethic; he also gave me great advice: “You do great work, so you should be charging more per hour, and be working fewer hours. If you work for only five to six hours a day, you won’t get burned out working long hours, and will

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do better work, stress-free.” He also taught me some oldschool techniques handed down to him by the old timers who taught him how to tattoo, which helped me evolve as an artist. I eventually started focusing more on painting again, experimenting with a new form of art, three-dimensional painting using impasto techniques. In two years I took this to another level. I eventually became more attached to the art of painting, and had learned to use digital art not only to enhance my hand-painted art, but learned to paint on the digital level by using digital mediums on an Intuos brand Wacom tablet. Fast forward a few years, and I was using impasto techniques that transformed my paintings to threedimensional sculptures. I will be expanding this art form in the coming years once I get back into digital painting, and enhance these paintings on Macintosh computers with various design programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Light-Room, and Photoshop. My short-term goal is to begin learning 3-D printing and using that medium as well to generate new forms of art. These new art pieces are a cross between sculpture and painting, and over the years of incarceration, I have been able to contemplate developing that even further to create functional pieces of furniture that are also works of art. It took years for my parents to truly understand that I could make a living creating various forms of art and that my art could actually generate a good income. I have never looked back to another career. As of this date, my father has passed away and my mother encourages all of my nieces and nephews to paint. They are all artists; they are all painting, drawing, and creating, and now their grandma is highly encouraging them to continue creating works of art. My son had also been drawing from an early age as well. I plan to assist him, teaching him how to create new breeds of art, and also to help my nieces and nephews in learning the ropes of their career choice. A famous philosopher of the late 1800s once said that to live alone one must be an animal or a god. Speaking for

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myself, and other artists I know, in order to create, or to be the most creative was by living alone, secluded away from the world. Out of boredom, with the desire to create something new, one can open portals to other worlds, sometimes beautiful and at other times terrifying. The dream world can create myriads of visions and the artist has to guide those visions and have the courage to see those visions through to give them life. Joseph Campbell writes in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, that the artist must travel a dark path and cross the abyss into the dark night of the soul, a mandatory passage of the hero’s journey. Artists must embrace the tragedies that fate has chosen for us as artists in order to create great works of art regardless of obstacles or opposition. Artists take a work of art to show to the world and in a sense show the world a part of their soul. The sands of time will one day transform my being into dust, but I will live posthumously. The day after tomorrow will belong to me. How will people remember you when you die?

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Dr. Seema Sehgal

Dr. Seema Sehgal is a board certified Psychiatrist in Fremont, CA, with over 25 years of experience working with an ethnically diverse population. She is keenly interested in the role of immigration and cultural stress in causing psychological distress. Dr. Sehgal is actively sought out for speaking engagements and donates her time to local schools and nonprofit organizations to increase awareness on a variety of mental health issues.

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Anxiety: Stop Negative Thoughts A Letter from Dr. Sehgal

Dear Dr. Reese, Thank you very much for reaching out and sending me the letters from Mr. Carrasco, Valdez, Mayweather, and Robison. When I gave the talk on anxiety, I was not aware that the hospital planned to put it on YouTube to reach an even wider audience (Anxiety: Stop Negative Thoughts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSwmbEjX4NA). I am so glad they did. I was humbled to read about the impact the talk had on students of your class. It reinforced my belief that no action however small is without the potential for transformative change. After reading about the wonderful work you are doing, I realized that what we both do has many similarities. In our own unique way both you and I encourage people to work hard to grow into the best versions of themselves. My way is by educating them about how emotions and thoughts influence feelings and actions, and by giving them tools to fight back against feelings of perceived inadequacy, self-doubt, shame and guilt. Your way is by encouraging self-expression in your students and empowering them to redefine and reshape the narrative of their lives through the medium of writing. Anxiety lives the two places that do not exist; the past and the future. When we catch ourselves ‘time traveling’ into the past, or ‘future tripping’ about events that may or may not happen, it often takes away from focusing on the current moment over which we have great control. All of us have to commit to work hard every day to create a loving and compassionate space in our minds where there is no judgement and self-deprecation. Only opportunities for change and growth. 74

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I was truly inspired to read about the work you do and I sincerely hope that our paths cross someday. Please convey my very best and deepest thanks to your class for taking the time to write to me. With warm regards, Seema Sehgal, M.D.

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John Gonder John Gonder was a student in FPC Yankton’s creative writing class.

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Empty Chair Poetry

I’m haunted by my memories, the good and the bad. I cannot let them go holding on to what we had. I dream of my family at the table for a meal. There’s an empty chair that once I used to fill. Are you saving me this seat and do you still remember to include me in your prayers? I want to remember our times as better more than worse. I awaken from the dream reaching out for you just grasping at a ghost, fingers passing through. These thoughts cannot linger, like fog in the morning. This makes me wonder, are you haunted too?

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The Tree Poetry

Growing up from the dirt my roots anchored to the earth. Strong storms leaving their mark. Lovers carved in my bark. Branches fall from above harming the ones that I love. Not as many leaves grow on top. My growth to the sun won’t stop. I’m finally learning the language of trees now that I’ve got a sapling looking up to me. Got to clear out the undergrowth, so it doesn’t harm us both. And when it’s my time to die she’ll inherit more sky. When I do fall her forest won’t be as small. I hope my dead wood serves others well to be a home for families to dwell.

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Seasons Poetry

I see spring in her eyes. Our love is on the rise. The bud will soon be a flower, she is my weakness and my power. To hear a bird’s song, the summer of our love comes along. We reach high for the sun, too soon the twilight has begun. What lives will die, eventually we must all say goodbye. As the leaves turn brown and fall to the ground, winter is another’s beginning. Everything never ending.

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Lachrymose Poetry

These tears, wash away these tears counting these years. How will this end? Just as we begin? All this time you’ve been on my mind. Let me say there wasn’t a day without regret what our love did beget. As a flower must die my eyes will never dry of these tears.

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Extinguished Poetry

Our love went out, like a candle in the wind. Just left in the dark hanging onto a spark. Her perfume still lingers, like smoke in the air. Invisible trails of love carried by the breeze. I can’t remember to forget you. God knows I’m trying. In the dark I’m dying.

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Awaken Poetry

If the only place I can have you is in my dreams, then let me sleep this life away. I don’t want to wake up. If only dreams came true. Until I know what this means in bed is where I’ll stay. Pinch me so we can wake.

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Without You Poetry

I never saw you, I never felt you, I never loved you. I couldn’t see you, I couldn’t feel you, I couldn’t love you, until I lost you. Now that I can’t have you I see you, I feel you, I love you. My greatest loss is you.

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Empty Days Poetry

Lost my life to empty days. Can I give back to you? All the time I took away. This I’m searching for a way to give back what was stolen and wasted. Trying to find a better way to fill these empty days.

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Ruined Poetry

Love can’t just go away like a blood stain on your favorite shirt. Even through the miles and all these years, I chose not to stay. You’re not to blame for all this hurt. How I miss your smile. I want to wipe away these tears.

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Cell 13 Nonfiction

Day 1 My first morning in solitary confinement, I’m awakened by the guard’s keys opening the pie flap on my cell door, with a thud it drops open. He looks in at me and says “Chow,” turns and walks off back down the corridor, his boots striking the concrete in a decreasing cadence. I throw my blanket off, sit up, and swing my legs off the bed, tiptoeing in search of my shoes. I find them; left foot in, right foot in, stand up, the guard returns with my food. “Five minutes,” he says and walks off. I rush to the door and get my food: runny cold oats with soggy, white bread on top and a cup of cold chicory root coffee. I bring them to the desk and sit down. I spoon bite after bite of gruel in my mouth with opposition from my tongue, and sop up the residuals with the bread and wash it down with the mud water. I drop the spoon in the cup, put the cup in the bowl, and take them to the door, setting them down on the flap. I press myself to the door and try to peer as far as possible down the hall to the right. On the floor is a blood red line, used throughout the prison as a barrier for prisoners to stay within. We call them racing stripes on the main compound because there are two of them; here there is only one, I’m sure because there is far less foot traffic. I shift to the other side of the door and look left in the same manner. I can see a wall, which puts me as the second to last cell. I don’t remember much from the last day or couple of days; I was too drunk on pruno to really care anyway. I walk back to my bunk, fold the lines and rub out the wrinkles from the sheet. There is a small barred window above the bed, but it is too early to see anything out of it. I decide to use the restroom and while washing my hands, I look into the face in the mirror. I shake my head and judgingly scorn myself with scowled eyes and flip myself the one 86

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finger salute. I’ve done time in the hole before and having a routine takes the edge off of the mind-numbing tedium. The guard returns for the utensils, takes them and slams the flap, startling me from my thoughts. I listen to the guard repeat this process back down the range and then silence. Only five or six more hours till the next meal and I’m already hungry. First order of business, clean the cell, I start with the supposedly stainless steel sink-toilet combo unit mounted to the left of the cell door. I try my best to turn this stool into a jewel, but years of rust-corroded pipes have left their mark. Beside it is a rusty gray metal grate used to extract air in the cell. Three quarters of its holes are plugged with what appears to be toothpaste and toilet paper, an effort to regulate the temperature of the cell, I suppose. I try wiping them off and popping them out and into the vent. The floor is covered in confetti and corks from mini champagne bottles; just thinking of alcohol plants the seed of a hangover. I need to get ahead of it, I need to hydrate, but I don’t have a cup. I work at the faucet and manage to turn it over and make it into a water fountain. I drink so much water I am bloated. I sit at the desk and assess my chambers, and they are very Spartan. A metal single bed is bolted to the rear wall, with a barred window centered above it. The early morning light reveals an astonishing view of a block wall and no sky; a desk and chair are bolted to the wall with a small shelf and hanger above it. There is a one-piece commode, wash basin, steel mirror, and a hole above it where once a fire sprinkler was installed, now just a rough hole in the block. The walls are painted to match the hall, waist-high feces-colored paint to give the impression of wainscoting, topped with a ghastly beige contrast. The door is the overwhelming focal point; the steel blue door is adorned with a crude large #12 painted in blood red to match the stripe on the floor. Below the observation window, with a sandwich of chicken wire, appears the prior mentioned pie flap or bean hole, among other names. The #12 is there, of course, because in prison you are removed from your identity and given a charge

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number. I continue cleaning and also collect various items left behind from prior occupants, leaving them on the desk as my treasure. Satisfied with sanitation, I look over the room with good appraisal and look at all I’ve left on the desk. There is half of a Holy Bible, pens, a notebook, a new bar of soap, a petrified mouse, two red marbles, and a threadbare brown tank top. I sit down and thumb through the bible, what’s left of it, wondering what happened to the rest, either used as rolling paper or toilet paper. I turn to Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those in prison.” I laugh and close it with a loud clap and toss it on the desk, accidentally knocking the mouse into the toilet. I laugh again, and press the flush button; I salute this burial at sea and am jealous. I decide to do a light workout. I start with some pushups, roll over into sit-ups, stand and do some jumping jacks. I stop when the stomach acid climbs up my throat and enters my mouth. I put my hands over my mouth in an attempt to hold it back, but the vomit oozes through my fingers and splatters the floor trailing to the toilet where I can purge completely. I clean up again, using the tank top as my new house-cleaning rag. I hear the guard opening flaps; it must be lunch time. He opens mine and walks away before coming back with a cart and a tray of sandwiches and a red juice jug. He hands me a sandwich. “Where’s your cup?” he asks. “I don’t have one.” He slams the flap and proceeds down the cell row serving lunch. He comes back with a black plastic coffee mug, missing the handle loop; he opens my flap, puts down the mug and fills it with juice. I take the mug, he closes the flap, nods at me and walks away. I take the juice to my nose. It has a faint cherry smell. I sip it, no flavor, I still drink it because it is cold and refreshing. I rinse out my cup and set it on the rim of the sink. I examine the sandwich, stale white bread again, with a paper-thin piece of mystery meat; I eat it in three bites. Now what? I can smell the liquor seeping from myself and decide on a bird bath in the sink. I finish up, get dressed and start pacing the cell;

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at first this makes me dizzy, and then I establish a rhythm. This goes on for hours. At four p.m. count comes, and soon after dinner time, I am still pacing. I hear the jingle-jangle of keys, I smile at the dinner bell sound. Key in, flap open, meal in, food gone, flap closed. Now what? I walk some more, then rest. At ten p.m. lights go out and I lie down and fall asleep quickly. I’m awakened at one point by a single thud from the cell to the left of me, cell #13, and I fall back to sleep. Day 2 I wake up before breakfast and make my bed. I feel rested and sober, both great feelings. I stand at the door waiting for breakfast, and here it comes on the chuck wagon pushed by an officer. I nod a greeting to him; he doesn’t notice, focusing on the task at hand. He serves me and continues on. I take my meal to the table and have a seat. Eat the cold yellow grits and flat egg, return it to the door while swishing the chicory swill in my mouth. At least it was warm today. I suck the food from my teeth, and the lights come on. The guard comes and goes, another meal down; I brush my teeth and start my walk. Lap after lap my thoughts come and go. I see the block wall outside my window lighten as the day draws forward; I wonder how many days I’ll be in here for, ten, thrity, ninety... one hundred and twenty? Whatever, I’ll be fine. it is time to review my life. I was riding dirty for too long. There is a high cost to low living and everybody pays. As the morning progresses I hear the guard, and press my ear to the door. He is taking several prisoners out of the bucket, their debts of time paid in full. I wonder how many convicts are in here? I’ll check when the guard lets me out for my hour of recreation/ hygiene time. I continue my stroll as the thoughts enter my head of the past and my freedom. My mother out there, these memories are yellowing with age. The memories that come easily are of trouble and pain rather than genuine

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good times, proof that I had done more time dancing with the devil than walking with the Lord. These recollections are so strong and vivid they elicit a tear; I wipe it from my cheek and taste its salty essence. I haven’t cried in a long time. I didn’t even cry when the chaplain told me of my father’s death, and that was about ten calendars ago. Oh, how the heart can harden to concrete and flesh become as leather and resilient to all conditions. I think as another tear falls. I chuckle a few times; this evolves into a few more tears and then my eyes well up, my shoulders hunch forward and I begin sobbing. It is uncontrollable. I sit down at the metal desk with my face in my hands and let go. My breath begins quaking as I open the floodgates and the tears stream down my face and into my hands. This fit is ephemeral and subsides. I look down into my hands, at the tears pooled in the creases like tiny mountain lakes fed by the salt water rivers pouring from my center.

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Adam Lawin Adam Lawin was a student in FPC Yankton’s creative writing class.

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Getting Out Nonfiction

I get out this year, not that I can talk about it to the guys in here. How can I brag about getting out to guys who still have nine years to go? It doesn’t matter that I’ve done seven years myself and have served my time. Two guys in my cell have been here longer and have longer still to go. Talking about getting out only reminds them that they’re not getting out—that they’re not walking out that door. It reminds them how they’re watching their kids grow up in pictures; how their dad just died, and how they couldn’t be at his side to say goodbye. How they had to get a rundown of the funeral through a fifteen-minute phone call. They don’t want to hear about me getting out the same way they don’t want to see a new fish off the bus, with a months-long sentence, start ticking off the passing days on the cinder block wall next to his bunk. So I’m conscious of my volume as I talk to family on the phone. I cover my mouth, I look around to see who’s around, I bury my head in the phone booth cubbyhole. It’s a common courtesy not to throw it in other people’s faces. But I do have concerns about getting out. There’s a whirlwind of emotion going on inside of me. I’m excited; I’m nervous. I’m nervous I’m not going to find a job that’s going to pay enough to cover rent, car, insurance, my $100,000 forfeiture order, and the student loans that have been racking up interest for the last seven years. But I can’t tell that to any of the guys here. That’s shorttimer problems. I’m nervous because I have no clothes, no car, and no license. I don’t have pots and pans for the kitchen or a mattress for the bedroom or towels to hang next to the shower. I don’t have toilet paper or toothpaste, or lamps, or couches, or a computer and printer to write my books. 92

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I don’t have a phone. But the guys in here don’t want to hear about that. They’d say, “What are you complaining for? At least you’re getting out.” I’m suspicious my family is planning a big family gettogether to welcome me home, and my friends want to surprise me. But I’ve been locked in a building for seven years and on strict COVID lockdown for the last twelve months. Do you know what that does to someone’s mind? I don’t like loud noises, I don’t like lots of commotion, I don’t like to be sneaked up on, spooked, or surprised. I don’t like people walking behind me, and I prefer to sit with my back against the wall. I’ve told friends and family to let me ease back into society, so I don’t get overwhelmed. These are problems my friends here don’t want to hear. Sure, they’ll smile and say, “Congratulations. We’re happy for you,” but inside they wish they were the ones leaving out that door instead of me. In that final week, they might whip up a cheesecake or throw together a card everyone’s signed, and we’ll do the handshakes-and-hugs thing as I’m walking out the door, but they’ll try to forget about me as quickly as they can, the same way I’ve tried to forget about so many others who have walked out that same door.

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Tattooing Her Name on Your Neck Means It’s True Love Fiction

When the tattoo artist asked, “Are you sure you want her name on your neck?” Marvin replied, “She’s the one. I know she is. I don’t think about anybody else.” “Whatever,” the artist shrugged as he fired up the gun and pounded in the ink. “It’s your skin. No taking it back now.” After four hours of wincing against excruciating pain, “Becky Jo” was scrawled in sprawling black letters across his neck. Straight from the tattoo man and freshly hammered in, the skin around the neck tattoo was tender, inflamed, and red. And now, strutting down the tier across the prisonliving unit, he passed other inmates on his way to a line of blue, doorless, pay phone booths bolted along the wall. He couldn’t wait to tell Becky about it. Becky: the love of his life. The last thread to the outside world. The only female voice he got to hear besides his mother. Without her, he’d just be another loser inmate growing bitter over watching other men enjoying dirty phone calls with their wives and girlfriends. Just ten steps from the phones, Marv was stopped by a friend, Ole Grumpy Henry, who always seemed to be wearing a scornful grin. “Marvin,” Henry said, “you got your girl’s name on your neck?” He licked his thumb and rubbed at the tattoo to see if it would smear like a Crayola marker. It didn’t, and Marvin swatted Henry’s hand away. “Ouch, man! That’s fresh. What’s wrong with you?” Ole Grumpy Henry, so named because the last time he had something nice to say was in the summer of ’88, studied the fresh ink with wide, mocking eyes. “Whoa, that thing’s permanent. You know you can’t erase that, right?” 94

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“Won’t need to.” Marvin cupped the tender tattoo, waiting for the sharp sting to dull into a throb. “She’s been riding with me strong for two years.” “And you still have, what, eight left?” “Doesn’t matter,” Marv shrugged. “She’ll be there for me when I get out.” Henry asked, “She know about it?” “I’m calling her right now.” Marvin beamed proudly, the pain forgotten. “Good luck,” Henry said, walking away, and made a show of barking a laugh over his shoulder. Marvin wouldn’t need it. Four hours of needles to the neck, and he’d never been so sure of anything in his life. The middle phone booth opened up, he slipped into the wooden frame, and plugged in the number as his heart fluttered in his chest. Dial tone… ringing… answered. His girlfriend started with a sigh, “Hey, Marvin.” “You’re not calling me ‘baby’ anymore?” Becky Jo sighed heavily, “Can we not fight today?” Marvin agreed. He had too much good news and was bouncing like a kid on Christmas. “Hey, Becky, guess what I did?” “What, Marvin?” she said, utterly distant and annoyed. “I got your name tattooed on my neck.” “You did what?” she droned, uncaring. “Got your name on my neck. Says ‘Becky Jo’ in big, squiggly letters.” Silence. Then, “You got a tattoo?” “Yeah.” “With my name on it?” “Uh-huh.” “On your neck?” “It hurt like hell, but the guy did an awesome job. The dude’s a beast. Did this cool caligerty or calligraphy or however you say it. Freehanded the whole thing and put these tribal flowers in it. Sapphire blue, like your eyes.” And another thought popped into his mind. “Oh yeah, and

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I’ve got a guy making you this cool crochet teddy bear. It’s holding a heart with your name on it.” Silence. Then, “You shouldn’t have done that, Marvin.” Marvin exhaled, a long steady breath that seemed to heave more stress on his shoulders than it relieved. “Look, I know we’ve been having our little fights lately, but I just wanted to show you that I love you and there’s no one else out there for me.” Becky sighed, “It’s the first of the month. Do I need to send you any money?” “Yeah, if you could just send me a couple hundred that’d be great,” Marv said. “Thanks, babe.” On her side of the phone, in the background, a man’s voice, “Don’t send that bum money.” Marvin jerked upright in the phone booth. “Who was that, Becky?” He listened closer. “Was that your dad?” “It was nobody,” she told him. “Don’t worry about it.” “Babe, is there a dude at your house?” “No.” Marvin raised his voice, “Babe, why are you lying to me?” Becky sighed, irritated, “Because you’ll make a big deal about something that’s not a big deal.” “Of course it’s a big deal, Becky. There’s a dude at your house.” “Uggh,” she groaned. “It’s just Steve.” “Steve Goddard? Like my best friend, Steve?” “He just came over to check up on me,” she said. “You want to talk to him?” “Why would I want to talk to that prick? He hasn’t so much as sent me a letter since I’ve been down. And why’s Steve checking up on my fiancé anyway?” “It’s not like that, Marvin.” Steve’s voice in the background, calling out, “Yes it is!” Becky shushed Steve, “Just let me talk to him.” Steve’s voice in the background, “Babe, hang up the phone.” Her voice, distant as if she pulled the phone away from

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her mouth, “Don’t rip the phone out of my hand, Steve.” In the phone booth, Marvin’s brow wrinkled up, angry and confused, “Becky, did Steve just call you ‘babe’?” “Yes… I mean No… I mean, I don’t know….” “Becky, why is Steve calling you ‘babe’?” Silence on her end…absolute silence. “Becky?” Marvin demanded. “Yeah, we’re seeing each other, Marv,” she blurted out. “OK? Are you happy?” Marvin punched the wooden phone booth. The thud echoed through the unit and drew stares and snickers. “No, I’m not happy! You’re with Steve now? I thought you were going to wait for me? I thought we were going to ride this bit out together?” Marvin rubbed his eyes, “How long have you been seeing him?” “It just happened, Marv.” “So it was just a one-night stand?” “Well… no. It’s been a little longer than that.” “So… what… like a month?” “Like two years.” In the phone booth, Marvin threw his hands up in the air. “Jesus Christ, Becky. Did you even wait for me to go to prison? I thought we were going to get married?” “You were in jail, Marv. I was lonely.” “How could you be lonely? I call you three times a day. I called you so much you told me to stop calling.” “Because every time you called you accused me of cheating,” Becky pointed out. Marvin bellowed at the top of his lungs, “YOU WERE CHEATING ON ME THE WHOLE TIME!” “Well, yeah…” Becky admitted. “But you didn’t know that until now.” The raw skin throbbed across his carotid with every thunderous heartbeat, a painful reminder screaming in his ear. “Ohmygod,” Marvin’s hand went to his head, realizing how stupid he was. “I’ve got your frickin’ name on my

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neck….” “How’s that my fault? I didn’t tell you to get it.” He dropped the phone to his waist and held the speaker against his khaki prison pants, and bellowed a huge wordless cry of fury at the phone booth ceiling. By the time he was done, he was huffing and puffing, and it took absolutely every ounce of will to calm his voice. “See, Marv,” Becky told him defensively. “That’s why I can’t talk to you. You think all this is my fault.” If he kept yelling at her, he’d push her even further away. So Marvin took deep, deep, calming breaths and made his next words like honey, groveling. “Baby, I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight with you. I just… I just want you to kick Steve to the curb so we can….Let’s go back to the old us, babe. How’s that sound?” She sighed, annoyed. In the background, Steve’s voice, “Let me talk to him.” “No. Don’t.” Becky said. In the background, “Just give me the phone.” Steve snatched the phone out of her hands and brought it to his own mouth. “Look, Marv,” Steve said bluntly. “You and her are done. We’re seeing each other now. I’ll send you twenty bucks to put a line through that stupid tattoo.” Marvin tried to reach through the phone and snatch Steve—his ex-best friend—up by the collar. “When I get out of here, I swear on everything I’m gonna—” “You’re going to what?” Steve mocked. “You’ve still got another eight years.” The threat dripped from Marvin’s tongue. He growled like a wild animal. “You think I can’t get to you from here?” “Good luck. You’re a nobody. You’ll always be a nobody. And everyone out here has already forgotten about you.” “You’re a dead man.” Steve snorted, then lowered his voice to a whisper so Becky couldn’t overhear, “I’ll make you a deal. By the time you get out I’ll be done with her, and I’ll let you have her back.” Click. Steve hung up the phone.

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“Hello?” Marvin stared at the phone for a second. “HELLO?” Marvin roared and fell into a rage, and turned the receiver into a billy club and beat the phone housing to pieces, booming profanities with every thrash. “You cheatin’… (SMASH!) no-good… (SMASH!) lyin’… (SMASH!)….” The phone fell off the wall, the casing split open, electrical guts spewing out and buttons flying through the air as it clattered to the floor. He stomped on it to make sure it was truly dead. And by the time he was done, he was huffing and puffing and seething. Inmates around him turned to stare, but were met with murder in his eye. “What are you looking at?” They averted their gaze. Or at least most of them did. Ole Grumpy Henry called down from the second floor tier. “Hey, Marv. How’d your call go, bro?” “Shut up,” Marvin spat angrily and stormed off. Every time Marvin passed a mirror he’d see her name on his neck. Becky Jo: the love of his life. Above, Ole Grumpy Henry stared like a vulture down at him with a grin dripping in mockery. “Maybe you can cover that up with a cute butterfly tattoo?” Henry’s laughs echoed through the unit.

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Don Robison Don Robison is a student in Dr. Reese’s creative writing class. He is from the Midwest and is the father of four daughters.

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Act of Love Nonfiction

As a father of young daughters I loved to spend time with them and wanted to be involved in their activities as much as possible. Youth soccer was popular in our community; my oldest daughter played on an organized team and enjoyed it a lot. Thus when her younger sister, my second oldest daughter, was old enough, at age five, to play in the league, it seemed obvious to sign her up, and this time I volunteered as an assistant coach for her team. This would be a good way spend extra time with her in a positive activity we could do together. My daughter wasn’t afraid to get dirty but wasn’t the most athletic girl at age five. She was skinny with long legs and tall for her age, but kind of clumsy and awkwardly carefree. Her hands were typically covered in half-healed scratches, both knees scraped up from various tumbles. She was uncomfortable on a bike and seemed to prefer more stationary activities like reading, playing in the sandbox, or deciding which candy toppings to add to her ice cream. Her passions were books and kittens and chocolate. Her primary physical activity was chasing the puppy around the house. I hoped soccer would broaden her interests and expose her to other activities as well as some fresh air and sunshine. She didn’t object and was certainly willing. At age five, the girls generally don’t know a lot about soccer other than kick the ball down the field and, we hope, toward the direction of their own goal. We had practices and the coach and several dads would try to explain and teach various soccer skills like dribbling and passing and also the rules like not touching the ball with your hands and not going offsides. At age five, the girls are not initially inclined to stay in their position or pass the ball to teammates. The games generally become a pack of all the players on the field from both teams around the ball as it gets kicked back and forth on the field. It tends to look like a herd of girls slowly 4 P.M. COUNT

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moving back and forth between the goals. The first year in the youth soccer league, one adult, typically the primary coach or an assistant coach, (volunteer dad), is allowed on the field during the game to help instruct the girls and direct them to stay in their positions and pass the ball down the field toward the goal. On our team, the primary coach preferred to instruct the girls from the sideline and be able to substitute players in and out of the game as needed when girls became tired or needed a drink of water. It became my role during the games to be the assistant coach on the field directing the girls during game play. I would shout various instructions to individual girls while running back and forth across the field. “Hanna, stay in midfield, wait for the ball to come to you.... Kristen, pass the ball down to Emily.... Lauren, you’re the goalie, stay down in front of the goal.... Grace, kick it in the goal.” I was trying to keep an eye on each girl on the field and trying to keep them in position relative to the ball and the players on the other team. It wasn’t an easy job. My daughter wasn’t a fast runner and typically played the defender position backfield, helping to protect the goal. When a player on the opposing team, typically a forward, kicks or dribbles the ball toward the goal, the defender is there to deflect the ball or impede the forward before having a shot toward goal. The defender position didn’t require as much speed, but she had to be alert and ready to block the ball if hit toward the goal she is defending. Near the end of the season as time was running out in a close match, I was coaching on the field, directing players when a forward on the other team broke away from the pack with the ball, went downfield, shot and scored a goal against us. I looked around and yelled for my daughter, playing the defender position, when she suddenly came running up behind me smiling a big toothy grin, with her long hair all tangled and her knees stained with grass and dirt, clutching a raggedy bunch of yellow dandelions in her hands and exclaimed, “look Dad, I picked these flowers for you!”

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Where I’m From Nonfiction

I am from a timeworn kitchen table with greyish brown Formica and metal chairs, from juicy red tomatoes, and buttered sweet corn on the cob. I am from the three-bedroom ranch on the edge of town where we played kickball in the street, pedaled one-speed Schwinn bicycles through dirt trails in the woods, and spent lawn-mowing money on vanilla/chocolate swirl ice cream cones at Daisy Delight. I am from sitting under maple trees shading the front yard and drinking water from a garden hose in the back. I am from “Pass mom the food first,” and family card games of Pitch, Hearts, and Rummy. From Mamie’s son Robert, and Irene’s daughter Bernadette. I am from the suburban basement rec room playing Skynyrd too loud and from Lake of the Ozarks where we camped on the shore and water skied behind the teal and white Evinrude-powered Glastron. From an over-the-cab pickup truck camper christened “Chug-A-Long” parked in a state park campground where we toasted perfectly brown marshmallows around the campfire after a day of learning to fish for trout in Bennet Springs. I am from Mass every Sunday, First Communion in second grade, and summer parish picnics with grilled burgers and brats and an ice-cold, twelve-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola. I’m from mid-America, central Missouri, flyover country to outsiders, the Heartland to us, with Maid-Rite sandwiches, sliced cucumbers in vinegar, and popcorn cooked with sizzling oil hot in a skillet with a lid. From the decorated World War I infantryman, farmer, local bank president, community leader, family patriarch, and grandfather. From the grandmothers who brought joy 4 P.M. COUNT

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with banana bread and homemade sweets, and tucked us in at night with love under their colorful handmade quilts. I am from the house on the corner; the kitchen where mom served love with her canned goods and cobblers, counsel, and support; and the basement workshop with dad’s table saw, Craftsman tools, and rebuilt ’31 Model A Ford.

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Absent Nonfiction

In August of 2011 my wife, four daughters, and I were driving to a small college town in north central Missouri. We were taking my oldest daughter to her first year of college. In addition to our family of six, the family minivan was loaded down with enough clothing, electronics, and dorm room necessities for her first semester of college. While she was excited and happy to embark on this new adventure in her life, I was anxious and uneasy. It was a three-hour drive from our home to the college town where my daughter would be spending the next four years of her life in her journey to adulthood. She was eighteen years old and this would be her first move away from home. It seemed like only yesterday that we were bringing her home as a baby from the hospital, and now suddenly she was a young woman ready to make her mark in the world. Her childhood was already over. Had we done all the things we were supposed to do together as a family? Would she be OK all by herself, alone here without her Mom and Dad? She had grown up but I wasn’t ready to let her go. She was a typical oldest sibling, offering advice, encouraging, and teasing her three younger sisters, paving the way through the adolescent years, planning tea parties, setting up doll houses, organizing games, and leading adventures through the back yard. She was energetic and always had a plan, assigning roles for the rest of the family, creating puppet shows, designing Halloween costumes, making Christmas candy, keeping everyone on track on her schedule. Her three younger sisters followed her instructions, not knowing they could choose otherwise. She came up with elaborate plans and let us know what she would be doing, sometimes insisting that we did it with her. She was involved in the high school musicals and we all joined in with her each year, her sisters trying out for 4 P.M. COUNT

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supporting roles, her mom making costumes while I helped with set building. As she got older she continued doing the same thing to me. She’d say, “I’m taking riding lessons and working at a stable” or “I registered to run in this marathon, and signed you up to run with me.” I really had no say in the matter. We had a busy household of school activities, soccer, swim team, volleyball, theater, and various part-time jobs. I loved having everyone under one roof. Family meals together, piano lessons, homework, puppies, school activities, sports practices and games. Fourth of July fireworks, camping with neighbor families, and summer vacations. Busy schedules and girls laughing. There was occasional drama with boys or acne or some other teenage girl issue, but those became minor diversions and we managed somehow. I cherished that family time with the girls growing up and the six of us together. My favorite job was being a father. Her leaving for college represented a big change in our family’s home life. Our busy household was suddenly going from six to five, and there was a good chance that after college she would not be back, but living on her own, possibly even farther away from our home. Even more troubling in my mind, this was just the beginning of the exodus; the other three girls were now in high school and they would be attending college soon also. Time flies and our little girls were growing up way too fast in my mind. Our household, my life, would never be the same again. There would be an empty chair at the dinner table, a constant reminder that one family member was absent. It made me sad. We arrived at her dormitory and lugged all her stuff up three flights of stairs to her assigned dorm room. My wife and other daughters helped her unpack and make her bed as she organized her things and got acquainted with her new roommates. We had lunch at a local diner downtown and then toured the campus. Eventually it was time to leave,

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and we hugged and kissed her goodbye. The five of us would be leaving one behind. I was very proud of her but also sad. I still wasn’t ready to let her go. As we said goodbye, tears formed in my eyes and I started to cry. I couldn’t help it; I get emotional regarding my family. We were leaving her here all by herself, isolated and alone. Of course she wasn’t really by herself, isolated and alone, but she was about to be separated from her family and I would be separated from her. Had I taught her everything she needed to know? I sobbed on the way home. My wife thought I was being silly. Like all families, we adjusted to her absence at home and life resumed. The younger girls still kept us busy with ongoing similar activities, but it felt different. It was a transition for all of us. It didn’t turn out as bad as I feared, but the family unit had changed. It wasn’t the same with one of us gone. I was still able to talk to my oldest daughter by mobile phone regularly and she came home for holidays and college breaks. The second oldest daughter left for college in 2013, followed by the next in 2014 and ultimately our youngest in 2016. Each was similarly difficult to let go and each was an adjustment to our home life. Our alarmingly capable daughters all grew up and left home and started their own independent lives, which is what we all want and hope for our children. I missed those days when we were all a family under one roof. It became harder to get everyone together at the same time but we were fortunately able to remain a close family and stay involved in each other’s lives. It was a bit of a transition, but we were still all one close family, despite living apart. We still managed to occasionally all get together around the dinner table. In early 2019 I was in serious trouble. I faced significant consequences due to a period of poor judgment and irresponsible activity. After a federal investigation I entered a guilty plea to several felony counts. I was now facing significant time in federal prison. After being fitted with an ankle bracelet, a GPS device to track my location, I was allowed to remain home on bond for a few months until my sentencing hearing back at the federal courthouse. I

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inflicted a lot of pain and trauma on my family and friends. Now, I would be the one isolated and separated from my family. On the date of my sentencing hearing, my family of six once again loaded into the minivan and headed to the federal courthouse. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it would be the last time we would be all together. At my sentencing the judge sentenced me to the maximum under the federal guidelines and unexpectedly ordered me taken into federal custody immediately. I did not get the lighter sentence and ability to self-report to the federal prison camp thirty days later as my attorney had promised. I was placed in handcuffs and led out a side door of the courtroom. I had only a few seconds to glance back at my family and nod goodbye as two U.S. Marshals pushed me out the door. No hugs and kisses goodbye. Would I be OK all by myself, alone without my family? Would they be OK back home without me? I wasn’t ready to be separated from them. I wasn’t ready to go. I was loaded into a van headed for the local county jail to await transport to the federal prison camp. I was now the one by myself, away from my family, isolated and alone. I sobbed in the van all the way to the county jail. Eighteen months later I am in a federal prison camp serving my sentence a ten-hour drive away from my home. I don’t expect to get released to my family for several years. I have limited contact with my family; all communication is monitored and phone minutes are capped. All five of my family members cannot visit at the same time due to current Bureau of Prisons restrictions. Being away from my family is the most difficult thing about being here in prison. My family gets together for holidays and special events and I cannot be with them. I missed my youngest daughter’s college graduation. Another daughter is getting married in October and I won’t be there to walk her down the aisle or share her special wedding day with my family. I’m still inflicting pain on my family by not being there. I am feeling the true cost of my actions. Now I am the missing family member absent at the dinner table. 108

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FPC YANKTON ARTWORK

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Artwork by Mark Ackerman

Artwork by Mark Ackerman

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Artwork by Mark Ackerman

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Artwork by Mark Ackerman

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Artwork by Mark Ackerman

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Artwork by Mark Ackerman

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Artwork by Mark Ackerman

Artwork by Mark Ackerman

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Artwork by Mark Ackerman

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Artwork by John Adams

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Artwork by Shane Arne

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Artwork by Shain Arne

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Artwork by Robert Asche

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Artwork by Robert Asche

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Artwork by Robert Asche

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Artwork by Robert Asche

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Artwork by Austin Bertch

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Artwork by Austin Bertch

Artwork by Michael Breaman

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Artwork by Michael Breaman

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Artwork by Michael Breaman

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Artwork by Michael Breaman

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Artwork by Michael Breaman

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Artwork by Michael Breaman

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Artwork by DeShane Crutcher

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Artwork by DeShain Crutcher

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Artwork by DeShain Crutcher

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Artwork by Terry Ferguson

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Artwork by Terry Ferguson

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Artwork by Ronald Lenzen

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Artwork by Ronald Lenzen

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Artwork by Ed Lewis

Artwork by Jason Nauman

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Artwork by Jacob Reagan

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Artwork by Jacob Reagan

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Artwork by Jacob Reagan

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Artwork by Jacob Reagan

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Artwork by Jacob Reagan 160

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Artwork by Bryan Smith

Artwork by James Thompson

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Artwork by James Thompson

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Artwork by Andrew Tucker-Moreno

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Artwork by Andrew Tucker-Moreno

Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Artwork by Roberto Valdez

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Photo credit: Brooks Hegge The hillside design has been a horticulture student project since the early 1990s. Each year the Landscape Design students submit their design ideas for selection by the warden.

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Writing class photo (L-R): Pedro Carrasco, Don Robison, Jarmell Mayweather, Roberto Valdez

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Pedro Carrasco Pedro Carrasco is an aspiring writer in FPC Yankton’s 2020-2021 creative writing class.

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A Letter You Will Never Read Nonfiction

Dear Roman, Man, this letter is a long time overdue, I know, and I’m sorry I’ve taken so long. There is so much that I want and need to say; where do I begin? I remember growing up and always looking up to you literally and figuratively, you being my cool cousin three years older than I. You and my brother Filly were close, because you two are the same age and went to school together, but I was always there with you guys, after school; thanks to the magic words, “Filly, let your little brother go with you!” Thanks, mom. I loved it, even though I was the youngest in the circle of friends; you never treated me like I didn’t belong. When we would hang out my brother would get so mad, he beat me up a few times because I skipped school to go hang out with you. Yeah, he would get pissed. Before that, when I was in probably sixth grade, you called my school and told them you were my babysitter and I wouldn’t be able to make it to school because I was sick. We couldn’t believe that worked, so we started pranking people. We laughed so hard when we called your mom, pretending to be an angry Chinese man from a restaurant. “You order food and no pick up! You pick up now!” Your mom hung up on us a few times before she figured out it was us. That was so funny to me, I couldn’t quit laughing. She told us to go over to Domingo’s café, your family’s restaurant. That was the first time I played a keno machine. I lost my dollar but I thought I was cool, watching my numbers flash by. Then my seventh grade year of school, wintertime, you gave me your Phoenix Suns jacket. It was black and had a deep hood; you wanted me to have it because mine was old and had holes in it. I wore that jacket with pride because 178

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you gave it to me; it was too big for me but it was warm. I watched you and my brother go through a lot of crazy stuff, from drugs to girls. It’s no wonder I was worse than both of you. You guys were raising me like a pit bull; I remember you two making me fight the neighborhood bully yo-yo for what felt like twenty minutes, even though he outweighed me by a hundred pounds. But he never got the best of me and I never quit. The first time I drove was your mom’s little black truck. It was in the gas station parking lot; you laughed at me because I was trying to use both my feet on the pedals, but when I learned how to drive then you would let me drive your dad’s gold Grand Am around the neighborhood. I have a million memories when we would do stupid stuff, smoking and drinking. Like the night when we were all hanging out and you asked me to get you a glass of water, man, I hooked it up, that cup of water, it looked perfect; ice cubes and little drops of condensation dripping down the side. All that! Man, water never looked so good to me, so when you let it sit there I drank it. You sent me to get another; it must have been the cottonmouth because I drank that one too; when I brought you the third cup you finally went to drink it. I’ll never forget the look on your face when you turned to me and said, “Man, what the hell is this? The other cups looked great but this looks like shit! Where did you get this, out of the bathroom? It isn’t even cold!” “My bad, there wasn’t any more ice.” Or I remember walking up the stairs behind you—we were baked. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but I reached out and grabbed your foot, making you fall. Man, even high you had quick reflexes. You turned and punched me in the forehead. “Ouch! what did you do that for?” I yelled. “You just tripped me,” you said, laughing. “Oh yeah, my bad.” By the time I got to high school we all started to hit our stride there were no more Cheech and Chong antics; it

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was more like a scary movie with money and girls. I won’t rehash all the bad stuff that happened after our happy days. I thank God for all the things you have already forgiven me for. What I’m asking forgiveness for doesn’t have anything to do with that kind of stuff. This has weighed on me for so long; I didn’t realize how bad it was messing with me, affecting my life and sobriety. It isn’t the only thing that has been messing me up, but my entire life has been thrown into turmoil and for a while I stopped caring about everything. I can’t hold on to it any more; I have to let it go. So here it is: When I got out of prison you were about to go in. They gave you seven years federal. We didn’t get much time to talk and I wish I would have made it more of a point to do so. One day you called me and told me, “I don’t think I can do this. I’m supposed to turn myself in, self-surrender in a couple days and I’m thinking about just bouncing to Mexico.” I was flattered you thought enough of my opinion that you would confide in me, and seeing as I just got out I thought I knew enough to speak on it. I told you that the people I had talked to in prison said that people who flee eventually come back. Life is not the same there in Mexico, and it will be that much worse when you do come back; you will get more time and go to higher security prisons. I said, “Man up, the time will go quickly and if you need anything I got you—books, money—just let me know. Then I answered your question about what prison was like and what could you expect and that was it…. I never talked to you again; you died eight months later in Sandstone, MN federal prison. Leukemia they said. They never caught it, they just let you die. When I heard you were gone, I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it. Not until I touched your hand at the wake. I don’t know who told me I had to touch you but I now know why it was so important. My walk up the aisle to where you were lying seemed

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to last forever; you lay there in a suit, with flowers surrounding you. My mind kept playing tricks on me; you were sleeping and you were going to get up. My mind kept telling me this even after your mom told me that they had flown you to the hospital in Denver as your organs began to shut down, and the doctors told the federal marshal that you weren’t going to last much longer. Your mom tried to get them to let her spend your last moments with her but the marshals refused. They said it was a security risk and wouldn’t even let her up to say good-bye. So a nurse who had overheard the argument got your sister’s cell phone number, went to your bed, called and let your mom and sister talk to you in your last moments. The nurse told your mom that you squeezed her hand as they talked to you. At the wake as I was standing there looking down at you; I reached out and when I touched your hand, you were ice cold. Then it hit me, like a baseball bat. Shit got real, real quick; you were gone, you weren’t sleeping, you weren’t going to get up, and you weren’t coming back. I started crying and I couldn’t stop. When I first got there your mom had asked me to get up and say something, to share something with everyone there. Of course I said I would, but when the time came I didn’t. Get up? Shit, I couldn’t even move, let alone speak; I felt like someone was using my heart to crush the air out of my lungs, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I had a knot in my throat and it felt like someone was driving a spike into my forehead. I am so sorry I didn’t get up; I hated myself for that and I wish so badly that I could go back. If I could through my tears and pain I would force myself up, I would tell everyone there, God included: you are my best friend, the greatest friend I had, and I love you, I wished that I could have taken your place, I felt like you deserved to live more than me. Like I said, I’ve always been worse than both you and my brother combined, but everyone that was there knew already how good a person you were; there were so many people there that loved you. That day something inside me went away with you.

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Man, you were only thirty years old—that is so messed up. I don’t deal with loss very well, and I think telling you to turn yourself in, just to die eight months later in prison is by far the worst advice I ever gave anyone. Before I relapsed and lost my mind and—before I threw myself off the deep end—these thoughts would eat at me. I would obsessively think that I shouldn’t have tried to talk you out of going to Mexico, because what if you had gone and found the cancer before it was too late. Or here’s another one: at least you would have spent the rest of your days living like a man, eating good food and chasing women. Now I know blaming myself wasn’t logical or reasonable, blaming myself or getting mad at myself was me getting stuck in my grief. In my life I’ve made wise decisions based on lies and given good advice based on bad info. When I tell myself stuff like this to try and stop the self-hatred, it sounds good but it doesn’t really help. One thing I have to talk about is that night after the funeral. I had gotten off work and it was snowing and cold, so as I sat there in my Grand Am, waiting for it to warm up. I was asking God a whole list of “why” questions. Why you and not me? etc. I felt numb and couldn’t figure out where in this universe any of this made sense. As I was pushing myself towards the edge of my sanity and closer to self-destruction and eventually relapse, I felt your presence, like you heard my despair. When I looked up, I noticed the console lights in my old junker car that had never worked were all lit up—the hot and cold symbols for the heater and the little displays. It was surreal; the snow on all the windows was melting while the heater worked to clear the windshield. It was dark in my car but I felt like everything was glowing and I knew you were there. I got to talk to you all the way home. Those lights never worked before or after that night. Thank you for giving me that sense of the ever after; even though at the time I didn’t doubt my faith—that came

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later—but you reinforced my beliefs that we never truly perish. At that time I wasn’t trying to hear any of that, though. So along with everything else going wrong in my life, your death was another crack in the ice under my feet, that ice being my foundation, sobriety and sanity. When I lost one I lost the other; then I threw in my freedom for good measure. When I relapsed it was like I fell through the ice; I didn’t even try to come back up. I had such self-destructive tendencies, I didn’t care if I lived or who got hurt. It has taken a lot to bring me back to reality; that reality is that I still have a life to live when you don’t, and that I’m wasting my gifts, which I’m sure you wish you still had. I know now I am the one who has to forgive myself for all the stuff I feel that I messed up. You aren’t here to tell me it’s OK and that everything is going to be all right. I know you had too much love for me to ever want me to feel any of this. I want to live a better life for me, in memory of the life you deserved to have. I pray I see you again one day. Your friend, Pedro This grief letter has helped me say the things I wish I could say to my cousin. The process of grief is different for everyone, and death affects people in different ways. Depression and drug abuse are things I have dealt with in my life, a lot of times alone. I wish I would have asked for help instead of bottling it up. My life would be different. I hope if you read this and you feel the same pain that you will not make the mistakes I made and celebrate the people you love and the time you had with them. Reach out to the people in your life, spend time with them and let them know how you feel.

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Empty Promises Nonfiction

This is my last time getting high! I tell you again for the millionth time; I feel ashamed because I know it’s a lie. I look at you through the glass of the cage I put you in. Flick the Bic, watch it spark, hit you with the flame, watch you melting, you turn to smoke. [SMOKING!] Like abuse, I hit you again. I love your touch and how you feel, the way your soft fingers creep up my spine. Can’t anyone tell me it isn’t real; my scalp crawls as I breathe you into me. I hold you so close. I know when I release you, my heart will race and the mist will fall as clouds cloud my mind. So I let you go with an explosive exhale. I feel you rush through my veins, my spirit, my whole being, and reality fails. As I sit here in my haze, you promise me no more pain, no more worries, nothing but cloud nine. But that is short-lived, so it’s not long before we do it again. You are constantly whispering to me. “Kiss me, baby oh yeah, baby, let’s do it again.” Has it always been like this, this love affair of ours? I can’t even remember the first time. It’s like I’ve always known you and your company is like a black cloud that has always been there blocking out the sun, so I can only feel a little bit of warmth and nothing here ever grows. I don’t even remember what sober is, so high I feel like I’ll never come down and even if I do, I’ve lost so many pieces of me, what will be left to find? What will be found? A hollowedout shell of a man or a soulless beast? Your scent is burned into my mind, your taste on my tongue. You tell me that you have always been mine. With you, I thought, I would see my dreams, but I walk around as if I’m dreaming and everything we had is like smoke 184

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blowing away in the wind. I won’t eat and I can’t sleep until I can’t stay awake. This crazy love of ours has pushed everyone away. Yours is a jealous love; you want me all to yourself and everyone can see I only have eyes for you. You are all I’m living for, every day half-dead; I fall to my knees, I want to die in your arms. It wasn’t until I tried to leave you that I saw my spirit and my will collapse. Then I could see you without your mask; like the devil you had me trapped. Then you would whisper your promises as you dug your nails into my heart. “It’s going to be different this time, just come back.” And like a fool I believe you; like a fiend I let you pull me back. And here it comes: The relapse. I gave everything to be with you; now you’re gone too, so I make my own promise: This is my last time getting high.

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Lost Nonfiction

You have been lost for so long; getting high made you wander off the path. Your life once like a beautiful dream has now become a nightmare, haunted by the memories of the past. When you try to take control of your dream the crushing disappointments and loneliness set in. Then it’s painful and clear you are lost and alone. It’s just you now! Only you. Lonely, nobody knows you. The friends that you thought you had, the ones you found in the fog, are like phantoms that disappear in the light. Bitterness is the only thing you can taste as you find yourself in Lonely’s embrace; with nothing to see, no one to see it with and no one to hold. Scared, broken and lost you shout, “PLEASE GOD, JUST A LITTLE HELP!” You want to know that all this pain you go through isn’t for nothing. “Please, somebody hear me,” you pray softly, stumbling in the dark. But this is what you came to hear: You are lost only because you never cared where you were going. You said to yourself, “Make a choice and don’t look back; regret will only slow you down. Make the next move your best move.” All those people in your life are just as lost as you. How can you expect them to know you or know what you want, when you don’t even know? Feelings come and go, people change. Even Satan used to be an angel. So how can you expect a person to never fall from grace? Things are never going to be perfect; stop waiting for the perfect time. The greatest power rests in your hands: the power to create a world of your choosing. You can make up something and tell it to yourself to get you through the pain, the day, or to push yourself to new heights. Sometimes it’s better to believe what’s useful. 186

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You are not the only one lost, and you will never be alone. God is in every layer of you, every part seen and unseen. You chose to stop being comforted; instead choose to know that God loves you. I can’t tell you what your purpose is, but I can tell you for sure what it’s not. You weren’t put here on this beautiful earth to be miserable for anyone or anything. Suffering is a part of life and so are mistakes, but neither one is your friend, so don’t spend more time than necessary with them. Punish yourself once and move on with purpose. Before the inevitable day that your eyes close for the last time, make the most of your life. You weren’t put here to make anyone else happy at your own expense. And how could God not be happy with you if you take responsibility for your own life and creations, and if you don’t just follow blindly someone else’s beliefs without testing it for yourself? Look inside yourself. God has given you the gift of life with a beating heart and a mind to think. Meditate on that, then tell me how all that magically came together at the moment of your creation to create you? You have the gift to make your world as peaceful and as magical as you want. Paint it in bright colors and love, or you can let the negativity make it misery, darkness, and hell on earth. If you are lost, call out! Then shut up long enough to hear the response.

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Today I Marveled at Life Nonfiction

As I sit there locked in my box, my dungeon—not the one that consists of scarred, old, grey painted bricks that make up my world, my life, my cell. No, the prison I am trying to find my way out of has no discernable walls or limits. I feel like there is something more to all of this. How many times have I asked God to reveal to me what I feel is missing, the thing that is pulling at my heart and ripping at my soul? I have found the time, so I meditate on the tree of life, ten sephirah, my different-colored chakras and the thing that I have in common with everything in this world, in the universe, in the cosmos, and all that was created. “Energy.” Inhale, exhale. This is how I know my body still lives, because I still have to breathe. But breathing doesn’t mean I’m alive. On my next exhale I feel it as it rises, the life in the energy of my breath. Is it the same life energy that courses through everything like that of the smallest bug or a super nova? (It must be.) So to everything that can think, how precious is life, and are they the center of their own universe? (It must be.) As I begin to lose myself, it isn’t easy trying to detach from my mind’s chaos and hoping to be calm and still enough to hear a divine word or two. It’s like looking through a dark glass and feeling what is in the murky 188

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shadows. It’s like the emotional kaleidoscope of the third eye where words don’t exist, just feelings and intentions, and where you will get further with love in your heart than anything else. I let my mind travel to the very end of my imagination over magical forests, endless oceans, over a million stories that I may never even think of, through spaces not often used, into the endless unknown, past galaxies to the very edge of my imagination, where I find a hard shell. Maybe I ran out of things to imagine, maybe it’s the inside of my skull, maybe if I look I can find a way out. (MAYBE.) A trip into my own mind makes me feel so small in comparison to the vastness of everything that I don’t know or understand, or things I couldn’t even comprehend. It’s as if if I could somehow travel to the very edge of space, what would there be, what could there be, would it be like the inside of a hard shell? (MAYBE.) As I come back to my reality to occupy this space on this ball of dirt encased in a thick layer of oxygen. I spin through space round and round a blazing inferno a star we call our sun. I’m amazed how in an imperfect world each and every one of us is perfect. As beautiful as creation is, it’s madness. “Perfect madness.” That is the thought that I’m left with....

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Jarmell Mayweather Jarmell Mayweather is a student in FPC Yankton’s 2020-2021 creative writing class.

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I’m Killing My Mother Nonfiction

Time waits for no one, yet the day I was arrested, my mother was left waiting for the day I would be released. Thus I bestowed the painful resentment towards time onto my mother’s heart. She would wait ever so patiently, looking to fill the gap that developed in the pit of her stomach and moved up the central nervous system to her heart. Countless times I envisioned my mother glaring in thought of my projected release date that she transcribed in her mind, May 19, 2028. The day is sketched out in a red heart on her calendar, the day she would be whole again appears on the refrigerator, and on her desktop computer. “Four thousand and fifteen days, and I’ll be whole again.” My mother would stare at the calendars, counting the days. My mother fell into destitution December 18, 2018, the day I was found guilty. Oddly, she was living in poverty all her life, but previous to my imprisonment she hadn’t noticed. The day resonates in my soul; I can still hear the echoes of my mother’s cries when the bailiffs ushered me out of the courtroom, one on my left side, one on my right side, and two behind me. Two minutes had passed since the verdict was fired out: guilty. The judge ordered the bailiff to take me into custody. The cold metal jewelry was set uncomfortably tight on my wrists. The clock started ticking the minute they took me into custody. I stumbled; my legs were weak as I took a few steps towards my fate, trying not to look behind me, although my mind compelled me to do otherwise. At the eerie sound of the clock ticking, my heart shifted from fear to pain. I can still see my mother’s knees buckle (in my peripheral vision), can hear the sounds of her cries, resembling anguished pain. I thought to myself, “I’m killing my mother.” Her small five feet three inch frame, high cheekbones, wide light brown eyes, tan skin, had a black cloud cast around her broken lifeless body. Thoughts of 4 P.M. COUNT

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imprisonment sunk in, eleven years: I suppose that’s not too bad; it could have been sixteen or even twenty years. I’ll be fifty-one years old at worst, but my mom will be seventy. Will she make it to her seventieth year of birth? My mother is a rehabilitated alcoholic, forty-five year veteran of chain smoking cigarettes, an enslaved, retired Wells Fargo workhorse with shoulder and back pain. Those conditions alone shorten her life span, and now she bears the added stress I’ve caused. My mother is already at sixty. “Damn, I’m killing my mother!” All those stress-filled nights of worry, up all night wondering if her first-born was going to be a victim of a robbery or murder, or gunned down in the streets after a bad drug deal.... I never thought about the painful aspects of the stress I imposed on my mother, never thought about the fear of death she endured because of my selling drugs. Never considered how constant worry shortened her life span. Her nerves are bad and have gotten worse over the years, her hands shake when she visits me, and she repeats the same questions. “Do you want something to drink? Did I already ask you that?” She constantly whines about getting old. Her eyes tell me, “I’m trying to hold on, son, but I don’t know if I’m going to be here when you come home.” She touches me softly, and talks to me about the day I was born. Kisses me on the lips, and tells me she loves me with a halfhearted smile. The pain is relevant, no matter how hard I try to make her smile before she walks out the visitors’ door. It is showcased in her long good-byes, hesitant smile, and watery eyes. She saved me from plenty of things, but this she can’t save me from, and it’s eating her alive. “Damn, I’m killing my mother.” I am responsible for my mother’s bad nerves. The stress I have caused, the drugs I sold, the crimes I committed were the leading cause of her nervous breakdown. Guilt consumes me when I see her face, and stomach acid rests on the back of my tongue. If words are drugs, my actions are an overdose of pain that I have caused. Today she stated, “I cannot wait for you to come home,”

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and I responded that I‘d be home soon; she replied, not soon enough. Damn, I am killing my mother.

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The Greatest Love Poetry

What good is a love that you can’t hold? What good is a love that doesn’t come home? What good is a love that you rarely see? What good is a love that can’t pick you up when you fall? What good is a love that you can’t even call? What good is a love that you can’t make love to? What good is a love that cannot kiss you? What good is a love that you can see only through a picture? What good is a love you can’t bring to the party, but only can mention? What good is a love that isn’t tangible? Love is someone you can depend on, Love is someone who holds you up when you can’t stand on your own, Love is someone who tells you you can, when you have doubts and don’t believe you can do it on your own. Love is someone who tells you you’re worth it when you don’t believe that you are. Love is someone who tells you it’s ok to fall, but it’s better when you stand back up. Love is someone who tells you, you are doing a great job. Love is someone who tells you they love you for no apparent reason, other than they do. Love is someone who tells you it’s ok to cry. Love is someone who doesn’t give up on you when you gave up on yourself. Love is someone who loves you unconditionally. So I asked my love, what do you do when you cannot hold me? She replied, It’s your memories that keep me warm, and I’ll depend on them until you come home. What about the days you rarely see me, she replied, Those 194

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are the days that you need me, and I depend on you like you depend on me. What about the days and years I won’t be able to come home? She replied, I look forward to the day you come home, and I can feel your warm embrace, and I’ll keep your daughter and son close to me. If I look hard and long enough I can see your face. What good is a love that can’t make love to you? She replied, What good is a love that doesn’t belong to you? Your letters, calls, and emails are all I need until you get home, ‘cause it’s only your love I depend on. What good is a love that cannot kiss you? She replied, There is only time and space, and my heart misses only you, and you cannot be replaced. What good is a love that you can only see through a picture? She replied, It keeps me going until you get home, and we get to the full picture. What good is a love that isn’t tangible? She replied, Baby, love is intangible, the day you said I love you, I felt it at the top of my head to the tip of my toes, and you were miles away and your love was confessed over the phone. Some days I feel like we just can’t be; she replied, Without you, there is no me.

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A Real Christmas Story: A Mother’s Prayer Fiction

It was two weeks before Christmas, salt stained the streets, and frost glazed the windows of houses, cars, business fronts and apartments in Minneapolis, MN. This was a cold time of the year, and the winter chills reminded fellow Minnesotans that winter was just approaching. The cold air and holidays brought families closer together. Paula had recently moved from Saint Louis, MO to Minneapolis to find work and provide a safer environment for herself and her three children, Jarmell, twelve; Carlos, eleven; and Yolanda, ten years old. Paula was a single parent and worked at Pizza Hut for three dollars and eighty-five cents an hour. The minimum wage pay left Paula with little income, and with Minnesota’s cold winters, the gas and electric bill doubled the cost of the previous summer, which made it difficult for Paula to keep up with bills and rent during the winter. Paula decided to walk home from work after a midday work shift to clear her mind. She looked around at the poverty-stricken area that displayed pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, and drunks. That was not ideal for raising children, but Paula considered it to be better than where she was raised. Paula arrived home and checked the mailbox. “More bills, bills, and what’s this….an eviction notice. Oh Lord, what am I going to do?” Paula said to herself shoving the mail in her purse. She stared up at the two-story duplex, with a Chinese restaurant at the foot of it. She took in a deep breath, inhaling the smell of sweet and sour sauce and soy sauce. She attempted to wipe away the anguish that was on her face with her hand; she didn’t want her children to see the suffering written on her face. She attempted to place the key in the lock but realized the door was left open. “Jarmell, why in the hell is my door open?” Paula said, 196

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placing her purse and coat on the door hanger and placing her hands unevenly on her hips. “Mom, we’re not in Saint Louis any more, there’s like a thousand white people outside, with hundreds of cops out there; besides that, I seen you walking up the walkway.” Jarmell said, smiling. “Boy, don’t be leaving my door open, I don’t care where we at!” Paula said, with her finger pointed. Paula went to her bedroom and closed the door behind her; she did not want her son to see or hear her cry. She wanted to stay strong but inside she was weak. She knew if she did not stay strong for her kids’ sake, they would just fall apart. Paula got down on her knees at the foot of her bed. “God, I know that I haven’t been the best mother, but Lord you know I love my children. Please allow your hands to come down from the heavens above. I do not know where else to turn, I am all out of options; maybe the Salvation Army will pass out good gifts this year. Oh, Lord they never do, Please Lord! My babies deserve a good Christmas; it’s the only thing they look forward to all year. God, please don’t allow my babies to suffer any more then they have already, they are good babies!” Paula rested her head on the edge of the bed, crying. Jarmell listened outside his mother’s door. Her words cut deep as she spoke. He ran to the bathroom and closed the door behind him. He kept his back against the door and slid down to the floor. “God, if you’re listening I don’t want anything for Christmas. I’ll be OK knowing my mom is happy. That’s all I want, is for my mom to be happy. She says you love me but I never see you. How can someone love you that you never see? Mommy tells me to have faith, but how do you have faith about something you’ve never seen?” A silence fell over the room; Jarmell could hear the faucet dripping. The sounds of the water dripping kept getting louder with every drip that fell. Jarmell began to count the drips. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven....” Jarmell counted until he fell asleep. “Jarmell, Jarmell, wake up!”

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“What? Carlos, leave me alone I’m trying to sleep.” “Get up, son!” Jarmell opened his eyes to something he had never seen before. “Who are you—and what are you doing in my bathroom?” “My, my, my, one question at a time, kid.” Jarmell wiped his eyes and adjusted them. “I must be dreaming; Santa Claus in my bathroom!” Jarmell said, rubbing his eyes. “I must be still dreaming! I know this can’t be real!” Jarmell shook his head, as if to wake himself up from sleep. “If it wasn’t real, would you be able to feel this?” The man said, pinching Jarmell on the arm. “Ouch, that hur-ted!” “Don’t worry about that; you’re a pretty tough kid, you’ll be fine.” “Hey, if you’re Santa, how come you’re not white?” “Who said I was Santa?” “Um, duh! Your clothes are white and red, your boots are shiny black, you have a long, thick beard, and you have that big stupid black belt on!” “What do you think gave me away: the boots or the red and white outfit? You know I’ve been meaning to change my colors, but the missus insisted that I wear these colors for some odd reason or another, anyway.“ “Wait a second. If you’re Santa, what are you doing here?” “You called me!” The man shrugged his shoulders. “No I didn’t, I specifically asked for God!” Jarmell crossed his arms and pouted. “People get this mixed up all the time around the holidays.” “Not me! I asked for God!” “Like I said, it happens all the time. You asked for me. Simple mistake, no big deal, it happens all the time, kid.” “No, I asked for God, specifically asked for God.” “Listen kid, very carefully, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus being born. You get it? Christ, Jesus, thus Christ—mas?

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People always seem to forget that part.” “What?” “Listen kid, Christmas is the celebration of life. God giving his son for mankind. He was born to give everyone life. I’m the spirit of Christmas, Jarmell. Christ being Jesus.” “What does that mean, and how did you get in my bathroom?” “Jarmell, there are going to be some things that I am going to have to explain to you when you get a little older,” the man said, patting Jarmell on his head. “I hate that answer; that’s what old people say when they don’t have an answer.” “OK, wise guy, many people believe that you have to have a visual of something in order to believe it’s actually there. Often humans retrieve past perceptions or parts of them and act on them in a way as if they were a percept or in your case a situation. It’s called imaginal thought.” “I have no idea what that means.” “I always get that. Nevertheless, the spirit of Christmas approaches you,” the man said, bowing his head. “So what are you going to do? Did you come here to do something special or magical? Like give me all the presents I was supposed to get years ago, and I never got?” “I am going to do you one even better than that; follow me.” “Hold up, hold up. Don’t tell me we’re going to walk outside this bathroom and we’re going to be in the North Pole or some wild trip down memory lane where I see all the naughty things I did.” Jarmell said, pointing his finger at the restroom floor, and the door. “What, are you crazy? We’re going into your kitchen to get a little something to eat. What do you think this is, Alice in Wonderland?” “No, I’m just saying.” Jarmell said, dropping his head. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. It’s not every day that Santa walks into your bathroom.” “Wait. Why me? Why now? Why in my house?” “Come here, Jarmell?” Santa said, patting himself on the

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lap as he was sitting down on the toilet. “I’m not sitting on your lap!” “Huh! I suppose you’re a little too old for that?” “Yeah, you think?” “I tell you what, you have a seat on the toilet and I’ll have a seat on the floor; besides, I have a little more cushion than you do.” Santa said, sitting Indian style on the floor. “Ooh, it’s been awhile since I’ve sat like this. Jarmell, I came here because the spirit of Christmas lives in you.” “How is that?” Jarmell questioned, as he rested his elbows on his knees and hands under his chin. “Well it lives in all of you, but everyone is so caught up in receiving that they forget to give. But this year you didn’t do that; your wish was for someone else’s happiness besides your own. That’s what Christmas is, a time to celebrate life and through life we give love to one another. That’s what life is, its love, love is God, and God is love. You get it?” “No, I am even more confused than when you first started.” “Well, let’s see.” Santa said rubbing his fingers through his beard. “I got it! No, that wouldn’t work, he’s a little too smart for that, yeah that’s it. Here, take a look into the mirror?” “Are you serious?” Jarmell said, turning towards Santa. “Yes! Just look in the mirror.” “What, I am looking and I don’t see nothing!” “Give it a second, these things take time.” Jarmell stared impatiently. “Oh, wait, I see something. Hey, it’s me when I was a little baby and that’s my mom. Isn’t she pretty? She looks so happy, why is she so happy? Who’s making her happy?” “That’s the love of life. She’s happy because I gave her something she hasn’t felt in a long time.” “What’s that?” “Love, in the form of life, son. You had no idea what love was, but you were loved and you showered her with love.” The mirror went blurry, and another vision came in. “Aye, I remember that. That’s when my mom was

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teaching me how to count on the toy she bought me for Christmas. She is happy there too.” “Yea, that’s when you were three; your mother thanked me three times that night.” The mirror went blurry again, and another visual came in. “Yeah, I remember that too, that’s when she bought me a racing track for Christmas, she was so happy then. Hey wait a second, why come she’s so happy when she is giving me stuff ? I mean wouldn’t she be happy getting something on Christmas too? No one ever gives her anything.” “Jarmell, your mother finds happiness in making you, your brother, and sister happy. There is nothing more that could make your mother happier in the world than to make all of you happy, and I feel the same way. That’s what love is and it’s the same way I feel about all of you.” “Why here, why now?” Jarmell questioned, with his eyes. “You’ve asked for the happiness of someone else besides yourself. When you asked me for your mother’s happiness, that’s when I came, to grant you just that. You spoke from your heart.” “So um, I take it that you’re going to find some way to make my mother happy?” “Jarmell, take another look in the mirror.” Jarmell stared in to the mirror. “I don’t see nothing. What’s taking so long?” Jarmell began to knock on the mirror. “Santa, I think this thing is broken.” “Knock, knock, knock, come on, Jarmell, I got to pee! Ma, Jarmell won’t open the door so I can use the bathroom!” Yolanda said, knocking on the bathroom door and yelling for her mother. “Santa, Santa?” Jarmell said looking in the toilet and bathtub. “Santa….” “Jarmell, I gotta pee!” Yolanda said, moving her feet up and down from the floor. “All right girl, here I come.” Jarmell said, opening the door.

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“Move, get outta my way! I said I gotta pee a hundred times!” Yolanda said, pushing past Jarmell as he made his way towards the living room to his mother. “Mom, I love you more than anything in the world!” Jarmell said, wrapping his arms around his mother’s waist. “Oh, I love you too, baby. Where is all of this coming from?” “You don’t have to get me nothing for Christmas.” “Baby, did you fall and bump your head or something while you were in the bathroom?” Paula said, rubbing Jarmell’s head. “I just know things are hard for you right now.” “Come here, baby. God always makes a way even when it feels like there isn’t a way. I know things are tight, but I also know things are going to be all right. It makes me happy making you happy on Christmas day,” Paula said, rubbing Jarmell’s head. “I know it makes you happy.” “And how do you know that?” Paula said, squeezing Jarmell with a big hug. “I just know, mom, stop, that—tickles!” “Boy, didn’t I tell you, to get in there and clean that room up?” Paula said, while tickling Jarmell. He could not stop laughing. “Yeah, OK mom, please stop!” “Why you ain’t cleaned it up then, huh?” Paula said, tickling Jarmell under his arm pits. “OK mom, I am finna clean it as soon as you let me go, I promise.”

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The Other Side of the Lake Fiction

The brisk morning wind brought Jaradoni out of his morning slumber. He blinked his eyes to adjust to the sun coming through the bus’ window, peeking over the horizon. The bus revved its engine as he tried to balance his sevenyear-old frame against the jolt that moved the bus forward. Jaradoni stretched his arms over his head, and looked over at his mother who was holding his four- year-old sister Yardoni in her arms, and his six year old brother Carlito across her lap, the vibration of the bus’s axle pulsating underneath his feet. Jaradoni motioned his lips to speak, but before he spoke, his mother raised her index finger to her lips. Paulina could read the look of concern about their whereabouts on her son’s face. He moved his head back and forth looking for a familiar landmark, the McDonald’s or White Castle did not look familiar. She rose up to pull the cord, balancing Carlito in her lap and Yardoni in her arms. Jaradoni saw the struggle and stood on the seat to pull the cord. His mother smiled with her eyes, signaling her son a silent “Thank you.” Jaradoni was curious about where the bus was letting them off; he balanced himself with the guardrail of the bus to look out of the window. He stared out the window impatiently, trying to make out the landmarks, but nothing seemed familiar. It didn’t seem like they were in Saint Louis any more. Jaradoni looked at the window, looking for the Mississippi river, or the Arch, but he saw no sign. He adjusted the backpack as his mother moved his sister to sit comfortably in her arms and his brother Carlito against her waist. Jaradoni grabbed his brother’s hand as his mother grabbed a large backpack and oversized diaper bag. The bus driver stared into the mirror with irritation at the tip of his nose; Jaradoni could see his eyes peering at his mother’s frantic movements, and it made him uncomfortable. He assisted his mother by grabbing the diaper bag, which he 4 P.M. COUNT

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pulled behind him down the bus’ stairs. The bus took its time pulling off; the chill of the morning caused Jaradoni’s nose to flare up at the cold, and goosebumps developed on the back of his neck. He thought about asking his mother where they were headed, but he second-guessed, and decided that the timing wasn’t best for questioning at this instant. Yardoni began to squirm, looking for a warm spot in her mother’s arms to keep her face from the cold chill. She began to let out a muffled whine, but the wind echoes broke her away from her from her restless sleep. Paulina set Yardoni up; she wobbled back and forth rubbing her eyes, adjusting her footing, holding her mother’s pants leg. Paulina signaled with her hand to her daughter to grab it; Yardoni reached up and grabbed her mother’s hand, still half asleep, rubbing her eyes. They crossed the busy morning expressway hand in hand. The fumes of gas from semi trucks and other traffic filled their noses. They stopped short in a park at a water fountain, which otherwise acted as an early morning bird hangout. Paulina rested the large diaper bag on the pavement. The birds flapped and chirped over their heads as they flew away from the water fountain. Paulina handed each one of her children a toothbrush wrapped in a plastic bag. Jaradoni stared at his; Yardoni placed hers at the tip of her tongue while she yawned. Paulina placed a pea-size squeeze of toothpaste at the tip of their toothbrushes, one at a time. Yardoni coughed and stuck her tongue out three times at the bitter taste of cold Colgate. The four of them brushed and rinsed their mouths at the water fountain. Yardoni smiled and pointed towards the swing that the morning wind was swaying back and forth. Paulina smiled and nodded her head, “Yes”. Yardoni reached for Jaradoni’s hand, the sun sparkling in her eyes. Carlito was already running towards the lake. He stuck his hands in the wet cold sand, to only brush them off on his pants legs and run the opposite direction of the lake. Paulina rested herself and the bags on a nearby bench, looking towards the sun for a sign of warmth, which

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was seldom felt in stages in accordance with the wind and clouds. Carlito seemed excited to have the whole jungle gym to himself. Jaradoni rested Yardoni’s legs in the baby swing and followed his mother’s eyes around the small park located just outside the lakeshore. Small waves collapsed at the coastline. Seagulls squawked at one another. Yolanda turned backwards towards her brother, kicking her legs, straining to him that she was ready to swing. The swing screeched an eerie sound when Jaradoni attempted to find his footing in the wet sand. He stared up at the mechanics of the swing, making sure it stayed in place as he pushed his sister. The sun began to kiss the sand, drying its dampness. Jaradoni pulled Yardoni out the swing and walked her to the slide; she clapped her hands and stomped her feet, displaying her excitement. Jaradoni used the arm of his jacket to clean the damp sand off of the slide. He walked his sister up to the top of the slide. He took in a deep breath through his nostrils, taking in the smell of the lake, last night’s rain, salt and seaweed. Yardoni pointed at the excess sand that Jaradoni missed. He brushed off the sand and set his sister down at the top of the slide. Jaradoni waited for two male joggers to pass before he pushed his sister down the slide. Paulina watched Jaradoni from the bench. Her heart got warm and goose bumps rose on the back of her neck, seeing her son shielding his younger sister. She watched them play for a few minutes before waving them over with her hand to the restroom. She handed Jaradoni a bar of soap in a plastic bag, and he walked his brother into the restroom while Paulina waited just outside the door. Jaradoni raised Carlito up to the sink and rested his feet on the garbage can lid. He turned on the water and retrieved the soap from the bag his mother handed him. He helped his brother wash his hands thoroughly before walking him over to the urinal. Afterword, Jaradoni washed his hands and used the restroom himself. His mother and sister followed the same sequence as he stood in the doorway to the ladies’ restroom,

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watching the strangers walk by. Paulina came out with Yardoni in her arms and walked over to a picnic table. The sun warmed up half the table, while the other side stood moist from last night’s falling rain. They all sat alongside the dry side of the table. Carlito rubbed his hands together; Jaradoni could hear his brother’s stomach growl. Paulina lay paper towels from the restroom in four places on the table. She pulled out half a loaf of bread and lunch meat from the diaper bag. She made sandwiches and set them on the paper towel sheets she retrieved from the restroom. She opened a bag of Doritos and placed a handful on each napkin. Yardoni placed her hands in the prayer position, and her siblings followed suit, each one of them praying in silence amongst themselves. After prayer Yardoni, Carlito, and Jaradoni looked over at their sandwiches and then towards their mother. Paulina combed through her bag, thumbing around until she found a white plastic butter knife. Yardoni smiled as her mother cut her sandwich kitty-corner. Carlito insisted he cut his own. Paulina allowed him to cut it, and he was upset it wasn’t as good as his sister’s cut. Jaradoni allowed his mother to cut his sandwich; he knew she took pride in cutting a straight line. The children ate their sandwiches, swinging their feet underneath the table. Paulina rose up and filled an empty Pepsi bottle with water. She drank half the water before refilling it, then rested the water in the middle of the table. Yardoni set her sandwich down and reached toward the bottle, closing and reopening her hands as she reached. Jaradoni handed her the bottle, holding it in place as she drank from it. Yardoni paused to take a breather before drinking more water. Jaradoni noticed that there was a small piece of bread in the water, dumped it out and refilled it before giving it to Carlito. Jaradoni watched as his brother placed more bread in the Pepsi bottle than his little sister did. He allowed his brother to take his time with drinking his share of water. Carlito spit out water and then took another long sip. Jaradoni shook his head as Carlito handed

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him the bottle. Jaradoni rinsed the bottle out and refilled it and handed it to his mother. She shook her head “No,” as she smiled and rubbed the back of Jaradoni’s uneven Afro. He drank the water proudly. Paulina cleaned up their mess from the picnic table and took Yardoni by the hand as she adjusted the bags on her shoulder and back. She made her way to the lake’s walkway with Jaradoni and Carlito in tow. Jaradoni encouraged his brother to stay in front of their mother by standing in the race position and running ten to fifteen feet in front of their mother. Yardoni observed the excitement and looked up at her mother to join in. She released Yardoni’s hand and Jaradoni stood next to her in the race position as his sister took off running without warning. He smiled as he ran one foot behind his sister, pretending to lose the race. Yardoni laughed uncontrollably as she raised her arms above her head, looking for her mother’s approval. They walked toward the intersection; Jaradoni took his brother’s hand, which seemed to annoy Carlito, but it was short-lived once he recognized the grocery store was on the other side. Just as Carlito’s black Converse hit the curve he snatched his hand away from his older brother, running to grab a grocery cart with a big smile on his face, and the taste of candy at the tip of his tongue. Carlito pulled the cart toward his mother; she set the bags in the cart, relieving the stress from her shoulders. Carlito guided the cart behind his mother, making sure not to bump his mother’s ankles with the cart. Jaradoni rested his hand on the foot of the cart, to help his brother guide it. Paulina stopped in front of them abruptly, and Jaradoni caught the cart just before it hit his mother. He narrowed his eyes at Carlito, warning to be careful. Carlito’s eyebrows rose to indicate that he had control. Paulina wiped off a few grapes as she handed the big purple grapes to each one of her children. Yardoni bit down on the grape as juices squirted out from the side of her mouth. Paulina measured and placed a half pound of grapes in the cart. They strolled around the store, more killing time than shopping; she picked up a couple cans of

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chicken soup before making her way toward the checkout aisle. Carlito jumped up and down on the cart as he glanced over the large selection of candy bars. Paulina signaled with one finger, and Carlito grabbed one Butterfinger candy bar eagerly. Jaradoni placed a candy necklace onto the rotary counter for his sister, a Snickers bar for his mother, and a Nestle Chucky bar for himself. Paulina ripped a ten dollar food stamp from its packet. Jaradoni looked over at the total on the register that read $6.19; Paulina collected the change, and took one dollar food stamp out and placed the change in her pocketbook. Paulina pushed the cart to its bin, and Jaradoni doubledbagged the small bag of groceries before he caught up to his mother. Paulina set Yardoni on the automated horse and placed a quarter in the machine. Carlito sat on the bench next to his brother in order to be closer to the Butterfinger. Paulina handed Jaradoni a one-dollar food stamp, and he headed back in to the store to break the food stamp. He picked up a quarter water, and ran to the checkout line. He observed the line and thought it best to not go to the same line that he just left with his mother, but the other lines were full, so he went back to the same line. The cashier rang up the juice that came to nineteen cents. The cashier looked over the food stamp front to back, as if she just didn’t hand it to his mother. Jaradoni screwed his face up at the gesture, straightening it up just before the cashier turned his way. She handed Jaradoni the change; he counted the coins in his head by the size of coins, as he ran his finger across three quarters, a nickel, and one penny. He hurried back to hand his mother the change. Just as Yardoni’s horse ride was winding to an end, Jaradoni peeled back the small juice’s aluminum cap and handed it to his sister. She leaned her head back and drank from the small container before handing Carlito the juice container half-full. Paulina placed the canned good in the backpack and handed the Butterfinger to Carlito, who was eagerly waiting. She allowed him to take a couple of bites

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before rewrapping it and placing it in the diaper bag. The sounds of the afternoon came to life at the intersection. Horns blared and music played as engines reeved. The young drivers drove by, displaying their artful taste in music for everyone else to hear; bicyclists rode through traffic as if they had more rights than the cars or the pedestrians walking on sidewalks and roads. Jaradoni listen to the hip-hop tunes blaring from a the loudspeaker of an early model Chevy Nova. The sounds resonated in Jaradoni’s feet, as he tapped his feet to the hip-hop beat of Ice T’s song ”Colors.” Jaradoni liked the driver’s Jheri curls and crisp new adjustable hat; he ran his fingers across the back of his head, imagining himself with curly hair. Jaradoni looked down at his shoes and then over to his brothers; both pairs of shoes had seen better days. The sidewalk vibrated as the cars roared through traffic. Jaradoni imagined what the day would bring, with warm thoughts of a bed at the end of it. A horn blowing and a pull from his brother’s hand wrestled him from his thoughts as he crossed the midday rush hour traffic. Jaradoni narrowed his eyes towards the men honking their horn at his mother while hanging out of the windows, whistling. Paulina ignored the men, but Jaradoni couldn’t escape their glares. Paulina guided her children back to the lake’s walkway. The afternoon sun dried up the half-wet pavement. Jaradoni and his brother tied the arms of their jacket around their waists, and Paulina did the same, stuffing Yardoni’s coat in the diaper bag. They began their walk around the lake. The autumn leaves changed colors as they fell on the asphalt. Jaradoni and Carlito caught and kicked the leaves as they fell. After hours of walking Yardoni began to drag her feet, and Paulina pulled her up by her arm a few times before stopping at a water fountain to fill the Pepsi bottle with water. Paulina and the children drank a share of water, and then she handed Carlito and Jaradoni their candy bars. Paulina broke off a piece of Yardoni’s candy necklace with her teeth, and she shared with Yardoni. Soon after the

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children reacted to their sugar rush, Paulina led them back toward the lake’s walkway, as the sun began to set. Yardoni tried to sit down on the walkway, legs exhausted. Paulina picked her up and headed toward the bus stop. Carlito kept pulling his shoe on and off, hoping to relieve himself from the pain on the heel of his foot. Paulina rested Yardoni in her bosom, and took Carlito’s shoe and sock off. A blister had developed at the base of his heel. She placed two Band-Aids on his foot, and a second sock on his foot, and stood him up by his arm. He bounced up and down on his heel, indicating to his mother that he felt better. The bus pulled up to a screeching stop. Paulina gathered her things and they all stepped onto the bus. The heat from the bus had warmed Carlito and Yardoni, and they both instantly fell asleep. Jaradoni battled with sleep, still curious about where the night would end, and where the bus was taking them. Jaradoni fell asleep just before the bus made it to its rest stop; the bus driver pulled in for his half-hour lunch break before he had to head back toward the lake. Paulina woke Jaradoni and handed him a plastic bowl with chicken noodle soup in it. Jaradoni followed the bus driver into the bus terminal break station. Jaradoni waited in line behind two older men with sandwiches wrapped in paper towels. The smell of microwave popcorn filled the room, and the smell of tomato soup tickled Jaradoni’s nose as an older white man walked past him. He looked over at the dimly lit break station and noticed his mother peering through the window between her two hands, making sure he wasn’t in harm’s way. The light of the break station flickered, and the small heater in the corner of the building cut on and off, while the few people in line questioned if the microwave would still be working when it was their turn. Jaradoni looked over the small room that held two benches and two vending machines. He took a couple of steps forward to indicate to the man who just walked in that he was next in line. The older black man with glasses and a black back brace around his waist stood in front of him. Jaradoni

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stepped around him, to claim his spot in line. The man stood to the side of Jaradoni and pulled the microwave door open for him to place the large bowl inside. Jaradoni looked him over, not too sure whether to make a gesture of thanks or not. He hit three minutes on the microwave, standing on his tippy-toes to make sure it wasn’t boiling over. The microwave stopped, and Jaradoni reached in to grab the bowl, but jumped away quickly, realizing the bowl was too hot. The same man that held the microwave door open for Jaradoni returned with a big towel to wrap around the bowl. Jaradoni thanked him with his eyes and a nod. The old man wrapped the bowl with the towel and placed two one-dollar bills between the last fold. Jaradoni ignored the effort by pulling the food close to his chest and walking out. He ran at a trot, wanting to get back to his mother, and to keep from spilling. The longer he was away from his siblings and mother the more he worried their safety. He also loved the attention he got from his mother for completing a task quickly and efficiently. Paulina unwrapped the towel, revealing the two one-dollar bills. She picked up the money, and Jaradoni pointed out the bus’ window toward the older black man with glasses. She rubbed her chest, and rubbed Jaradoni’s head with a smile, to let him know it was OK. She woke up Carlito and Yardoni, just after the soup cooled down. Paulina placed saltine crackers in the soup, and the children ate from the same spoon until the bowl was empty. Jaradoni encouraged his mother to eat; she shook her head, and rubbed her stomach. The bus began to move, and Paulina jumped up to place more change in the meter. The bus driver shook his head “No,” and Paulina gave a nod of “Yes,” and tried to place the money in the machine. The driver placed his hand over the machine. Paulina smiled, signaling to the driver “Thank you.” The bus made its way back to the lake, and Jaradoni made sure he didn’t fall asleep again, as his brother and sister did. Although the heat was comforting, Jaradoni

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insisted that his eyes stay open, guarding their safety. The bus stopped without a ring of a bell; Paulina gathered their belongings, and placed Yardoni in her arms. Jaradoni zipped up his jacket, and buttoned up Carlito’s coat, making sure he was awake. Paulina walked her children down a hill just alongside a bridge. The bridge had two large quilts in a triangular position with the bridge wall as its roof and wall. Paulina set the bags down, and handed Yardoni to Jaradoni; she surveyed the area, looking more for strange men than for police. She was secure; she touched the quilts to check out their dampness, and discovered they were dry. She pulled out a blanket and wrapped Yardoni in it before resting her exhausted body in the corner of the tent. Carlito was half-sleep on his feet, and Paulina lay him down next to his sister. Jaradoni was wide awake, and he wasn’t sure if he had a bad dream or if they had slept there the night before. The wind blew, breaking Jaradoni from his thoughts and reminding him that winter was no longer around the corner but was here. His mother ushered him out of the cold and the tent was a lot warmer than he had anticipated. His mother wrapped up Jaradoni in her arms; he didn’t have to see her to feel the tears running down her cheeks. She appreciated her son’s resilience, and wanted to assure him that everything would be OK soon, but she didn’t know if that was true. She rocked him back and forth just as she did when he was a baby, and rubbed his face to persuade him that they were safe. But Paulina knew it would take more than a warm blanket for Jaradoni. He needed her warm body. She lay down with her arms wrapped around him, he wrapped his arms around Yardoni, and Yardoni wrapped her arms around Carlito’s head. Jaradoni relaxed, as he placed a hand on his brother and sister, and felt his mother behind him. Paulina lay there for twenty minutes before Jaradoni was fast asleep. Paulina got up and got dressed just outside the hanging quilts. She slicked on lipstick and put on a pair of highheeled boots and a skirt before walking up the hill. She wiped away her tears just before making it to the top of the bridge. She stayed within a bird’s eye view of the quilts. 212

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FPC YANKTON DOG PROGRAM

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Man’s Best Friend by Dustin Sullivan

I’ll never forget the day I arrived at FPC Yankton and got to see a dog for the first time in two years. I came from a higher security prison where people can go years without seeing any animals. I had been away from home and my loved ones in a place that is devoid of love, where I thought about my family every day. So when I made it to the compound and had the privilege of seeing a dog, it felt like the first real happiness I knew in a long time. For the first year I was at Yankton FPC, I was content and grateful to be able to see and pet the dogs, as many people are. It wasn’t until a good friend named Luke Lowe convinced me to join the F.I.D.O. program that I would really get to know dogs the way I do now. Joining this program has been the best decision I have made, along with attending Mount Marty University. When I joined I merely had the intention of being able to love dogs and to train them to the best of my ability. I never realized how much the good Lord really blessed me until recently. In every aspect of the dog program, immense growth and good can be found. I have been given the opportunity to get to know the four guys on my team really well—not like the usual prison relationship, but a deeper more purpose-driven one. Our purpose that revolves around trusting and helping one another raise, train, and care for the many dogs we receive. That way they can be adopted to good homes, where they will be loved and cared for. Beyond the scope of human relations is the connection with the dogs. I have been able to learn an immense amount about the different breeds and personalities they can have. Dogs really are like people, in that they can feel happy, sad, or anxious. They all have different drives, temperaments, and motivations. The one thing I have found to be certain amongst all dogs is what makes them most like people: all they really want is to be loved and to love others. That’s what 214

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they really work hard for and that’s what I’m blessed to be a part of. Then there’s everything I have been able to learn about myself. I have learned how to be patient, truly patient in all circumstances. I know that it’s all going to be OK and that they will give it their all to learn, while I give it my all to teach. That’s where the incredible and unbreakable bond between man and dog comes into play. It’s like when I look in my dog Rizzo’s eyes; I can see into his soul. I feel every hurt and happiness that he feels, just like he does with me. All the times I think about how much I miss my family and how badly I want to give up some days, I know I can take it to Rizzo and he’ll comfort me through my hard times, just as I do him. He trusts me and I trust him. Right now we’re just two souls in need of friendship until we get to go home. After writing this it really is easy to see how important the F.I.D.O. program is here at FPC Yankton, and to recognize the impact the dogs really do have on those people around them. I can finally see why they are called man’s best friend.

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The Best of Company by John D. Adams

Hey there, Louie Ruff here. I want to tell you the story of my life so far. It seems so long ago but I remember when I thought I was tough chewing up shoes and digging in the garbage too. I didn’t think anything was going to slow me down nohow. But then one day, my owners got mad and took me for a ride downtown to the pound. I learned quickly I was not the big bad dog I thought I was. I’ll never forget the day I met this lady at the pound named Burnet. She ran me through some drills and told me I was a perfect fit for the F.I.D.O. Program, whatever that was; I didn’t have a clue. So she strapped me in a collar and off we went to FPC Yankton. I have never been so scared in my whole life, but to my relief I got to meet a great group of guys who loved me and took me under their wing for a short stretch of time. I learned to sit, stay, and play with the other dogs who also got chosen for this rare gift. I cannot believe how many people want to pet me and give me treats. Dog! What a life. I thought life couldn’t get any better than this. I had no idea what I had done wrong when Burnet came to take me away but that group of guys kept smiling and telling me to be good at my new forever home. I didn’t understand what a forever home was, but I knew those guys would never steer me wrong. What a lucky dog I am. I got me a little girl and a family too. They take me for walks and rides in their car. It is like a dream that came true when I had the chance to be part of this F.I.D.O. program with such a loving group of guys. I wouldn’t trade that experience or my new life for the steak I could steal. So if you pups ever get the chance to do the F.I.D.O. program, take it from me: you will be in the best of company with those guys at FPC Yankton.

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Keegan Strelnik Keegan Strelnik was a student in FPC Yankton’s creative writing class.

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Brave Like a Sheep Nonfiction

Mistakes have taught me a lot. They have taught me not to be overconfident, to always have a plan, that the truth will set you free, and to never give up. The creeks and rivers that drain off the Rocky Mountains in the Northwest traditionally reach peak runoff flows in June. This stays true from the Canadian border to Southern Colorado. It was the second week of June and my first day as a white water guide for a company based out of Big Sky, MT. Despite my past experience guiding on other rivers, I was back to rookie status. The river we would be rafting is the Gallatin. The Gallatin River is born by the confluences of springs and streams in the Northern corner of Yellowstone Park. It flows north from the park sixty miles, till it meets the Madison and Jefferson at the town of Three Rivers; then this lofty trio becomes the Missouri. Of the sixty miles that make up the Gallatin, about fifteen miles are consistent white water rapids. The formula to make a rapid is (elevational drop + water volume + obstruction = rapid). We would be running the top ten miles of the white water section. The last five miles is the most difficult and dangerous section during spring runoff. My boss, wise ol’ river otter that he is, had the foresight to keep rookie guides like myself off the last five miles during “big water.” The trip was large with over a hundred guests, thirteen river guides, and two bus drivers. The two buses each pulled a trailer with six rafts stacked on them, and also had two rafts strapped to their roofs, equaling sixteen rafts. I wasn’t sure what the extra boats were for, but they were there just in case, I guess. Every spring on the river brings a certain degree of apprehension, fear, and excitement. This day was no different. I had a plan though: blend in and try not to 218

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make any large mistakes. All I had to do was not make any mistakes bigger than everyone else’s. After an hour of fitting guests into wetsuits, life vests, and helmets, we hit the road. River guides always like to make a point at this time that the most dangerous part of the day will be spent on the bus ride, at least statistically. Apparently some of the guests believe it to be true because they can be seen tightening the chinstraps of their helmets after this fun fact is pointed out. With most groups, after a short drive the bus reaches a large green bridge that crosses the river and arrives at the Deer Creek trailhead. The river guides pour out of the bus to start throwing rubber and begin barking at guests with authority. For some, when their fun-loving, free-spirited river guide goes from rainbows and tofu curry to being as pushy as a drill sergeant, a red flag goes up. The next warning flag often begins waving as your guide is giving the safety speech, and incoherently starts to mutter something about a “move we must make,” while looking downstream like he can see his ex-girlfriend holding hands with her new boyfriend. Then with a fake smile and a sudden change of heart, the guide says, “There is no I in team, but there’s a big one in swim, and swim we will if we don’t work together.” The guide then walks away, looking lost. The third warning flag shows its head when you hear the name of the “move we must make”; the first rapid of the day is called SheepEater Falls. At this time the guests always ask, “Does it really eat sheep?” Yes—well, it doesn’t actually eat them; it drowns them while smashing them into rocks before spitting them out. The water above the falls is deep, slow-moving, “flat” water. It holds fat, chunky whitefish that swim slowly with an assortment of brook, brown, cutthroat and rainbow trout, whick this time of year are feasting day and night on the salmon fly hatch. This fish-filled flat water is the last calm spot for the sheep to cross the river for many miles. The canyon that the Gallatin River cuts supports a healthy herd of bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep have few 4 P.M. COUNT

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natural predators in North America and tend to be very confident. Maybe it’s this seeming overconfidence that leads them to casually swim the water above the falls. My trip began with the seating of a family of seven— basic paddle instructions, the best techniques used to stay in the boat—and my sheep-like confidence. I was sticking to my plan to help blend in and had decided to take up the rear of the flotilla. SheepEater Falls is best described as a series of two drops that lead to a large boulder field. Almost immediately after the first drop, two thirds of the river’s volume smashes into a large cliff face, and the other one third makes a right hand turn before it takes the second drop. The last part of the “move you must make’’ is the boulder field. The best way I’ve been able to grade myself as a river guide is by averaging the amount of tip money I make on my trips. I have found that if you are a very safe and competent guide you’ll make moms and grandparents happy enough to tip you a crisp twenty dollar bill. That’s good, safe money. But if you want to hear grandpa tell his son-in-law to quit lily dipping and paddle like a man, if you want to hear grandma declare on the bus ride home that this was the best day of her *$#@ life, if you want Aunt Jenny to stuff a wet Benjamin, with her phone number scribbled on it, into the front of your life vest at the end of the trip—then you need to push the boundaries of safety a little. The key is to almost scare them to death. After all, they signed a waiver in the beginning of the day, basically giving you the permission to do so. At least that’s what was going through my head on the water above the falls. Old plan was out and a new one was in. When a volume of water crashes into an obstruction like a large cliff or boulder, it recoils away from the obstruction. It usually recoils up or down. When it recoils up, it creates water on the surface that is actually pushing away from the obstruction; this is called a “pillow.” It’s an old river guide trick used to scare guests by allowing them to believe that your raft is about to smash into a solid object knowing that 220

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the “pillow” is going to push you away at the last second. It works almost every time. I quickly assessed the first drop of the falls and decided I would use this classic trick to handle the cliff face: chaching, I could smell the wet hundo already. We made the first drop with perfection and immediately my passengers detected a problem. A problem that I was doing my best to pretend I hadn’t noticed. I gave an extralong celebratory “Oh, yeahhhhhhhhhhh” to christen the success of the first drop. By the time I finished, guests were already beginning to look at me with beckoning eyes that said please do something, and all I gave them in return was my best hundred-dollar smile. I was so confident in my plan that I was still smiling as our raft smashed into the cliff face and proceeded to gut sucked under. Smile gone, I had to quickly pull in the paddlers that had been punched out of the boat by the cliff and prepare for the next drop. It turns out the cliff below the first drop is undercut and therefore the water recoils down when it collides with the cliff. This creates the opposite of a “pillow.” It creates the suction of death that should be avoided at all cost. If this demon doesn’t kill you, it will suck the soul right out of you. After we slinked over the second drop, the full realization of my mistake slapped me in the face, or should I say, it flapped me in the face because our once-rigid and proud raft was now flapping in the wind. The demon had popped our boat. We pinballed our way through the boulder field and managed to hit the shore. Everyone quickly piled out of the boat to dry ground and inspected themselves for injuries. At this point all I could think about is, “How am I going to get my hundo now?” I double checked to make sure nobody was seriously hurt and proposed a plan. Since none of the other boats noticed we had a problem, we were on our own presumably for the next 9.9 miles. Most modern rafts are built into three to five chambers; if you have a breach your boat will still float. Our boat had four outside chambers and a floor. The 4 P.M. COUNT

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solution was to flip the raft around. Load the guests towards the front and let the flat chamber be the back. That is, if my guests would be brave enough to get back into my boat. I complimented them for their courage during the turbulent moment and expressed that it would be my honor if they would give me one more chance. Besides, what other choice did they have? We could go stand on the two-lane highway in a rock-walled canyon and try to hitchhike a lift for eight people. The ladder sounded like a good idea to some, so I solemnly reminded them of how dangerous vehicles and highways are, and that statistically we were much safer on our limp raft than out on the highway. My new plan was flattery and the overuse of misleading statistics. It wasn’t solid, but I was still keeping the end game in mind. We floated about a half a mile before there was another “move that must be made,” and we found the rest of the boats waiting for us with concern. Even one of the buses had stopped and we found out why they had extra rafts strapped to the roofs. With a fresh raft under our butts, I decided it was best to come clean with my crew, and admit that I had been trying to scare them for the sake of money and it had not worked out. I explained my theories of how to earn tips and asked them if they wanted a twenty-dollar trip or hundred-dollar trip. They promised me a fifty-dollar tip if I could throw out the old raft guide tricks and keep up the flattery. I had never seen people look so sexy in wetsuits and life jackets before. This meant if I wanted to get a hundred-dollar average going, I would have to earn $150 on the next trip. Boy, were those people in for the time of their life! (Humility + Planning + Honesty + Perseverance) x Mistakes = Success & Remember Any rock or wave can over-tip your raft. Only you can overtip your raft guide!

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