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COVER PHOTO Isabelle Baldwin

BleakHouse Publishing 2019

American University Kerwin Hall, Suite 254 Washington, DC 20016 Robert Johnson – Editor & Publisher Casey Chiappetta – Chief Operating Officer Jacqueline Lantsman – Chief Administrative Officer Alyssa Purdy – Chief Editorial Officer

Copyright ã 2019 by Robert Johnson All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information contained herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

ISBN: 978-0-9961162-2-0 Printed in the United States of America

BLEAKHOUSE PUBLISHING is an independent, not-for-profit press devoted to creative writing, art, and photography on social justice. The press, founded in 2006 by Robert Johnson, a professor of Justice, Law & Criminology at American University is staffed primarily by American University students and alumni. Our mission is to publish works that shed a human light on the nether world of penal institutions, as well as other repressive settings, practices, and beliefs. To read more about us, visit: To submit to Tacenda, write to: Robert Johnson Department of Justice, Law & Criminology American University 4400 Massachusetts Ave NW Washington D.C., 20016 Or email


Kareem Carter


Yesterday’s Tomorrow

Kareem Carter


If there were no women

Kareem Carter


I promise

Kareem Carter


Chain reaction

Black Messiah


Born in the Blind

Black Messiah


Beyond recognition

Black Messiah



Black Messiah


Where lies the truth

Black Messiah


Hello World

G. Leaks


In My Mind’s Eye

Bilal Ahmed



Bilal Ahmed



Bilal Ahmed


Unnamed 1

Izuo-ere "Mimi" Digifa


Unnamed 2

Izuo-ere "Mimi" Digifa


Behind These Fences

E.J. Lash


Short stories, plays, and opinion pieces Parody from Planet Prison

Robert Johnson


Someone is Sure to Come

Ellen W. Kaplan, With contributions by Robert L. Cook, Jr., William Basemore, Joey Doe, Christiane Buchanan, Erin George, Jarvis Jay Masters, and other inmates on Death Row



Aaron Holly – EL


For Former Felons, Voting Booths are Surrounded by Bars

Anastasia Maragos


About the Authors & Acknowledgements


Brave! Kareem Carter The wind chill factor, When it’s twenty below. The shivering cold, The arctic snow. Withstanding those conditions, No house, no cave To some, that may serve, As the definition of brave. To be hurt, I mean pierced, To the core of your soul. To feel a crease in your chest, As if your heart would unfold. To then stand before others, And let that story be told With the intentions of saving many, That’s the definition of bold! You share your story, And I’ll share mine. And in succession with humankind, The world will align. Despite our many differences, We all feel pain. And, in those moments of despair, We’re all one in the same. We deal with hurt differently, But, that’s the beauty of life. Individuality, free-will, pro-choice, free-voice. Strength is measured By our will to survive. The measures we take


En route to stay alive. A hero is a woman Who’s been through it all. And she uses her darkest moments To cushion one’s fall. I understand your situation, I feel your pain. I empathize, I sympathize I’ll umbrella your rain. I will see you through Navigate exponential terrain. I will ease your load, Alleviate the massive of strain. If I could, I surely would Put the world on my back and I’d carry them to the top, And we’d never look back. Since I can’t, I’ll lift their spirits With nouns and verbs. Motivate and empower them, With pounds of words. I’ll stand up for certain things, And for those things I’ll die. And before I explode again, I’ll break down and cry. Please understand what I’m about to say: Those enslaved were the ultimate definition of–– Brave!


Yesterday’s Tomorrow Kareem Carter Mistakes are meant to be made… Granted some are more detrimental than others. If it wasn’t for heartache and pain How, if ever, could we recover? We learn from our mishaps, They enable us to grow. Experience brings understanding, Which puts us in the know. The act of proper perspective, Equates us to being wise. As I look into the mirror, I stare my demise square in his eyes. Rears are afraid of my face, So my tears stream inside. To cause one’s own grief, Is to never gain relief. Spewing my struggles on paper, Is my only form of release. I can only forgive myself, If the one I’ve hurt, Forgives me first. I vowed to protect something I broke, And that’s what makes it worse. I was once your King… Now, forever, I’ll live in sorrow. I’ll never get over hurting you, As if, yesterday’s tomorrow.


If there were no women Kareem Carter If there were no women on Earth, I’d have nothing to give. If there were no women on Earth, I’d have no reason to live. There would be no passion, No reason to smile, No sun to illuminate our sky. There would be no love, No laughs, no blooming flowers, And the birds would constantly cry. Without women on Earth—to stand beside, There would be no reason to co-exist. Without women on Earth—to stand behind, There would be no season to pro-exist. If there were no women on Earth, Without the sun—we’d burn beyond belief. If there were no women on Earth, Just like the birds—we’d never gain relief. God made woman for man, To love for life, To complete us as human beings. Not as punching bags, Or as personal property, To be treated by lesser means. When a woman dies—at the hands of man, The planet should engulf her soul. When that guy dies—at the hands of Earth, It should be from twenty years of cold. A true coward, is the guy who causes A woman to cower. Real men die protecting women!


I promise Kareem Carter I’ll die with visions of you, In the depths of my soul. I’ll embrace others with my arms, But it’s you that I’ll hold. The impression you left behind, Or shall I say ingrained? Is one of everlasting proportion, Never, to be unchained. My life is the lock, Your love is the key. We both know the combinations, It’s you, and it’s me. Those two forces entwined, Was life’s greatest pleasantry. It’s been seven torturous years, Since I’ve last heard your voice.. I did the unthinkable… I get it, I left you with no choice. The power of love, I’ve learned to respect. Your heart that I’ve shattered, Is my greatest regret. Indecisively decisive, Explains the decision that I rendered. My emotions got the best of me, You always loved me tender. If I ever fall in love again,


She’ll be a replica of you. I promise to never hurt her, The way that I’ve pained you.


Chain reaction Black Messiah They sat in the judge’s chamber with tailored suits and black robes Taking turns playing God While sifting through diabolical strategies and schemes that would always make my dark and lovely life extremely hard In contrast these founding fathers dug my plot in the summer of 1863 With a notion and intent that was sworn upon that would never grant my chocolate face an opportunity to smile in peace I didn’t choose this life mama Can’t you see they created it to entertain and then crucify me Just think about some of their ideas and thoughts and how they have cultivated me for survival in a world so cold with constant struggle Thanks in part to a system that is driven by their envy and hate Which plows spiritual poverty and hunger That have harvested the seeds which hypnotically refuse to set your first born free Open thy eyes mama Or is thou colorblind and cannot see


Born in the Blind Black Messiah Thou cursed and cast stones during my wake at my remembrance and the day that I was born While the mob chanted that the dark and lovely one is finally dead and gone But thy joy quickly sobered up when thou dug up my grave to confirm my crucifixion Where thou couldn’t find a single bone For something is definitely not right Where did we go wrong I heard you all nursing that same familiar song But I ask thou Are not my footsteps in faith ever strange Like the gentle breeze before it storms And just to think my soul never had to look back to acknowledge that thou had restored my empty tomb With a body of lies that delivered the birth and resurrection of a son that doesn’t have a father that he can call his own Isaiah 7:14


Beyond recognition Black Messiah I am the only face of GOD And they soul shields its eyes because of spiritual blindness trying to capture a glimpse of my beauty and grace Because as far as though knoweth my locks are knotty and coil up like long black pine shakes A reflection of my complexion which is ebony Because my bloodline is dark grape And need I remind thou that I’ve been stoned Beaten with whips And hung from the trees by rope All because thou cannot see my face


Illumigodi Black Messiah It was just this morning after I rose And wiped the night before from out of the corner of my eyes When god enabled me to visualize though his spirit the world around Concerning those things which create and mandate inner peace And those things which mentally and physically break us down into tears And from every aspect imaginable I find it astounding that 99.6% of all humankind believe wholeheartedly Only in those revelations that they have been manifested to While off in some of the world’s most dark places On a totally different and hidden agenda less than 1 % of the most deceptive minds can be found lurking and tinkering along the cracks and crevices of conception and perception Those which lure and steer the notions that we see Smell Hear Taste And tough from mere ideas The toughest Into illusions Those in connotations will the empty souls of the walking dead that whose ground and around a global mass of eminent darkness Symbolizing a torch without a flame Simple because they trash through the unknowns of spiritual poverty destined by their own fate to take a glimpse of the truth While they stare through the eyes of a world full of lies


Where lies the truth Black Messiah Let’s say that thou witnessed a lie tell the truth On the ground that the truth can’t utter a lie Then it is not feasible that the cross used to crucify Jesus Was merely a reflection off of someone else’s image that was actually real Is not black beautiful? Need I remind thou that the truth cannot utter a lie.


[here] Hello World G. Leaks Hello World . . . Without further ado ; i present me to you The Fertile Concrete Vol.2 G.Leaks . .. that's the name I encourage change . . . Majority of our minds, is shackled in chains Believing everything that our eyes see . . . ears hear Talking bout , " space is the final frontier . . . " Space been here , before Earth was a sphere . Before Earth started spinning . . . Before Jupiter had rings . . . Before Angels had wings . . . Before the Sun's first beam . . . Before everything . . . that we thought we knew . . . think we know when i think , it show . . . when i think , i grow when i grow , i go . . . when i go , i flow when i flow , i glow . . . when i glow . i WHOA ! L.O.L. Yes i shall . . . elevate above the psychological cells They're proud of the crack in their bell If one was superstitious, that would be one hell of an omen What's the origin to "AMEN " ? Shall we continue to pretend ? Or do we post-2-tend ? I'm tending to . . . what pretending do Jail aint no difference that a friggin zoo


The untamed stay locked in the friggin shu 1 Majority of the inhabitants don't got a friggin clue Black is black . . . white is white . . . and migo is migo . Everyone know, that so & so's on the d-low or Joe Blow , works for the c.o.'s2 I'm balling without shooting ONE mutha fuckin' free throw ( SWISH!) Why you mad, if you already know she's a freak bro? You knew, as soon, as you get your time , that she was going to say, "peace bro" If she stay, 9 (1/2 ) times out of 10 , she'll probably creep bro The truth don't care, what you think though . . . nor how you feel . . . nor how you kill. False identities get revealed "Rat " is spoken fluently behind " ice grills " I've seen it a thousand times They use distractions, to defertilize minds NOT MINES G.Leaks , know how to utilize time I stay conditioned , by exercising my mind I'm in tip-top condition to be exact I know the hidden agenda behind " white and black " Open your minds as i reveal the facts PAY ATTENTION

1 2

Special Housing Unit Correctional Officer


In My Mind’s Eye Bilal Ahmed The sun is shining bright I see my shadow in the light Sharp and clear it stands Through the window as it lands The grass is green outside The trees swaying far and wide I close my eyes and feel the breeze The pollen is going to make me sneeze The clouds travel in the blue sky The daffodils open without a try My mind has opened this eye A different one; not one with I cry The silence of the deadening rose Is this a butterfly tickle my nose? The book that I am hushed in The painting that I am brushed in Takes me in leaps and bounds To see the scenes and hear the sounds What do I see far away? Is it a person or a thing a lay? Is it moving or standing still? As I focus I get a thrill It is ME standing in the day Looking up and arms away Is it still orange I am wearing? I am still here! I look staring


ZOO Bilal Ahmed A trip to the zoo was always fun sky was clear and hot in the sun A sunny bright day, blinding light everyone is about, left and right Hard to find parking in the mid of town Metro is a good choice, just ride it down Two pandas greet us at the double gates Calendar says Zoo’s open on all the dates Of course we carry a lunch box with us Sandwiches and cold drinks for all of us We stop, we drink, we stop, we eat We are hungry and sweating in this heat We see snow cones, we run to them We buy them dripping there and then We laugh and play as we cool down Hand in hand singing into town We see the lions, zebras and elephants We visit snakes, amphibians and ants We come upon an exhibit huge It looks like a tall big refuge


We enter and see a great big hall It is lined with bars around the wall Then there is glass to see through too It is here when you see a reflection of you It is a building where primates are living Each in its cell, wait! What are they giving? They are giving each other love with looks They are passing time with their books They jump, they climb, they swing, they scream They curl, they squeeze, they tire then dream Day in day out the routine they follow As time goes their eyes grow hollow They have plates, cups, spoons and heap They stay busy, look busy and sometimes sleep People walk around and watch them with awe With their transparent lunch packs in their paw They see the drinks, cotton candy and snow cones They smell and see all the colors and tones Are they the slaves, or are they primates? NOOOO! They are humans just only inmates


I RISE Bilal Ahmed The doors open I hear the clanking of the chains I hear the music of the keys As they follow step of the boots “Go In” they say “Step In” they say fear in my chest, Tremble in my feet I ask, Is it the color of my skin Or is it the name of my kin I wonder CAN I RISE I see the light of disappointment The darkness of the deep The paleness of the life The sweat of the cold skin The stiffness of the spine In all the faces known and unknown I wonder CAN I RISE The bed that breaks the backs The floor that crushes the knees The chairs that mold the bones The food that digests intestines The blanket that suffocates lungs The shoes that corn the heels I wonder CAN I RISE All in kitchen say, They can’t All the doctors say, We can’t All the C.O.’s say, You can’t All the nurse says, She can’t


And the dispensers say, They can’t But I say I can Rise and I WILL RISE The nights are lonely The days more so Lost in the loud laughter of the C.O. The loud bangs of metal doors The shouts of “COUNT TIME” seem far but clear Everything’s far that felt so near But I say I can Rise and I WILL RISE I like to play in the gym, but my hand does not want I like to run on the court, but my feet don’t want I like to watch others score, but my eyes don’t want The lifeless bodies with no goals The harsh hearts with no souls I touch and see everyday But I say I can Rise and I WILL RISE We gather in the room All hearts filled with gloom Eyes looking for the light To make us shine bright Here comes the hand of prayer And washes off layer after layer The grim shadows of sorrow Giving us hope for tomorrow And NOW I RISE We gather in the room All brains with nothing to loom Empty hands with nothing to do


Thinking what? having no clue Now comes a lady with a pen She leads us into the book of den The doors are opened for our minds The windows fling with no blinds I learn, we learn, I laugh, we laugh Bright eyed, supportive, with a scoff My teacher tells me that YOU SHALL And NOW I RISE With the power of the books With the strength of the smiles Looking around in all the nooks with my pen I tread miles I tell my loved ones, I am fine I tell them my teachers are divine And NOW I RISE All the teachers say they can And the librarian says she can And the admin says we can They guide and bring us to the dream They teach us, tell us, how to dream And NOW I RISE I know we wear orange today I know we are here today But I know not what tomorrow holds But I am sure it’s made of gold I RISE with the candle light I RISE like the sun so bright I RISE with my morals high I RISE with my head held high


I RISE with my vision clear I RISE with my life in steer I RISE with love in my heart I RISE with my soul apart I RISE with the color of my skin I RISE with pride in my kin I RISE NOW, I RISE FOREVER I RISE I RISE I RISE


Unnamed 1 Izuo-ere "Mimi" Digifa A letter to every soul that feels, Every mind that dreams, Every eye that uncovers. Rely on your being to keep you engaged, To keep you warm, To keep you alive. Develop a part of your mind, The universe hands out on a platter of grace; Possess the capacity of imagination. And in all the options in life, Allow none to conceal your emotions; Do not be anxious of vanity. In the absence of solitary, Choose to give yourself love; Choose love over all.


Unnamed 2 Izuo-ere "Mimi" Digifa A refreshing scent of serenity, Green, healing and good, In the goodness of every possibility, My being could ever stand on. Flowers, trees, birds and joy, And little things that made, Other little things big things. Breeze and leaves singing, In a medley of the finest symphony. It was paradise even before I was gifted the art to cajole Fine words, as the gardener of soul, Planting nature and love, Growing fruitfully for the sake of divinity. It is pure, It is warm. It is free and wild, It is my youth living soulfully. It is calm and humbling, At the verge of magnificence. I am in Eden, I am at peace.


Behind These Fences E.J. Lash Woe to these fences caging we raging us let us free. Personalities crash and theories collide masculinity gets confused with ego and pride. Check ins crash outs and fake suicide I'm not Maya Angelo but still I rise but still I rise. Look into these eyes their is no we in this team just so many I's why can't we have a dream. Behind these fences Our thoughts get like the thickest fog unable to see mountains Actions flow like water subconscious orders make the heart beat faster sorta like a computer without a user knowledgeable hoarder Brain teaser crowd pleaser can we cross the border Black Islamic immigrants or terrorist for ya Death to the infidels not Isis that's american lawyers Behind these fences When it comes to minorities they legalized slavery Slavery is existent for all of us within We are dead and dying slaves seeking freedom once again. Who will make amends for the 13th amend I've done a crime so my life is not mine beginning to end lock down in our lock down these gates designed only to let us in The Hole programing us to fear but need segregation Behind these fences sleep counted eat play counted eat sleep repeat a bunk and a number become a tomb and a tombstone What was made to be temporary has become our permanent home Behind these fences.


Parody from Planet Prison Robert Johnson “All illiterate inmates line up here,” said the sign on the prison wall. Another sign proclaimed, “this institution is reserved
for the most dangerous, disruptive and diverse inmates.” Reserved? Diverse inmates?
Has political correctness come to this? At a women’s prison, a sign advertises a long running program: “Girl Scouts Behind Bars.”
One can only think, “Please, let them out! The inmate refused to “bend and spread ‘em’,” saying,
“I’ve never showed my ass to nobody and I ain’t starting now.” He was duly reprimanded by Officer Chippendale. The mail order form in the prisoner’s file read: “Stocking hat, ski mask, ear plugs. Rush shipment.” The order was processed promptly. Notation in a prisoner’s file, complete and unabridged: “Parole denied, rehear in 10 years.” Notation in a prisoner’s file, under Demographics: “Dark” “Large” “Christian” “Carpenter.” Jesus. “Inmate attends church weakly,” it was noted in another file. The fight was serious: the man “went for the juggler vein.” Another fight was ruled “a clear-cut case of elf defense.”


One inmate was punished for “making a para-military jester,” which may be a comedian in camouflage, a distant relative of the juggler noted above, or at least someone on good terms with prison elves. The other day, after a session in prison,
I stopped for lunch at a Wendy’s restaurant. The sign outside read, “hiring losers.”
In bold letters, no less.
Closers might be losers, by some reckonings, but why rub it in? The problem, I realized, is bigger than prison, but perhaps most painful in prison. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That’s today’s Gospel, According to Luke, Cool Hand Luke.


Someone is Sure to Come A play by Ellen W. Kaplan With contributions by Robert L. Cook, Jr., William Basemore, Joey Doe,1 Christiane Buchanan, Erin George, Jarvis Jay Masters, and other inmates on Death Row, 20162


Pseudonym, at the request of the person’s lawyers. All contributors can be reached at 2 Some brief material is adapted from a piece by Robert Rossi in Writing for the Lives, by Maria Mulvey-Roberts; all other contributions by inmates cite their names within the text.


THE PLAY. EVENTUALLY HER HAIR TURNS WHITE, SHE IS NEVER LEAVING THIS PLACE. SHE SCANS THE HORIZON, THEN JUMPS WITH JOY. GWB Here! I’m over here! Heyyyy! - Hell, they can’t hear me. They’re too far away. Hey, you, BOAT! They see me! C’mon. This way. Here! (she keeps staring out at the sea) Sailboat, rowboat, raft. Boat. HEY, BOAT!!! (pause) Blot. It’s a blot, not a boat. A spot, not a blot, boat, stop! Talking yourself right into your grave Stark fucking mad. (She scans the sky) Not even a bird. Where are all the Polar Bears? Hibernating, probably. (Pause) Black spots … (waves her hands in front of her eyes). Stop, stop, spots, blots! Boats, bats….bat boat bat. Omigod. It’s fucking raining bats. Get out of my eyes! (Pause) Breathe. No bats. JOEY DOE First time I was in, I was just a scared kid. First day, I’m walking down this long hallway. I see these 2 officers yelling at this Mexican guy. Tall one is all up in his ear, I don’t think the Mex guy understands English. Right as I’m passing him the officer slams his face on the wall. It was blood all coming down the wall, he had to have broken his nose, he got blood pouring like out of a faucet. The other officer sees me and says, “What the fuck you looking at? You wanna be next? Keep walking.” I turned away and picked up my pace. I don’t want these crazy ass pigs to go psycho on my black ass. GWB Seeing spots. Staring at endless ocean. White, ice, white, scorching my eyes. Turn off the lights! I can’t sleep. (rubs her eyes) …. Just spots in front of my eyes. (looks out again) But that’s a boat. On the horizon. A dot, a boat. Dot, boat, dot…


(she makes a hole with her fingers, in front of one eye, and squints). … I see it! On the water. I’M HERE! Get me off this thing! Just hold on. They’re coming. They’ll come. Maybe they’re on holiday. Out to sail the sea, sipping gin, star-gazing. They have no idea I’m here. Why am I here….? It’s some kind of joke. Get me off this thing!!! Shit. …..shit, shit, shit. JOEY DOE A joke. True that. So, I’m saying. This one morning I wake up, eat breakfast. And now we’re smoking my last joint and we’re high and I reach under the bunk to get my bag of food, I feel like eating some yum yums. But all my candy bars has a bite mark on them. I said, “Blood, who did this to my shit?” Everybody’s laughing but to me there’s not a damn thing funny, I’m mad. Too Chilly says, “Blood, you got robbed by freeway Freddie.” “Who in the hell is freeway Freddie,” I ask. Tray says, “Ru-Jo, it’s this rat that steals people’s food and leave you mad as hell. No matter how many traps we set, freeway Freddie outsmarts us. Put your stuff on the shelf like everybody else does.” This a shit crazy place. ACTOR C Buried alive in a concrete box. JOEY DOE Well, yeah. So, I’m waiting for my sentence to come down. Trying to sleep. ACTOR B Can’t sleep from all the screaming. ACTOR D Lights on all night. ACTOR E The crazies banging on the bars again.


ACTOR C The guards just wanna mess with you. CUSH This here is a world of trouble. Bottom of the bowl. Death Row. JOEY DOE I can’t change where I am. But I can change myself.

CELIA People say I haven’t changed a bit, except my hair’s gray. I tell them, prison has pickled me. But I have changed, a lot. Sure I’ve gotten older—but I've also begun to define myself. What I believe in. How I treat people. That’s what defines me. Also grief, regret, shame, guilt, anger, they define me too, but not as much anymore. When I got here, I was damaged, incapable of telling the truth or trusting anyone. That’s what led me down the path I took. CUSH I forget if I can communicate with people, after. 28 years inside. It’s hell, but not all of us are hellish fiends. My given name is Robert L. Cook. You can call me Cush. Qahhar Ali Cush. JOEY DOE You know that Michael Jackson song, Man in the Mirror? Look in the mirror. You can’t change much, but you can change the man in the mirror. That’s all you can change. Yourself. CUSH Dr. Qahhar Ali Cush. I’m proud of that. I earned that. JOEY DOE


I got my faith. Plug into that. I’m somebody. Even if I’m in this shithole, I’m somebody. CELIA I had to change my direction - I had to. No one else was going to help me. … My name is Celia. I’m in for life, no parole. JOEY DOE I lost my Daddy while I was in Chuckawalla Prison. 1993, I had 4 months left on that time. I called home and was told, Daddy was dead. Cancer. I was so hurt because we was as close as a father and son can be. I had no one to hug me and tell me everything was going to be okay. I couldn’t go to the funeral and most of my family members had blocked me on their phone. So I went outside into the yard, with this hurt in my heart and I was mad, so this guy walked by me and he said something or other to me and I started cussing him out. I called him out to fight and he said okay because he had his own ego to hold up. So we fought and I won. But I just can’t go fighting everybody and the pain is still there. BASEMORE Tragedy. We all know about that. You might come to the false conclusion that tragedy is normal. Sure it’s never been a novelty in the lives of folks I know. Tragedy is a staple in the very fabric into which societies have stitched themselves. It is carcinogenic. It eats at you. It is what it is and it does what it does. I know about tragedy. I know about being on Death Row. My name is Basemore. JOEY DOE One day the guy in the cell next to me went crazy. I didn’t know why until I heard him scream, “MAMA, WHY YOU HAD TO DIE?” – his mother had died and he threw his TV against the wall and busted it up; he tore everything up that was in his cell. The guards came to his cell to get him to stop. I’, thinking to


myself, is this how I’m going to be when I lose a loved one? In this cell by myself and no one to comfort me and I just snap? GWB HEYYYY! HELLOOO! Damn, dot, spot, bat, BOAT! You coming or going or what? Don’t leave me! I’m HERE!!!! (gives up) Someone will come. Ok. Cool off. In the Arctic Sea. This is not a joke! I’m here. Been here. 30 years. No, no. I am 30. I’m 30 years old, my name is… I’m 30 years old, I’ve been here for 30 years, that means I was born here, that’s not right! I don’t remember...I’m alone and afloat on the Arctic Sea. CUSH I spread my arms, spread eagle, and I touch the walls of my my crib. My house. It’s that big. That’s the span of my living quarters, 28 years. Gritty shitty concrete mold. Gotta keep from snapping out. So I write, I paint. Every stroke of the brush, every stroke of the pen. That’s how I get a grip on these walls. Push ‘em out, so I can breathe. Then they close in again. JOEY DOE In one month I lost 3 family members. First two I handle pretty well. But the last one was my nephew Jarrell, just 21, he’d been changing, doing it right, but gang things caught up to him and now he’s gone. He’d been the only one writing me. With 4 brothers and 4 sisters and my mam, I was not getting that family love. But I knew once a month I’ll get his love from out there. So, I get this big envelope from a sister and when I opened it I see his obituary and my heart just drops out of my body. I fall to my knees and start crying. This is a hard loss. But I say to myself, he’s gone but now I got my angel. I got my angel. CHRISTINE Never ever thought I’d fall in love. Not in here. They called me the Vestal Virgin. All these gals doing it with the shower-head. I’d rather live without. Twenty years, never interested in


anyone. Then outta the blue, there’s this AMAZING woman and I am SMITTEN. Brilliant, witty, utterly weird. I never met anyone like her. It’s like we have the SAME BRAIN, it’s almost eerie. And most surprising is, she loves me back. I’m like a kid, all sweet on my girl. (pause) My name is Christine. I’m doing Life. Without Parole. GWB I was talking to a man. He was in the Hole. The Box. “Nobody’s listening,” he says. ACTOR C Even God ain’t listening. GWB I’m listening. I say. ACTOR C Someone’s got to listen. Someone’s got to know I’m here. GWB I know you’re here. But he’s in the Hole. What he’s going through, it’s too much to say. ACTOR C Plenty men, they profit on me. Plenty profit from my degradation. ACTOR C I’m buried in here. You’re building your house on my bones. GWB He says I’m living on his bones. But…I don’t understand. How can he blame me? I haven’t done anything! I’m not to blame! ACTOR C You’re living on my bones.


GWB This isn’t bones! It’s ice, slick hard ice. I’m adrift, on ice, floating in the great blue sea. CELIA My window is 4 inches wide. At night sometimes I can see a sliver of moon. When the moon is out. Daytime, I see a sliver of blue. I've been looking at the same thing for 17 years. I miss the sky. I miss the bigness of the sky. GWB My head aches, my heart is pounding, I can’t concentrate. (mutters) Only chance…swim. Swim to the boat! They’ll take me home. Slow. Toes. Feet. (her feet over the edge) Go slow. Submerge. Up to my ankles. Up to my knees. Arms under. Head under. No! Sting. I’ll drown. I’ll die. No one will find me. Polar bears, hibernating. Or dead. The fish will find me. (pause) There are no fish. Nothing lives here. Everything freezes and dies. (she stares out for a long while) Fucking fucking…. Black spot. Black spots, black dots bats bugs flying roaches in front of my eyes. Staring at nothing, waiting for the boat. CUSH Snapping out! CELIA I’m pickled, in here. I used to just change my hair color: mad black, crazy henna, fire red. Then I got to work changing myself. --- But nothing changes. Not for real. GWB They sent me here to cool off! Hahhahahahaha…. To an iceberg in the Arctic Sea. Not funny. Going nuts. Talking to myself. How long have I been here…? My whole life. What’s left of my life… (scans the water) Black spots, White ice, Red


water. Blood in the water. Somebody’s blood in the water. Wonder if it’s mine. BASEMORE I’m gonna share with you my Po’ Hymns – they speak about the death/life cycle. Po Hymns are my visceral writings reflecting the universal phenomenon of death and life. They are my ‘carnavows.’ My vows made to the flesh. (reading) I hear the sound of your tears splashing down into the ocean. My mind has refused me the right to turn away, so I remain, and listen. My thoughts come coated with the salty mist of your dark days. I remain here, reminded that all I am, is tomorrow’s yesterday. I hear the rumbling of bones in the clouds. I hear bloody chains rattle on like memories that don’t die. The snap of lashes, whipping up the winds, bringing to me the rhythm of your hurt. Your rhythm is chased by the rhythm of death, hungry to devour everything, even our unborn children. Polyrhythms of the whip occur and recur and I stand against them, I am their nemesis. / Even in the ocean I hear The Beat. / Souls of the middle passage / Let me not find sleep. GWB The sea is boiling. The ocean is turning red. ---- Whales! Killer whales. I see their white bellies. I see their fishy eyes. They whip the water with their tails. Smash slash. Those tusks! They are armed, they have teeth. Long pikes, sharp pikes, on their snouts… They’re orca. Killer whales which are really orca, dolphins! Prey on the tiny sequined fish, huddling in knots of fear. The orca push them to the surface. Slap the surface, stun the fish. Slash pound. Trap them in the shallows, herd them up to the edge of my iceberg. My icy yacht in the Arctic Sea. They swim, they play. They feed on little silver fish. Here – in the bloody water… this blood in the water and no more shiny silver fish. Why are you here?


ORCA A We have to eat. ORCA C Everyone has to eat. ORCA B Look at our scars. ORCA E Men shoot us. We have to eat. ORCA A Wounds. Scars. ORCA B Written into our skin. GWB And they’re gone. (staring at the sky) Where are the seabirds now? Swans, vultures, all dying. The ice is melting. What are we doing to ourselves? BASEMORE Hello, Rose: This morning the sun did it again. I was forced to meet it without you. But in the confines of my mind, a reality still binds, and I continue to see you. Yesterday was ours, but today is only mine. What memories of you have I relinquished? What breath of air have my lungs refused to breathe? “All good things must come to an end,” they say. Maybe there’s some truth in that. CHRISTINE I’m so sweet on my girl. She’ll be out in two years. BASEMORE


I remember the first time we met as if it were just hours ago. I remember our last meeting, how cold it was. We spent the last hour of summer together, and then the sun slowly went away. Now, it only rises in my mind. GWB It’s so dark. If only I could see the sun…the moon, a bird… A storm is tearing up the sky. Look! Snow. Snow! Blessings from the sky! Wash me clean. Oh, Lord, wash me clean. BASEMORE There was a time when we had more fun than the moon has making waves. There were times we would touch as if touching was about to be outlawed. There was no foul in all our days of lay. Naiveté plays in its own amusement park. So long ago. GIRL WITH BRAID Nothing on the horizon. Not even the sea birds. No one coming. Even the orca are gone. [SHE LOOKS INTO THE WATER, AND SEES HER OWN REFLECTION] The ocean breeds monsters. See the monster! Its flesh is cold and raw. It’s leering, It’s…me. The monster in the water is me. ---- “All alone, all alone, alone on a wide wide sea.” Soon I’ll fall into the ocean. Into the deep black Hole, crawling with vermin and “a thousand thousand slimy things,” from the depths of the sea. Death-fires all dancing round me. Death In Life, she’s coming for me. I hear things. Flushing pipes. Hissing snakes. Rats in the walls. Voices of the crazy-men. CHORUS (ad lib, shouting, variously, repeating their lines) Mama, take me home! I didn’t do nothing! Take me home! Mamaaaa!


GWB (curled up, fetal, shivering) I’m in the Hole, in the dark, all alone. Slit of light from a filthy window. In a damp dark hole. Shivering. No one here, except the ones who came before me, flakes of them, dirt off their rotting bodies. I smell them. I hear their voices. No. It’s me. Talking to myself. I’m a crazy person now. I’m never getting out of here. CELIA “You know you’ll never get out of prison.” CHRISTINE He let it hang in the air between us and then coldly dismissed me with a flick of his wrist. The room iced over. All the air in my lungs evaporated. My brain cracked into a billion pieces under the pressure. ---- I didn´t make parole. All those years I lived and breathed and believed that there would be life after prison for me. After waiting for weeks, trying not to hope, my turn-down came back on December 23. Merry Christmas. Some commander catches me at the wing door and unceremoniously hands me the form letter. For a brief, uncontrollable moment I thought, “What if!” Stupid. This is just one giant warehouse for people like me. People who deserve a second chance, damn it. My record´s clean except for the one crime, the ugly, black scorch mark on my heart. I´ve owned and paid for, in full. I am simply marking time, treading water, waiting for my turn to live. Life is zipping past me at space-worthy speed. If I stand real still and don´t breathe, I can catch glimpses of it now and then. But when that big old ugly turndown rolls in, everything changes. Each “NO” is more devastating than the one before. JOEY


There is no recovery. There is only breathing deep, praying hard, and hoping against all odds that something will change. CUSH There it is again. Hope. Hell, I’ve been here nearly 30 years. BASEMORE Do the crime, do the time. GWB But, what’s the crime? What are the rules? What are the RULES? ACTOR A They won’t tell you til you break ‘em. ACTOR B Rules change, depends on who you are. Depends… ACTOR C …on the color of your money. ACTOR A …color of your skin. ACTOR C Justice for all... ACTOR B …is justice for some. ACTOR A Equal justice. ACTOR B Only thing equal is pain. ACTOR A The true “Walking Dead.” CUSH


I would rather suffer through the torture than be a zombie. I know that these 28 years of solitary confinement have scarred me, mentally, spiritually, intellectually. But I would not change the path I’ve taken through this hell. To walk through rivers of lava instead of being frozen in zombie juice is a choice I do not regret. Once I would have railed against a person even contemplating suicide. I would have called them weak. But I’ve come to understand that for some, the torture and torments are just unbearable and they fought as long as they could. ACTOR B There is a point of no return for all ships that sail. CUSH I fight and try not to break. I can NOT break. I cannot break – because I am the vessel powered by the collective spirit and will of my ancestors. My personal powers gave out a long time ago. “I” only lasted 7 years on death row, in solitary confinement. The 21 years since have been by the grace and power of my ancestors, family and friends. We are part of the Universal Mind. I am no longer a believer, I am a KNOWER. I know – that we are linked – indivisible from the Universal Mind, the very essence of the Universe. I can assure you that near death experiences, or extended torture, open the mind to alternate realities. Call it Death Row Syndrome. Near death, you get to the point where the mind demands that you prepare for the next dimension, and then you never come back to the “here and now.” But sometimes the traveler returns with gifts for themselves, and their community, and all of humanity. I got almost 3 decades here. I take what nourishment I can, little bits of light, I grab it, when I meet a friend, when I talk to you. It’s what keeps me going on. BASEMORE TH

THE 11



The pacifiers do not cause you to gag, But you can bet They’ll blind the mind’s eye To the threat Of who is next. Shorn like sheep Corralled like cattle Well-fed like babies Unprepared for the battle. With the threat of death Pressure picks its spots. Groomed. They’ll set the stage for a celebration, Satiric ceremony. Strapped, trapped Only the ceiling to stare at. Roles reversed – they’re Cats caught in traps for mice. Some will shed tears, Moisten the skin. Last chance. Welcome to the unholy. You are death personified now, Please be advised: This is the death posture, You’ve been selected to strike this pose. You’ve been selected for the death roster. GUARD


I am here to en-force the law. I’m trained and I’m paid to punish. Predators have to be punished. They brought this on themselves. They come here, think they’re kings or something, want you to treat ‘em like royalty. But, this here, this is just the beginning of a world of pain. Which you deserve, assholes. The struggle bus stops here, you’re getting on and you’re never getting off. CUSH People are damaged by years of solitary, or being on the row. Each time a death warrant was signed against me, it is as if someone is holding a loaded gun to my head and only one chamber is empty. And the State was pulling the trigger. The “click on an empty chamber” is when a stay is issued and a warrant is lifted. Those who never have to endure this, think nothing is wrong, because the execution wasn’t carried out. But no one asks about the residual effects of the gun being pointed, trigger pulled. GUARD Oh, they’re real good at scapegoating. Blame everyone else for their troubles. And don’t tell me they have low self-esteem, they do not have low self-esteem. Aggression is normal for them. They fight each other, they fight us, and I have sting to ‘em til their down. ---- They hate us. Screws, they call us. Dicksucker, motherfucker, trash talk our families. -- I do tie-downs sometimes. I don’t like doing it but I do happen to agree with it. You know what some of these guys have done? They’re killers. That’s what they are. They deserve to die. When you think about, uh…taking their life, it’s a small price to pay to make innocent people feel safe. I tell them, ‘You just go quiet, now; don’t give us no trouble.’ They say their last words, if they have any, and then that’s it, they’re gone. Most of ‘em know they deserve to die.


ACTOR D He says to me, “If I could give my life to bring her back, I would.” Well, sorry is cheap. I cannot forgive him. My God tells me, forgive him. But, truthfully? I want to watch him die. Maybe I’ll get my life back, once he’s dead. GUARD Gas ‘em. Fry ‘em. Makes the rest of us safer. ACTOR E They told us it’s natural to hate the killer and want him to die. He’s a monster. Then I actually saw him in the courtroom. A person. A human being. With a mother who cries when she hears that her son is going to die. Killing him isn’t going to bring back my Eddie. It’ll only bring more grief. ACTOR B My death isn’t the answer. No death is an answer. ACTOR A “Blood has to be washed with tears. Not by more blood.” Victor Hugo said that. GUARD Look, I’m just doing what I’m told. And I got job security. What’s wrong with that? I’m just an ordinary working guy, doing what I’m paid to do. GWB Hey. Can you help me? I’m going crazy, I gotta get off this thing. GUARD You gotta wait for the boat. GWB There is no boat. Just spots in front of my eyes.


GUARD (shrugs) Nothing I can do. GWB How long am I gonna be here? GUARD Long as it takes. GWB Can I get a blanket? I’m cold. (no answer) How about some shoes? GUARD Some guy used shoelaces to hang himself. No shoes, no shoelaces. GWB They gave me floppy slippers. But they don’t fit… GUARD (shrugs) Sorry. GWB How about some soap…? GUARD Guy put a razor inside a bar a soap, cut himself up, tried to off himself, bled all over. GWB Pen? Paper? I’m going crazy here. GUARD Pens are ok, just refills though. No pencils except the small ones you get at miniature golf. Of course, you won’t be playing miniature golf for a while! (laughs at his own joke). Rules. We all have to follow the rules. Like, no staples. Those are weapons! No paper clips, no…


GWB Can’t somebody ….? GUARD It’s just me and you. GWB Where’s my father? GUARD Don’t you remember? GWB Where’s my mother? GUARD Don’t you remember? GWB No! GUARD No one’s coming to rescue you. GWB How long do I have to stay here? GUARD I ask the questions. Where were you yesterday? Day before that? Day after that? Do you know what day it is? You almost cocked me when I tossed you in the hole, that’s high crimes, lady. You’re lucky you’re white, that’s all I can say. GWB I’m going crazy here. GUARD Can’t pull that shit. We know about faking crazy. You cut yourself, you hang yourself. Every day, we get another hanger!


You think you can catch a break if you act crazy, what a scam. But we’re not letting you motherfucking loons out on the loose. Think again. GWB I …don’t know. I was talking to my friend… GUARD You ladies go for the rough ones. Sadists, psychos, scum. Women actually marry these guys. GWB No…I was just, what was I…? Talking. To a person…a human being. GUARD Human!? They’d kill their mother for a nickel. GWB I…no. I was listening to him. GUARD Why would you do that? GWB I was visiting my friend…I wasn’t... GUARD No visitors, you got that? (girl looks down) You helped him. GWB I didn’t mean to…well, I did, but… GUARD You can’t help anyone. GWB


I can’t take anymore! How long do I have to stay here? GUARD Your whole fucking life. ACTOR D It kills your soul. You go numb. ACTOR B Guys pretend to be crazy. But once a doctor starts treating you, you won’t be faking for long. ACTOR E Some days you won’t get up out of bed. I just lie down and I don’t want to get up, ever again. ACTOR B Some cut on themselves, just to feel something. ACTOR D Any attention is better than nothing. ACTOR A You don’t do what they tell you, you get gassed and they do a run-in. But saying I’m not coming out of my crib, that’s the only kinda protest I got. ACTOR C They’d been tearing up my stuff, and I’d had all I could take. They gassed me, in my cell; when it was over, I just felt relief. All the stress was gone. ACTOR B But the next day I went right back to feeling numb. Miserable just like before. ACTOR A You come in a scared kid, shakin’ in your boots, but by the time you’re done, you’re a genuinely scary thug, with the tats and the


scars and the gut, one badass foot soldier, first class felon. I wanna settle some scores. I covet what I don’t got. Curse the ones that got it. Go to sleep thinking of ways to get it. I want what I ain’t got and I ain’t never gonna get it. When all you have is hate, hate is enough. ACTOR C Stayin’ mad keeps me human. GWB My friend, he said to me, ACTOR A “First time I was just in for a minute.” GWB A minute. Means, one year. ACTOR A Every minute is a lifetime. GWB In for life. How many minutes is that? GUARD I’ve got reasons to act like I do. Some of these guys’d kill you as soon as look at you. I got a family. Most COs, we’re just regular guys, trying to make a living. We got to protect ourselves. Keep some control. And then some gal comes and she doesn’t know jack, thinks these guys are cuddly bears. And then she goes and talks to this lifer…she thinks maybe he’s innocent, maybe she can help him get out. He’s a killer, and he’s gonna get fried. No more appeals. But she comes in, making friends with him, and then the lawyers are claiming ‘exculpatory evidence,’ DNA or some other bullshit. All of a sudden this guy’s innocent! We’re keeping her quiet. On ice, so to speak. GWB


(Her platform) It’s shrinking. The ice is melting. Global warming. (Stares into water) The orca! They’ve come back. Up to the edge of my floating castle. Nice to see you. Please don’t eat me…I’m alone. I’d offer to shake hands but you might bite it off. (orca come up to her) Friends? Ok, friends. So. What possessed you to come this far north? Isn’t it too cold? ORCA B The oceans are starting to boil. ORCA A We go where there’s food. ORCA D We have to eat. ORCA A Everyone has to eat. ORCA B North, we hunt herring. ORCA A South we hunt seals. ORCA D We make waves to break up the ice floes, so the seals have to jump off. ORCA A We stun them with our tails. ORCA B We work together. ORCA C Our mothers teach us. They are the matriarchs. ORCA E


They preserve our memory, so the young learn to hunt. That’s how we survive. ORCA B If you hadn’t poisoned our waters, we would build our community. ORCA D Live in harmony. ORCA E But you kill us, you destroy us. You think we are less than you. ORCA A We have no choice. We are hunted. And we hunt. ORCA E We are hunted. And we hunt. GWB What can I do? What could I have done? Don’t swim away. My ice is shrinking, and I’m all by myself. Let me out of here! They said: No one gets out of this place. ACTOR B The alarm wakes me up, and right away I’m at the cell bars with my tiny mirror peeking out, looking both ways down the tier. I hear keys. Flash lights point inside a cell - Bobby’s cell. I go to the sink. I need to feel some water on my face. Then I reach over to where I keep my Buddhist mala - my prayer beads. I hear the commotion. And I peek back out. ACTOR A This is bad, real bad. ACTOR B


Bobby Goose is hanging off the cell door. A twisted bed sheet wrapped around his neck. ACTOR A Hanging, maybe 30 minutes or more…He only have one shoe on. ACTOR B Minutes later. Guards group in front of Cell #57. They use a precautionary extraction shield, to spike open the cell. And Bobby swings out hanging from the door as if it’s a haunted house prank on a cold Halloween night. ACTOR C The guards rush to hold Bobby up. GUARD This noose is too tight. ACTOR D We need to cut him down. ACTOR A Dammit, why this cat do this to himself? ACTOR C Borderline chaos. ACTOR D The spike keys clang. GUARD Hold him up. Steady. ACTOR C We need the cut-down tool. GUARD Someone, hey, we need that saw-cutter.


ACTOR A Now this is exactly the kind of shit that will drive you motherfucking ass crazy. And what’s a cut down tool? Like a tool to fix your car? On death row you need a tool to cut a hanging man down? Man, I have to stay strong. I feel ‘betrayed’ when these dudes do this. It hurts, man it hurts. My skin burning, and my face on these cold bars. ACTOR B I’m looking dead at Bobby Goose. He’s dead for sure. ACTOR A More guards, I hear their spike keys, they chain ‘em to their belt to keep ‘em from bouncing. ACTOR D We got it, here’s the cutter. GUARD Stay hold of him. Let’s get him down. Hold him…hold him. ACTOR A This here’s death row. But watch, watch what these dudes is going to do to him. ACTOR B On their knees they begin CPR. Loose up the noose, compress the chest. ACTOR A What the hell they doing….like they helping him… ACTOR B They compressing Bobby’s chest to revive him. They’re – GUARD, ACTOR C & ACTOR D - trying to save his life. ACTOR A


Can’t be serious. ACTOR B I never witness something like this before. These guards, see this man a human being, deserving to live, doing everything they can. I always thought nobody on death row would ever… ACTOR A Am I seeing this for real? What the hell? They’re trying to save that man’s life. ACTOR B I knew they might not admit it. Just say GUARD It’s my job. ACTOR B And all that jive. GUARD It’s just my job. ACTOR B Yeah, right. Truth is, Bobby’s suicide – and he did die – in that instant, it had nothing to do with a uniform or a job. It was because they seen a human being, not a condemned man awaiting execution. They did everything, everything to save the life of another human being. ACTOR A A week later I talked to one of those guards. He never had a problem to say he believed in capital punishment. GUARD The sooner the better, you all get what you did to others. ACTOR B


I needed to know what got into him, why he worked so hard to save a man sentenced to death, and god forbid waste taxpayers money like that. GUARD Truth is, I just seen that man’s face, that rope, he didn’t supposed to suffer like that. Not until we all seen his chest move, breathing. It changed my life. ACTOR B Is that right? GUARD We was just that close to keeping someone alive, doing something like that, saving a man’s life. ACTOR B Bobby Goose. ACTOR A Huh. ACTOR B A LETTER TO THOSE ON DEATH ROW - The ink doesn’t drip – it exudes, through a 4 inch tube. Giving birth to passing thoughts. On paper made of rags I speak, but ragged I am not, and weariness I have not forgotten. I know where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, what I’ve walked through. / No one is faceless. Life still surges behind the blinds of justice. ACTOR A If I have regrets, it’s because I ran for cover when my sisters and brothers were effaced. If I have regrets, it’s for of the mothers who worked from sunup to sundown, and as for me, you know what the “lazy” do, we make sure we’re nowhere around. If I have regrets, it’s for the sons and daughters who, when circumstances called for me to step up and help them, what did I


do? I ignored them every time, and those of you who recognize this, know that I’m not lying. If I have regrets, it’s because of the old folks who needed me. If I have regrets, it’s because I didn’t assist the fathers who banded together to thwart the violence they faced. As for me, I just stayed in the cut. Silent. I have one more regret. For those of you unable to change the behaviors we once shared: I regret to inform you that I send not regrets…but a mirror. ACTOR D BLOOD IN THE DUST – Some bled a little, some bled a lot, who cares to count the drops? Made to feel like nobody. Not blotted but smeared, agony torn from our tears. Tender souls, moved across parched roads, the cracks bleeding secrets. Broken souls. Tell me something, you rocks, you trees, what can we expect? Tell me before we come to the place where this road will end. Tell me your secrets, tell me the things you know. What have you seen? Why have I been made part of this death rite? This forced march that will terminate my life. I push a ragged and weary plow, my flesh. The ones before me, the ones with the moistened, crimson colored ropes around their necks pull me closer to a fate I am forced to anticipate. Reluctantly, I allow myself to be pulled forward. In so doing, I pull others, quickening their fate. The prints that we leave behind are doomed before a moon that now shines for the last time. The sun will look, but our prints it will not find. Hallowed once were the names we shared, the marks of the whip and cane. What remains ahead of me is no longer a mystery. I see the trees with the ropes and the pyre, which smokes. ACTOR E Suddenly, the flickering light is dancing like a strobe, it fractures the artificial darkness that houses the keepers of the night.


Thunderous, the sounds of a metal door disengaging, echoing against the concrete walls, waking all but the almost dead. The cacophony permeates their minds, teasing open the dreams of those who are able to sleep, with death as their sitter. Their darkest hour is forever poised alongside the storm called neverending. BASEMORE …and it came and went, the disturbance, so it seemed. Each one went to his neutral corner, and silence teemed. Whispers started to build. The inevitable blanketed us like cold chills. Gates suddenly snatched open, Bodies pulled from racks. Blood will be spilled, Bones will be broken. 1989. I’m facing death by electrocution. My thoughts are fragments now... The Founding Fathers built themselves up on exploitation. Government money into their hands. Experimenting on those considered damned. We are fuel for the machinery. / Our blood is fuel for the machine. GWB They’ve disappeared without a trace. Gone to feed the roses. There’re people who’ll say, that’s the best they could ever do with themselves, feeding the roses…but nobody helped them to be themselves. See themselves, know themselves. I am not resigned to it. I am not resigned. I dream of murder. Fantasize the ripping shredding of eyeless enemies. Peaceful Zen me, gregarious light hearted me. Black hate, red-hot rage. Then the rage goes, and it’s fear, I’m like a turtle, head pulled in, cowering, a shell of myself. Tremble dribble drool, demented ‘me’ that can’t be trusted. Dreaming of daggers, dreaming of blood. Teeth bared. Growling in the dark.


How. I. Hate. I hate. Poison shoots from my eye. There are all kinds of prisons. I’m in one of my own. I cry with grown men, I throttle the hate in my heart. Forgiveness is not an option, not if you want to stay sane. Just mourning. And sadness, and shame. / In here for a minute. / Every minute is a lifetime. This is what they do in dark places. Faraway places. So we don’t have to know ourselves for who we are, when we kill. SOMEONE LISTEN TO ME! GUARD I’m on death watch, some times. When you do it, there’s no sensation. Try to forget it’s a human being, just remember the harm he’s done. We compartmentalize. One guy buckles up the belt, another does a leg, another puts his head in the cap. I strap the right side. Got the moves down. We do it like that, so no one guy takes the whole load. Including the guy who pulls the switch. We’re a team. Everything according to schedule. Every minute figured out. First thing to go is compassion. That’s only natural. GWB (sees her reflection in the water. Her hair is now totally white) My hair. Gone white. How long have I been here? How can anybody live like this? (she tries to hang herself with her braid). Not even a nail to hang myself on. I try to get the hatred out of me. Splash it on the page, toss it into this icy ocean, get this poison out of me. I know men that do. They’ve gotten past the rage. Hope. Hope is a mystery.


Faith. Faith is a mystery. The men I meet here – many have faith. Faith. I pray to the God in whom I don’t believe. As I pray, I begin to believe. God give me comfort….. I choose to believe. I choose God. ACTOR E God never turns away. He is never fully hidden from the faithful. In my darkest hour, I lose my faith – my life is without meaning. I am lost, forsaken. Then, in the silence, I hear God’s voice. In the darkness of prison, God seems absent. – but I have faith that he is with me, if I listen. I move from despair to faith, from pride to humility; then I hear God’s voice. This cage hides the sun from my eyes - but if I but Listen for His voice – if I seek His light, I am transformed. I’m not who I was yesterday. In my transformation, I find freedom. ACTOR C But it isn’t enough. ACTOR D I am not who I was yesterday. ACTOR A It isn’t enough. ACTOR E I change. I grow. ACTOR B I have hope. ACTOR D


It isn’t enough. GWB You pray for angels but only the devils show up. Why? ACTOR A Because. Hurt people hurt people. ACTOR D Let me tell you about the fly. A farmer complains that a fly keeps biting him. And the fly says, ACTOR E, AS THE FLY I bite you, yeah, but I’m here cause of your shit. You choose to live on a shit pile, you get flies. And they bite you, and sure, then you catch one and you want to kill it, but we keep multiplying, so you’ve still got a problem, right? GWB Hurt people hurt people. And so we hurt them more, and more and more and…the devils keep showing up. SLOWLY THE ACTORS, IN THEIR SPOTLIGHTS, REACH UP TO THE UNSEEN SKY ACTOR C In any struggle, there must be warriors. You do what you can… ACTOR To keep your warrior spirit. ACTOR B You take your power. ACTOR D Respect. That’s what it’s about. Human dignity. Respect. GWB Have patience. Someone is sure to come… The boat. It’s coming… Just wait.




Bullyproof Aaron Holly - EL Jason Bushwit was nine years old, in the 4th grade, and was a straight “A” student who made the honor role for the past three years. Jason loved being in Ms. Wallace’s class and attending school every day because he always learned something new. Ms. Wallace was a teacher that many of the students didn't like because a lot of them thought that she was mean. But Ms. Wallace was just one of those teachers that just didn't tolerate no nonsense in her classroom. She believed that a classroom is a place where you come to learn, not play. And every day she would tell the entire class that when you come into her classroom, you needed to be prepared to work and learn something; because a mind is a terrible thing to waste but it's worth everything to invest in. She also believes education is the key to success and will afford you many opportunities in life. Every time when Jason would hear the wise words from Ms. Wallace, for some reason, it seemed as if she was always talking directly to him. And for the rest of the day, he couldn’t get those words out of his mind. But it was those words that gave him confidence as well as the determination to choose the latter part of Ms. Wallace's slogan rather than the former and get his education, investing in learning as much as he can. “Good morning, Ms. Wallace!” Jason told his teacher as he entered his classroom and proceeded to take a seat in the front row of the classroom. "Good morning to you, too, Jason! Are you ready to work as well as prepared to learn something new today?” "Yes Ma'am!" Jason replied. “Good! Today, we will have a new student joining us from Mr. Cox 's class and I will introduce him to the rest of the students once everyone arrives and takes their seats.” “Ok then,” said Jason.


"What's up Jason?" Jermery stated as he entered the classroom and saw his best friend sitting at his desk. “Nothing much, Jermery. What’s up with you?” said Jason as he stood to shake his friend’s hand. “I’m just waiting on the class to begin and see who the new student is that’s going to be joining our class.” “What? Which class is he coming from?” Jermery questioned. “I think Ms. Wallace said that he’s coming from Mr. Cox’s class down the hall. She going to have him introduce himself to the entire class once everyone gets here and take their seats.” Jason noticed how nervous his friend became at the mention of a new student joining their classroom from Mr. Cox’s class. “Are you alright, Jermery?” he asked. “Yeah, why did you ask me that?” Jermery quickly replied. “Because your chest is beating so hard that I could see it through your shirt. And you started shaking when I mentioned that someone new was coming to our class from Mr. Cox’s class today.” Jermery knew that he couldn’t keep hiding this from his best friend. It had been the one secret that he chose to keep to himself for the past three years and now he figured that his secret had been discovered, so he might as well come clean. But before he could even get a word out, he was cut off by the sound of Ms. Wallace’s voice instructing everyone to take their seats so that they could get started. He decided that now was not the time, so he told Jason that he will talk to him at recess. “Good morning class!” “Good morning Ms. Wallace!” The entire class responded. “As you all know by now, my classroom is a place where you learn, so I hope that you all are prepared to work because knowledge is power. And a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it’s worth everything to invest in, because … What?” She asked the class. “Because education is a key to success and will afford us many opportunities in life!” They all shouted.


“That’s right!” Ms. Wallace responded with a smile on her face. She was proud that her students were taking heed to her motto and stressing the importance of education. “Excuse me, Ms. Wallace.” “Yes, Kayla. What can I do for you this morning?” “How come you always say the same thing to us every day before we begin our lessons for the day?” “Because it’s the truth, Kayla. I’m just telling each of you what I know you have the potential to be great, if you put forth the effort and apply yourself. See, once you know the truth about yourself, you will strive to become the truth. And the truth is that each and every one of you are success stories, and the only thing that can stop you is if you don’t get an education. Now, before we begin, we have a new student who will be joining us today form Mr. Cox’s class. His name is Billy Witmore. Billy, if you could please stand for the class. Now, class, give Billy a warm welcome.” “Hi, Billy.” The class responded in a way that let Billy know that they were not happy with the fact that he was now part of their class. Billy was standing with a smile on his face because he already knew most of his classmates. In fact, he had been bullying them for the past three years. And the thought was not running through his mind again that it was time for him to get back to the thing that he thought gave him power and made him popular in school. But what Billy didn’t realize was that he was not very popular at all in school. The majority of his classmates didn’t like the actions that Billy displayed when they were around him. He would try to control them. He would say mean things to them to hurt their feelings. He even went as far as having some of them buy him snacks at lunch with their money. Because he never had any money to buy his own. “Thank you, Billy. You may take your seat. I’m Ms. Wallace and I’ll be your teacher for the remainder of the year.” “Oh ok, Ms. Wallace.” Billy responded.


Jason couldn’t help but notice how the entire class’ facial expressions suddenly changed the moment that Ms. Wallace told Billy to stand and introduce himself to the class. Some looked mad, some looked sad, and the rest looked horrified, as if they had just seen a ghost. But what caught his attention the most was when he looked over at Jermery. And seeing that he was shaking in his chair. He felt that something was going on between his friend and the new student, Billy. But he would have to wait until recess to find out what’s wrong. As the day went on, Jason continued to countdown the minutes to each hour as he impatiently waited to hear Ms. Wallace finally say: “It’s now time for recess.” “It’s about time. Now it’s time to get to get to the bottom of what had my friend so disturbed all day long,” Jason said to himself. Jason made his way outside. He looked around until he spotted Jermery standing over by the Monkey Bars talking to Chris, another friend of theirs. So he headed in their direction. “Jermery, what’s up? Chris, what’s up?” said Jason as he jumped up and swung on the Monkey Bars. “Nothing much man,” they both responded with sad looks on their faces. “What’s gotten into the both of y’all? Everybody has been down since the new kid, Billy, came to our class this morning.” Jermery was the first one to spill the beans and confess to his friend the secret that had been haunting him for the last three years. “Jason, Billy has been bullying most of our entire class for the past three years. Everyone was excited when we first found out at the beginning of the year that he wasn’t going to be in the same classroom as us. We all felt relieved. But I guess it’s not good to count your chickens before they hatch. Because here it is, the middle of the school year, and here comes Billy.” “Why hasn’t anyone stood up to him?” Jason asked. “Because he’s bigger than us,” Chris responded.


“Man, he beat up the last dude who stood up to him,” Jermery added. “Listen, my father told me that violence is not the way to solve your problems in life. And, he also said that a person who picks on someone smaller than them is a coward,” said Jason, sharing some of the words of wisdom his father gave him when he was being bullied at his last school. “What? Well, what are we going to do then?” Jermery questioned Jason. “I’ma teach you what my father taught me.” “And what’s that!” Chris and Jermery both shouted at once. “I’ma teach y’all how to be Bullyproof!” said Jason. “What’s Bullyproof?” Chris asked. “A person is Bullyproof when they stand up to their bully and not allow themselves to be bullied.” “Yeah, that’s easier said than done,” Chris stated, as Jermery nodded his head in agreement. “Listen guys, I been through what the both of you are now experiencing and trust me, I know how to deal with a bully. First, you have to believe in yourself and know that you have the ability as well as the strength to stand up for yourself and face your fears. Believing in yourself first will help you develop the confidence you’ll need to know that. You will no longer tolerate him trying to control you; to know that his words cannot hurt you, because only you have the power to define who you are.” Jermery and Chris sat quietly listening to Jason as he spoke and they suddenly felt empowered by his words. “So, what are we going to do?” Jermery asked. “Yeah, what are we going to do? How are we going to get Billy to leave us alone for good?” Chris added. “I don’t know yet, but we got to come up with a plan,” Jason responded. “And a good plan at that!” said Chris, with Jermery nodding his head in agreement.


Jason, Jermery, and Chris all sat in silence, each in their own thoughts. Billy sat watching the three of them from the basketball court, putting together a plan of his own. Billy knew that it would be kind of hard for him to start bullying Jason because they were the same size. Plus, he noticed how when he first went to their classroom this morning and Ms. Wallace had him stand and introduce himself, Jason was the only one who didn’t seem to be afraid of him at all. After several minutes of giving his plan some thought, Billy figured that it would be in his best interest to try to befriend Jason rather than try to bully him because he wasn’t sure how the outcome would turn out for him. Billy decided that approaching Jason during recess would be the best time to talk to him and try to get him on his side to become a bully like him because he was big for his age and the two of them could terrorize their classmates for the rest of the year. But little did he know was that Jason did not like bullies because he too was once the victim at the hands of bullies at his old school. As he started to make his way over to the playground, Billy walked with such cockiness as if he ruled the world. Jason, Jermery, and Chris looked up just in time to se Billy casually strolling toward their direction when Jermery panicked and started yelling. “Here he comes! He’s coming this way! What are we going to do?” “Man, would you just calm down,” said Jason. “Yeah, Jermery. Calm down man,” Chris added. “We are going to see what he wants,” Jason stated. Jason watched Billy as he proceeded to make his way over to where they were standing. He quickly formed a plan in his head on how to confront him. When Billy finally made it over to the playground, he immediately spoke to Jason and never even considered acknowledging Jermery or Chris. “Hey, Jason. Can I speak to you for a minute?” Billy asked.


“Yeah, I’ll be right back,” Jason told his friends. “Be careful, man,” Jermery whispered as Jason walked over to confront Billy. “What up Billy?” Jason asked. “Man, why are you hanging out with those losers over there?” Billy spoke, trying to make himself sound cool. “Losers? They are my friends, Billy. And they are not losers. Their names are Jermery and Chris. So show them some respect,” Jason responded. “Whatever man. Look, Jason, I was thinking that if me and you team up, we can control our entire class,” Billy stated as if he was selling a good dream. But he was quickly disappointed by Jason’s response. “Run our class? Man, you must be crazy! I’m not trying to run our class. I’m just trying to get a good education,” Jason firmly stated. “No. … What I mean is we can be the biggest bullies and control everyone.” “Look Billy, I’m not interested! Plus my father told me that bullies are cowards who pick on people smaller or weaker than them.” “Man, I ain’t no coward,” Billy aggressively stated, trying to defend himself. “You are if you’re bullying people smaller or weaker than you,” Jason responded back aggressively. “You better watch your mouth and know who you’re talking to Jason.” “Or what Billy? I’m Bulletproof, you can’t lean on me,” Jason responded back. By now, all of the other students standing around the playground heard the entire conversation between Jason and Billy. And they all felt empowered by Jason’s words and the way that he was standing up to Billy the Bully. “I’m Bullyproof too and I ain’t doing for it no more Billy,” Chris shouted at the top of his lungs. Then came Jermery.


“Me to Billy. I’m Bullyproof!” Then out of nowhere, three more classmates began yelling. “I’m Bullyproof! I’m Bullyproof! I’m Bullyproof!” Jason turned around to see half of his class standing behind him, finally standing up to Billy the Bully who had been bullying most of them for the past three years. Seeing the energy of unity and strength combined, each of them knew that they would no longer let Billy bully them again. All it took to see was one person stand up to Billy to give them the courage and strength that they already had within them, to stand up for themselves. Once Billy saw how he was being surrounded and all of his classmates were now standing up to him, he realized that he was outnumbered. He became nervous because he was no longer in control, and from the looks on his classmates’ faces, the outcome didn’t look good for him. Within a split second, Billy came to the conclusion that it was time for him to get out of there, so he took off, running at full speed in the direction where the teachers were standing, as if he was being chased by a pack of wolves. As he ran, his classmates continued laughing at him because no one was even chasing behind him. Billy hated the fact that he had been exposed and that his bullying days were over. He decided that it would be best, as well as safe, for him if he stayed around Ms. Wallace for the rest of the recess period. Meanwhile, Jason, Jermery, and Chris went back over by the Monkey Bars to talk. “Man, I feel good. Now I can focus on my classwork without having to worry about Billy bullying me!” Chris shouted. “I finally stood up for myself,” he continued. “Yeah, I feel good too. Thanks, Jason, for being our friend and teaching us to be Bullyproof,” said Jermery. “No problem. That’s what friends are for,” Jason responded.


For Former Felons, Voting Booths are Surrounded by Bars An opinion piece by Anastasia Maragos President Lincoln once said, “Elections belong to the people,” yet millions of Americans have had their right to vote stripped away, leaving them voiceless. The 15th Amendment says the right to vote cannot be “denied or abridged” due to race or “previous servitude.” This, in theory, helps correct the injustice created by the 14th Amendment, which granted states the power to take away voting rights. But in practice, Constitutional contradictions remain, with the result that 6.1 million former felons or 1 in 40 adults in the United States are barred from voting in elections. The United States holds 4 percent of the world’s population and also 24 percent of the worlds inmates. Remarkably, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any developed nation in the world. Prisons are meant to punish but also reform offenders. But once released, these returning citizens are thrown into a world in which they are perpetually penalized for the mistakes of the past. A step to rehabilitate ex-prisoners is to allow them to regain their right to a voice, to a vote. In America, 13 states like Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Virginia, Wisconsin, impede a former prisoner’s ability to regain the vote. Some laws either make ex-prisoner’s walk through a labyrinthine process or steal away their right to vote indefinitely. No matter the impediment, these states intentionally stop ex-prisoners from integrating into society again by infringing upon their individual rights. These restrictions are criminal. Upon release, ex-prisoners are expected to resume their normal lives as soon as possible by finding a job and paying taxes to contribute to society again. A component of these expectations is that they will not commit a crime again. Those who oppose automatic restoration of the vote believe former prisoners must prove their worthiness for societal clemency. A recent segment from John Oliver discussed the process of a “clemency court” in Florida. In the video, ex-prisoners are shown telling their redemption stories to a panel of elected officials. The council, headed by Governor Rick Scott, quickly and callously denied each person their voting right. Despite the adequate proof presented, these courts establish their own standards,


creating a prejudicial system in which no one can win. Incarceration continues outside of the halls of prison. The public also opposes the right of ex-prisoners to vote as they believe criminals do not have the intelligence to make a vote; they have spent time in jail and therefore must be grossly uninformed. In a Washington Post article from 2014, a study from Ipsos MORI found that most Americans lack a sound understanding of national issues from immigration to unemployment. The “average joe’ knows less than he thinks. Excluding former on the grounds that they are uninformed is hypocritical. Besides, if citizens are so concerned with the level of education of the ex-felon population, then why not develop a program to teach them? With major mid-term elections on the horizon, many races can be too-closeto-call. Now more than ever, every vote counts. National Register to Vote Day in September encouraged young people to voice their opinions, yet former felons were left out of this conversation entirely. Being one of the largest populations denied the vote, the conversation around voting registration must be expanded. Dwindling time until elections and the pressing need for ballots should force state governments to re-evaluate their role in barring ex-offenders from voting. Some states have begun to alter their stance on felony disenfranchisement. Due to the work of local advocacy organizations, a new referendum has been added to Florida’s ballot. Floridians will decide whether to lift the legal restrictions and allow ex-felons an easier path to enfranchisement. According to the Tampa Bay Times, this referendum if passed could help 1.5 million for felons vote again. While Florida is one key state, the other 12 that exclude former prisoners from the voting rolls have not moved to amend their laws. Thus, the work must continue. We as citizens who are secure in the right to vote must advocate for felon enfranchisement. The benefit of bringing felons into the fold again is not exclusive to one political party. Former felons could contribute key swing votes for both political parties, if only they had the right to approach the polling stations. More importantly, re-enfranchising 6 million people is a matter of maintaining and honoring the American principle of democracy: one voice, to one vote.


ABOUT THE EDITORS AND CONTRIBUTORS CASEY CHIAPPETTA (Editor-in-Chief) has been working with BleakHouse Publishing for the last five years. She is also responsible for BleakHouse Review, an invitation-only online magazine that features art, poetry, short stories, and articles. She recently received her Master of Science in Justice, Law & Criminology from American University. ROBERT JOHNSON (Consulting Editor) is a Professor of Justice, Law and Criminology at American University, Editor and Publisher of BleakHouse Publishing, and a widely published and award-winning author of books and articles on crime and punishment, including works of social science, law, and fiction. He has testified or testified expert affidavits on capital and other criminal cases in many venues, including US state and federal courts, the U.S. Congress, and the European Commission of Human Rights. He is best known for his book, Death Work: A Study of the Modern Execution Process, which won the Outstanding Book Award of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Johnson is a Distinguished Alumnus of the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany, State University of New York. BILAL AHMED – Ahmed is part of the Georgetown Prison Scholars Program at the DC jail and has taken courses in journalism and public affairs. ISABELLE BALDWIN – is a photographer and writer based in Washington, D.C. She received a BFA with Honors in Photography and a minor in Sustainability from Pratt Institute in


2018. With an emphasis on environmental portraiture, Baldwin aims to document the contemporary American landscape, focusing on subjects such as the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of climate change and sustainable beekeeping practices. The body of work currently on display, Sleepy Time Down South, concentrates on the quiet existence of people living in rural communities below the Mason-Dixon line and in Appalachia. This series has been exhibited in the Pratt Institute Photography Gallery and featured in Aint-Bad Magazine, Oxford American, Velvet Eyes, and The Photographic Journal, and will be shown at the 2019 Every Women Biennial in New York. Her work can also be seen in the Catholic News Service and Alexandria Living Magazine. WILLIAM BASEMORE – contact via BLACK MESSIAH – Black Messiah can be reached by via correspondence with Corey Matthews #578237, Wakulla Correctional Institution, Melaleuca Dr., Crawfordville, FL 32327-4963. CHRISTIANE BUCHANAN – contact via ELLEN W. CAPLAN is a Professor of Theatre at Smith College, Fulbright Scholar, Guest Professor (Tel Aviv University; Romania;; Costa Rica). Directs across the US, Asia, Europe, Central America, and a playwright. Selected productions: Someone Is Sure to Come presented at La Mama ETC, Livy in the Garden Robert Black Theatre in Hong Kong. Cast No Shadow, premiered at Jewish State Theater of Bucharest, Pulling Apart (New Haven; Moss Hart Award; Finalist, O’Neill); Sarajevo Phoenix (interviews with women in Bosnia, produced in Baltimore, Hartford, CT,); Twice Finalist for the Massachusetts


Playwriting Fellowship. Extensive theatre work with underserved groups, leading workshops and teaching classes. Currently developing a new play based on interviews with Yazidi women survivors of ISIS. Professor Kaplan can be reached at: KAREEM CARTER – Kareem Carter can be reached at Kareem Carter – DD 8712, SCI Forest PO Box 945, Marienville, PA 16239. ROBERT L. COOK, JR. – contact via IZUO-ERE “MIMI” DIGIFA – Digifa is part of the Georgetown Prison Scholars Program at the DC jail and has taken courses in journalism and public affairs. AARON HOLLY - EL – Aaron Holly can be reached at Aaron Holly – El #458-396-SID #2329959, NBCI, 1411 McMullen Hwy, Cumberland, MD 21502 ERIN GEORGE – contact via E.J. LASH – How can one man make an impact in the hearts of the future? E.J. Lash born and raised in Baltimore MD sought to use his words. Through his experiences in life's ups and downs from depression, love and lost, religion, and other influences such as incarceration. E.J. Lash attempts to tell his story and touch the hearts of his readers. His dream that one day when he's gone and forgotten his words may mend the broken spirit like his own. G. LEAKS – contact via Free Minds Book Club ANASTASIA MARAGOS is an honors student at American


University in Washington, D.C. JARVIS JAY MASTERS – contact via

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thank you to Neil Roland for sharing the poetry of his students from the Georgetown Prison Scholars Program.


Profile for BleakHouse Publishing

Tacenda Literary Magazine - Spring 2019  

BLEAKHOUSE PUBLISHING is an independent, not-for-profit press devoted to creative writing, art, and photography on social justice. The press...

Tacenda Literary Magazine - Spring 2019  

BLEAKHOUSE PUBLISHING is an independent, not-for-profit press devoted to creative writing, art, and photography on social justice. The press...