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NY Writers Coalition Press

THESE ARE HARD TIMES for

DREAMERS

WRITING FROM RIKERS ISLAND Edited by Deborah Clearman


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T HESE A RE H ARD T IMES FOR D REAMERS W RITING

FROM THE R OSE M. S INGER ON R IKERS I SLAND

NY WRITERS COALITION PRESS WINTER 2015 3

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Copyright Š 2015 NY Writers Coalition, Inc. ISBN: 978-0-9911174-7-5 Library of Congress Control Number: 2015931937 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Upon publication, copyright to individual works returns to the authors. Editor: Deborah Clearman Layout: Anna Pettus, Rose Gorman Title: Chelsea Grin Cover Images: Anna Pettus These Are Hard Times for Dreamers contains writing by members of NY Writers Coalition creative writing workshop for women at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island. NY Writers Coalition Press, Inc. 80 Hanson Place, Suite 604 Brooklyn, NY 11217 (718) 398-2883 info@nywriterscoalition.org www.nywriterscoalition.org

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C ONTENTS INTRODUCTION BY DEBORAH CLEARMAN

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ORIGINAL WRITING BY ASHLEY MOTE

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CHELSEA GRIN

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CHRISTINA LANE

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CHRISTINE FELICIANO

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CEE

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DEBORAH CLEARMAN

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CORALI RAMOS VALENTIN

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DEE-DEE

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ELENA SAVA ADAMS

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KAREN VELLA-ZARB

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KIM AYALA

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IZZY BURGOS

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LEUKAR ENCARNACION

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NADEZDA STEELE-WARRICK

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NATALIE LOPEZ

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ROBIN BROWNLEE DAUGHTERY

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TERRICKA WILLIAMS

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UNDINE WALKER

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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ABOUT NY WRITERS COALITION

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INTRODUCTION The first time I walked through the halls of Rosie’s— the jail for women on Rikers Island is named the Rose M. Singer Center, but familiarly known to all as Rosie’s— I felt called. It was a long journey— over an hour by subway and bus just to get to the island, which is connected by a causeway to the borough of Queens right next to LaGuardia airport. Once on the island my colleagues and I went through a processing center where our clearances were checked and we were given passes. Then we boarded a bus. There are five bus routes around the island, dropping correction officers, staff, lawyers, and service providers off at the ten different jails. At the entrance to Rosie’s, we left our cell phones in a locker, got our hands stamped with invisible ink, and waited for our escort officer. When he arrived, we put our bags through an X -ray machine, walked through a metal detector and entered the first of many gates. The metal bars shut electronically with a clang behind us; then the gate in front of us ground open. We followed our escort down an almost endless labyrinth, long hallways, worn-out linoleum, dodging puddles from a recent rain, past bags of stinking garbage, officers fist bumping each other, lines of women shuffling by us on their side of a red line painted on the hallway floor. Through gate after gate. Windows showed a bleak courtyard with cracked cement, a basketball hoop, one dispirited tree. Down an even shabbier, more broken-down corridor off at an odd angle, to a door, where we left the building, walked around a patch of grass, and entered a trailer. Yes, the program called RIDE (Rikers Island Discharge Enhancement) was housed in a temporary structure up on blocks. The whole experience made me feel that the inmates had been discarded, like the piles of garbage in the halls. We gathered in the RIDE trailer for a reading by women in NY Writers Coalition’s creative writing workshop, celebrating publication of their first chapbook. My dismal mood turned to 9

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wonder as I listened to the poems and essays the women had written. I marveled that words of such raw power and beauty could have been produced in this grim setting. That was four years ago. Six months later, I took over leading that workshop. In 2012 the workshop moved inside, into the Programs Corridor of the brand new jail annex built onto Rosie’s. The workshop opened up to detainees awaiting trials or sentencing, as well as sentenced inmates. We meet in a sparkling, sunny room that looks out on grass and sky, surrounded by chain link fence and razor wire. Every Tuesday at midday the women gather around a long table, anywhere from one to nineteen women. They come in noisy, greeting friends from different dorms, gossiping, complaining, shoving chairs around. I give each woman a couple sheets of lined paper torn from a pad and a stubby library pencil. We begin with a free write; I tell them to write whatever they want. Soon the noise dies down, and all I hear is the scratching of pencils on paper, and occasionally the jangling of the officer’s keys in the hall. They open their hearts and pour onto the page their anger, remorse, frustrations, fears, and hopes. I write along with them. Later I will give a writing prompt, but it is always a suggestion. They can write in whatever form they want: poetry, fiction, memoir, journal entry, rant. Those who want to will read their work out loud to the group. The writing is sometimes imaginative, sometimes brutally honest, sometimes poetic, funny, deep, and nearly always moving. Numerous studies have shown that educational programs in jails and prisons reduce recidivism. In the chaotic environment of jail, the writing workshop provides an island of quiet and reflection. The women have time to express their emotions and be alone with their thoughts in a productive way. Writing together and sharing their work they form bonds. They listen to each other with respect and sometimes awe. Their voices are heard. They see their words on the page. For any writer this is an empowering experience. I treasure my part in this experience. What follows is a sampling of the work that comes out of the workshop, in all its variety, beginning with a poem I wrote 10


in the workshop: Grit and diamonds in the clouds Rain on coils of razor wire. The flapping flag, the cry of gulls Echo the weeping behind vertical bars Triggering scars of distant wars. Stories told at the water’s edge Send ripples into the universe Collide with particles too small to see Bending light, collapsing time. We who witness here inside The pains of birth and separation Heart blood loss, anticipation Of shadows in the shadowed night Hear the clamor, the shake of keys Turning, turning toward the light. Deborah Clearman NYWC Workshop Leader

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ASHLEY MOTE

ENDURING THE STORM Enduring the storm is tough business. Seeing as I was born and raised in Central Florida, I have been through many hurricanes and countless thunderstorms. Yet, none come anywhere close to the hectic and relentless storm of my childhood. I grew up as the child of an addict. My mother was a single parent but not really a parent at all. She was more of a cohabitant. As I watched my mother fall deeper and deeper into her path of never-ending self destruction, my emotions were in utter turmoil, constantly swirling around me like the cyclone of a tornado. The eye of the storm is a moment of calm and silence. I became accustomed to the everyday ins and outs of the lifestyle, calm and silenced. The eye moves on, the storm worsens... Hardened and weathered, I endured.

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FIREFLIES It’s finally my turn to use the phone. When I get to call home it really makes waiting in line worthwhile, even if I only get fifteen minutes of conversation, conversation that is usually a bittersweet moment. My youngest child answers the phone today. The pre-recorded message begins in its monotone, computerized voice, “This is a call from a correctional facility and will be monitored or recorded,” cutting off his sweet little voice, making me miss his, “Heyo Mommy.” I know it’s there, though. I hear it anyway. “Isaac, how are you doing today?” I asked my precious seven-year-old son. He answered excitedly, “Mommy, We went to the property today and we caught fireflies.” “Oh Isaac, I bet that was really fun,” I responded. “What did you do with them afterwards? Did you set them free?” “I don’t know, Mommy,” Isaac answered. “Mommy, are you ever coming home?” He choked out over his tears. I carefully replied, “Of course I’m coming home, baby.” “But when?” he whined. Beginning to cry I had to tell my son, “I don’t know.” The fireflies and I had more in common than I would have ever thought.

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FRIENDS: A LETTER TO MADREA I was asked to describe someone in writing class today. I was going to describe my exhusband but the thoughts of him are all over the place and confusing. When I think of you, my thoughts are crystal clear — flowing strong and pure like the springs we spent our summers together playing in. As a child growing up in a world of addiction, criticism, and hate, the monsters of my life pushing me further and further away from myself, Fanning Springs and your friendship are my happiest memories. That sacred place and you are those things that were always there. Every morning I would pay my dollar to get in the springs. I knew what to expect each and every time: special, safe, and mine. Mine to escape in its everlasting sunshine. The sweet Florida breeze blowing the smell of the Suwannee River against my sunburned face. The clean white sand between my toes, a feeling I’ll never forget. The old oak tree standing—dependable, tall, and strong—was firm and everlasting, just like the friendship that blossomed while I sat there under its wide-open branches, eating sandwiches with my best friend. I love you, Madrea, always and forever.

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CHELSEA GRIN

INTERNAL DIALOGUE The ubiquitous “they” will never understand none of it matters the bullshit we spew about daily will never matter Realize they don’t even care foolishly operating on auto-pilot impulses injected ocularly audibly additionally inundation as a birth right For eyes and ears can know no better never having the chance to learn These are hard times for dreamers

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CHRISTINA LANE

IN MY MIND Damn I just want to scream. In my mind I’m thinking crazy things So much shit going through my head Done been through so much it’s a miracle I ain’t dead. Been looking for this all my life finally found it, they try to take it away but I stay grounded. The tears I hold back are clouding my vision, but Lord knows I’m trynna make the right decisions…

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CHRISTINE FELICIANO

PUERTO RICO July and August Mami Rody house a backyard filled of plantain trees, coffee bean plants and croaking roosters at five am. Grandma I want pancakes stacked with butter and syrup freshly squeezed orange juice six pm dinner time of authentic rice and beans with chicken and salad Grandma mmm, I missed your cooking. Twenty pounds later estamos en el río we’re at the river jumping off the cliffs into a crystal clear stream of water the tropical sun burning at my city skin.

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Yo soy boricua is what I tell my friends. Nothing compares to visiting my family in the midst of the green top mountain, driving down a one lane road past the roaming cows and horses beating your horn, alerting your arrival. Two months of magic taken away from cellphone coverage and into roaming into humility of nature and family. Back on the plane Te quiero Mami Rody I love you Grandma Gracias por todo Thank you for everything Te veo el próximo año I’ll see you next year as I wobble to my gate.

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IT’S A NEW DAY It’s a new day every day. The chance to erase what was from what could be. You can’t erase it literally, but you can change the agenda that has already been understood. You may want to go from fearful to fearless, or selfish to giving, and it can happen without a doubt. You just have to believe and set realistic goals that challenge who you are versus who you want to be. In other words, mind over matter.

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CEE

I USED TO THINK I used to think I can handle pain (anything) I used to think that nothing can hurt me I used to think I knew it all I used to think this is all there is, nothing more I used to think I was the strongest of them all I could never fall I used to think that I saw it all Now I know life is short and all these problems are small. I need to get up off the floor think big, learn more, open up doors for my kids to conquer all, change all in life that is wrong, keeping my people down on the ground, but not for long I used to think I know, now I am strong I will not fall and I can handle all

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REALITY OF REALITIES Life is what I make it and I’mma manifest beyond the basics. Wake up and take it, never fake it, soon as I consciously awaken these thoughts in my mind so I can control these times instead of doing time, physically locked in a box, continuously getting knocked being what they call hot on the block, this shit gotta stop. Food for the mind, the real get up and grind, ain’t no wasted time, now get up and shine cuz it’s bout more than mines. I got 2 kids that’s opening up my eyes. Now get up and rise for all those who demise, these blessings you can see in my eyes. Now get up and rise above those who demise, that hide behind a disguise, I live and control mines, I’m reaching beyond these skies, no more lies, I’m opening up my third eye.

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Look into those eyes, my angels, my life a whole nother vibe. Slow that madness that’s become of me from these streets, we all witness the beast that I will not be, cuz my kids are me, gifts given to me, for me to be all I can be, blessings through them, bless these streets with purity pure beauty, heavenly sent for me to do my duty, to change all that I feel is due to me due to what I see. It ain’t right, this ain’t reality, life created by concepts, controlled by minds that run in cycles. Who made the rules, who wrote the Bible quote by Nas who is God, I believe in Jah higher power, Allah, some say it’s all the same different name, positive the game. Stressin as I think bout my blessings (kids) lessons in the past future and present, I need them in my presence, God give me the strength to pass this lesson

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STRESS-N-LIFE Stress-n-life is what you make it or of it. Depress don’t think of yourself as less. We are all and can live life at its best. Just take it by steps, it’s like reading, a line at a time, even though we can’t rewind time. Don’t look back, think forward, look towards better days. There’s always new ways cuz there’s always new days.

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DEBORAH CLEARMAN

PASSING THE TRILBY I wear my father’s hat — a trilby, so says Wikipedia, narrow-brimmed, with a crease in its crown, once favored by rich men and worn at English racetracks. My father was not a rich man. His hat is khaki-colored gabardine made casual by stitching and a buckled band, bruised and dirtied with age but still sporting a cocky air. The hat reached its zenith of popularity in the Sixties, when low-slung American cars didn’t allow clearance for fancy toppings. My father too reached his zenith in the Sixties. After that, a long downhill slide. First he lost the hat and the hair fell away. Then the skin, the skull, the brain. Until he didn’t know his way home. There I was to take him home, and put on his hat.

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CORALI RAMOS VALENTIN

BE THE POEM NOT THE POET Day 2 day I can’t go to sleep at night so I pray before I lay my head to bed because God forbid a nigga like me don’t want to end up dead. So instead I close my eyes and see red a life full of sins, man I messed up before I could even begin. Though it seems I’m tripping, I’m just tired of making this money by flipping tired of screaming and riffing so I express it while I’m spitting although this is written it comes from me thinking, cuz learning from others’ poetry the only way for releasing the pain I’m feeling because no matter what the paper is agreeing, it knows what the pen is meaning like a drug to an addict it’s fiending. Welcome to my life, here’s my private screaming.

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My mom’s life is full with methadone treatment, dope overdoses plus my brother’s father was incarcerated. From age seven to twelve I felt as if I was the one who was hated. My pops died when I was younger. It was him who gave the virus to my mother. Yeah I had to grow up really fast because of the shit that happened in my past. But I never found wrong in the life I lived. Does that make me more evil? Yes, it did. Still blinded by the world reminiscing when I was a little girl, lost sight of what I couldn’t see. All I wanted was my moms right next to me. But late nights I couldn’t find Momma to hug me, yeah she was a junky, scratching a monkey lost in the world

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LOOKING OUT MY EYES Watching the City from afar forty beds and four walls locked away with steel metal bars twenty-one minutes for three calls being told when to eat, when to shower family so fucked up can’t even spare a dollar wearing the same clothes wife thinking I’m fucking all these hoes contemplating about the wrong things now time doesn’t tick and days never go by night after night salty tears I cry pain is internal. I’ve been walking my path comes to find out I’ve been walking in circles lost in the fire lost sight of happiness emotionally destroyed crying out for help but God doesn’t answer. Why would he? He’s the one who gave me the life I was dealt I’m at a loss for words.

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As my tongue twists, twist my tongue I feel my heart beat breath out my lungs mind wondering who would care hard to say who would really be there how do I separate the ones who are from the ones I want to be? Man have you ever felt your heart ripped out your chest? Missing my grandmother so I keep her pic at my breast near the inner left of my chest where my heart used to beat now it’s as hot as ice-cold tea trying to find life. Sad to say it doesn’t live in me.

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DEE-DEE

MY STORM BEGINS It’s now three AM and I lie here alone. Why is it that my marriage don’t feel like one? It’s been three and a half months now since the loss of our child whom I was to name after my husband Charles. Ever since then he buries himself into his work more than usual. I often feel as if he blames me for the miscarriage the morning I saw him with his secretary. After I attacked her, her last blow towards me landed in my stomach. He said they were going to a meeting with a business partner from Japan. However, my gut said otherwise, like it’s doing now. As I got up to use the bathroom I walked past my front door to see a yellow envelope that was pushed under my door. As I looked through its contents my eyes were in disbelief. It was pictures of Charles and his secretary kissing, eating, and riding around together in his new Jaguar.

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Attached was also an address and without thinking I quickly got dressed. I GPS’d the address and after a three hour drive I ended up in Binghamton, New York, in an approaching storm. I parked a block away from the address only to see his secretary looking happy and smiling bright as she rubbed her pregnant stomach. As my husband Charles exited out of the home he too smiled as they walked away together. I sat in my car feeling lost, hopeless, and abandoned as the storm’s rain fell on my car. Instead of confronting them I drove back home to find a police officer at my door. “May I help you, sir?” “Oh yes, ma’am. Are you Kathy Waltz?” “Yes I am. How can I help you?” “I’m here to serve you divorce papers, ma’am. So if you could sign here, please.” I thought the sounds of the thunder had defended me. However I heard the words clear. My husband has left and my storm has just begun.

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ELENA SAVA ADAMS

BUCARESTI Bucarești is the capital of Romania, is located in the south of Romania, and it has 2,500,000 people. My city is called the “little Paris of Europe” because it looks so much like Paris, which is the capital of France. Bucarești in the history books is almost 700 years old, but the civilization has traces 15,000 years old. In Bucarești old buildings are no more than ten floors and the architecture is nicer than today’s buildings. The streets are narrow because the city is old; not many people lived there 500 years ago. Bucarești has many parks, lakes, sports facilities, theatres, opera, and many beautiful and interesting places. Bucarești is like New York City; it is full of life twenty-four hours a day. My favorite place is the history museum and the science museum. Anyway, it is a beautiful and interesting city, and I love my native city beside New York City.

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MY BEAUTIFUL NEW YORK CITY I have known New York City for 32 years. I fell in love with the city in 1982, but especially with Central Park. As many people know, Central Park is 168 years old. Where Central Park is today used to be a swamp. It took fifteen years to complete, and 1500 people worked to build the park. I have been in 31 countries in my life, but I have never seen an interesting and naturallooking park like Central Park. It looks like in reality the park was created by God and not by human beings. When I walk in the park I have the impression that I am in a very old forest with old rocks, flowers, lakes, castle, small houses, zoo, and old horse carriages. I haven’t seen anything like this in any other country. I love my Central Park.

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KAREN VELLA-ZARB

TURNING THE TIDE Being on Rikers Island for Hurricane Sandy was a little bit like Halloween. It was sort of exciting and kind of an adventure. The radio was a lifeline and the thought that we might be evacuated was exhilarating, but being caught in a flood and drowning in the surge, or being caught in a stampede of people trying to escape like in New Orleans—not so much. Knowing in hindsight that fish were swimming in intake in Hudson County, New Jersey, and they had no showers for months, I realize how lucky we all were. I found out later that Bloomberg was supposed to evacuate us to another jail, but in hindsight, like so many storms in our lives, we survived anyway. When all is said and done it was kind of fun and a bit of a rush, but knowing he didn’t care whether or not we drowned gave me pause and made me contemplate all the ways my life has changed irrevocably.

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TURNING LEAF A tall strong tree stretches towards the sky, its buds glistening in the sun. Its leaves turn toward the sun, in the wind, growing and transforming from a bright young green to a dark and deeper shade, eventually cocooning into the yellows, oranges, and reds. Finally it descends into a wrinkled, shriveled dry and crackling old leaf, falling from the tree. Short and brief: from dust we come, to dust we shall return.

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THE PEARL She touched the little box in her pocket and smiled. In it was a locket her birth mother had given her, gold with a diamond, and the engraving Catherine Anne Bentley along with a picture of herself as an infant. Her mother told her she always wore it to remember her daughter and feel close to her. When her birth mother gave it to her as a gift, she didn’t feel right about it somehow; she wanted her mother to keep the memento and keep remembering her. But c’est la vie. To be polite she accepted it, although it felt weird carrying a locket with herself inside. Who carries a locket of themselves? We carry lockets with pictures of loved ones inside, not ourselves. She really wanted her mother to keep it. Later she found out why—she wasn’t ready. To inherit something the person has to be gone, and she was never willing to pay that price. She always preferred people to things. When her mother asked about including her in her will, she changed the subject. So walking down the street one day in Mexico City a man reached out and tore the pendant from her neck. It may have solved the problem, but it left a wrenching hole, a jagged edge, and it was horrible having to tell her mother who had worn it for so long. She was never ready for that responsibility, for the burden, the weight of it. She had never wanted to step into her mother’s shoes, knowing that meant they would be empty. She didn’t need another pair of shoes that badly, with apologies to Imelda Marcos. And somehow, even though she dealt with so many things being gone, and with loss and grieving, she knew they would never really be gone if they lived in her mind. Her memories were an unbroken strand of pearls, intact, beautiful, lustrous and, like it or not, freshwater.

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SEASONS To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven. — Ecclesiastes 3:1 I remember how it began, hearing a man yelling in the apartment and calling 911. Who knows how or where or when it will end? What is difficult to account for are the hours in between. The police putting a gun in my face. Harassing phone calls and being arrested for a crime I didn’t commit after fully cooperating, as well as a lot of “lost time,” cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, being moved from place to place, packing, unpacking, and doing it all over again. Bad food, and unhealthy expensive commissary food has been a staple. Working in the law library and still not fully understanding it all, feeling overwhelmed in intake, getting adjusted and feeling the stress creep up and up. Making friends, laughing, eating, sharing, phone calls and lawyers’ visits and getting a lawyer and getting bailed out, and lawyer’s visits and court dates and working and stress and church and movies and recreation meaning something so different outside than in. A friend dying unexpectedly, so young. And waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. Waiting for a court date, waiting to leave, waiting for an answer.

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KIM AYALA

BANG-BANG Bang, bang, and then you’re dead, Two rapid gunshots directly in your head, The life was a struggle, but a lot of fun, Why oh why did I die so very young? It was this need. It was the fault of my greed. Bang, bang, and then you’re dead, Two rapid gunshots while lying in my bed, All the life I’m leaving behind, All the people that I’ve treated unkind, It was this need. It was the fault of my greed. Bang, bang, and then you’re dead, All the money I’ve made, All the tears I’ve shed, Running all over up and down in the streets ’Cause I left myself open, grew complacent, then weak It was this need. It was the fault of my greed.

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Bang, bang, and then you’re dead I have babies at home needing to be fed, Event after event unfolds, Never did what I was told, I’ll never have a life and grow old, It was this need. It was the fault of my greed. Now indeed I’ve learned my lesson, There’s no time left to repent, No time for confession, Bang, bang, and now I’m dead, over two rapid gunshots directly to my head. I’ll never be able to rear my seed, All because I felt in need, So desperate to succeed, Just because of my stupid greed.

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INSIDE KIM’S KLOSETT The heartaches and the dreams, All the larceny involved with plans then schemes, What does it all add up to? What does it all mean? All the life that’s been lost, In a child that grew up to be tossed, Over here, over there, anywhere, Due to dysfunction, ignorance, and fear, From people too distracted to properly rear. Dressed to kill in unique designer suits, From teenager to woman wearing exquisite high heeled boots, All the expensive designer bags, Clothing hanging in closets with high priced tags.

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A young wild stallion that wisdom couldn’t tame, A continuous adventure reaching status in the game, A paragraph scribbled over here, A note on a stationary pad over there, And so many memos to myself, To remind to cease wasting time on everyone else, Praying endearingly to God in heaven above, To leave my heart open to accept genuine love. From all the hope that’s been thus far found, Picking myself up from way beneath the ground, For having the audacity of hope, Exercising the courage to broaden my scope, With the inspiration to journey, to be bold, I’m telling life’s tales in the way of poems, With the expression of insight not to fold, All of this and more is what Kim’s Klosett holds!

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IZZY BURGOS

THUNDER Hiyo, my name is Lightning. What is your name? Thunder is my name. The sky is beautiful, right? We built it back in days, sort of like when Adam and Eve shared each other’s kidneys. Why is the sun getting close to us? Sooner or later we’re gonna be burning. Oh really. Oh shit. Ooch! Ooch! Something is pooking me. I told you, your son was coming. He looks nice today. Of course, he wearing all gray like he supposed to. I know that’s my little Cloudy. He working very hard. He very good to guard from the sun’s rays but there’s nothing you can do when we all start to burn. I love it when it rains. The chemistry is very good between us. And I love you too. Good night y’all. OK Sun, get to work because it’s starting to rain. All right Thunder.

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LEUKAR ENCARNACION

WHEN I FIRST CAME TO JAIL When I first came to jail I felt like my whole world was coming to suffocate me. Being that it is my first time here I found everything weird. Surrounded by a bunch of females that I knew nothing about, women with different ways, attitudes, and different worlds, made me scared. But as I stayed to myself and the days passed, I got used to this world I was presented to. A lot has changed since I’ve been here, like treating a lot of these troubled women. Actually talking to them, also listening to their stories, made me meet a lot of women that are troubled. And for me to make a difference in their ways of thinking makes me feel very proud of myself cause as they open up to me I opened up to them. So with some of these things said in which I would like to write more, I appreciate my time here because it showed me how humane humble people could be even though they are in jail; they learn to treat each other with respect.

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MY SON’S CHANGE IN SCHOOL SINCE I’VE BEEN AWAY I would like to talk about my son Manuel. He is seven years old. He is my world. Since he was three years old I’ve always told him, be independent, papi, so you can care for yourself and others. As he got older he has made me real proud because he is a very smart boy. When he is in school he gets distracted by his fellow classmates. So when I got incarcerated he was not paying attention to his class and homework. He has not seen me since January. He does not know I’m in jail. I tell my son that Mommy is far away because I didn’t do well in school, so I’m away studying hard to give him and his sisters a better life. With me telling my son this he started to pay attention in school, doing classwork, homework, and doing everything right. I call him to see how he’s doing, and he tells me, “Mommy, guess what! I’m doing good in school so I don’t have to go far away. I’ve got a surprise for you, Mommy.” And I said, “What is that, baby?” He said, “I’m student of the month.” That got me real happy even though I’m in jail and I can’t hug him. Me telling my son that I’m away because of school made him a better student for himself and also to make me proud. He says, “I don’t want to go away, Mommy, but I love you, so be the student of the month in your class and come home.” He made me cry.

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NADEZDA STEELE-WARRICK

A LITTLE HAT As soon as he saw that hat he grabbed it and, smiling, placed it on his head. I thought it was OK while we were in the store. But when we finished I tried to take that hat from him, but he wouldn’t let it go. He started crying. Then I realized that I had to buy that hat. It was a small, cute grey hat with green ribbon around it. I had no idea that my son was going to fall in love with the hat. He looked like a little gentleman with that hat. Every time we were going out he would take it with him. He would carry it around the house. And every time I had to put the hat away my son would go around the house looking for it. It became a part of him. Now when I am not around my baby, I am wondering what happened to that hat.

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CELL OF PAIN How much pain can one single place carry? It had not crossed my mind until that dreadful day I came across this cold, empty space. I had seen so much pain there. I was there waiting to be seen by a family court judge. As soon as the gate was slammed shut behind me, the pain smeared along the four walls jumped out at me. Throughout all the writing there was an abundance of sadness and pain. Here are the cries of a few mothers: “I miss my baby. I am the only one he has.” “God, please help me reunite with my kids; I can’t live without my daughter.” “I can’t stand this pain any longer.” “Why did they take my kids from me? I was a good mother!” “All I have left is you, Jesus! Please help me carry on.” There were many more I am not including; yet all of these parents are going through the same hard time dealing with the separation from their children. I am also one of those parents and I have that yearning and pain as well. This is too much to bear. It’s as if a part of you has been taken away from you and you can’t escape the feeling.

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LOOKING FORWARD His car faded into the distance of the horizon. Watching the place where his car disappeared, I slowly stopped waving. For the first time I felt so different; maybe I should have insisted on going with him. Earlier this morning we had so much to talk about. Through the time I had imagined so much about him, but reality was so much better. It was our first meeting since I was born. “How are you going to call me?” he asked. “Father,” I answered. That seemed to satisfy him. I showed him a small picture of him that I was keeping for years. At some point in our meeting I started to feel like I was on a job interview. That’s how hard I tried to give him a good impression of me. I couldn’t relax. “What is he thinking of me?” That question was running through my head. I also thought that my life is going to be different now, because I found my father. I was so happy. I wanted to be a daughter that he will be proud of. I wanted to bring him happiness in our father and daughter relationship. I felt love toward him, toward Daddy, that I had never known. But I had no idea that he was never going to feel that way.

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NATALIE LOPEZ

HOT POT The strange noises grew louder and I wasn’t sure what it was. It’s early morning; all I should hear are birds and bugs. Looking around trying to figure out why it sounds like I’m in a haunted house. Went upstairs — total silence. Went to the living room and again, total silence. Are there ghosts in my house? Like, is it a poltergeist? Like in the movie. Are things going to start flying around? I go to the bathroom; not a creak. I hear the noises getting louder and louder as I go towards the kitchen. Holy fuck! I have ghosts, or at least it sounds like it. I enter the kitchen and BAM! Nothing. Just the stupid whistling and howling of the damn hot pot warming up.

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ROBIN BROWNLEE DAUGHTERY

I SPEAK Here I am to say that Jesus Christ is the only way. As a seed of Abraham, We should heed the great I-AM. Jesus is Lord. He died for me. He went to hell to set me free. I had to believe, confess my sins, get baptized, first repent. Then He sent the Holy Ghost to me, to be my best good friend. Some people deny that He’s God’s Son, but I confess He is the Holy One. Read that He died just for me, He was a man acquainted with grief, but it’s happiness to know He’s King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Yom Kippur is an Atonement Day and Jesus Christ is the Only Way.

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ONE SWEET DAY Before God took my mother, He gave me a dream and a sign. I said, “Dear God, don’t take her, for she is my mother, she’s mine.” God responded, “How can you say that? I gave her life. I even made sure she became a beautiful wife, I gave her those eyes that people adore. Now listen, Robin, there is more. When she was sick, who did she call? When her rent was due and she didn’t have it all. Who did she call when she made mistakes and fell? I gave her my only Son, so she wouldn’t go to hell. You miss her? Yeah, I know you do, but her purpose here on earth is through. She misses her earthly family, I saw it in her tears. Then I wiped her eyes and now, no more fears. She does not want to come back for she is here in heaven with me. Be baptized, Robin, for Jesus is the only way. Soon you will see your mother again, One sweet day.”

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TO FORGIVE I called to tell you what they did, when they called me in the room and laid me across the bed. First it was one, two, then three, I’m thinking, how many of them are gonna get on top of me? I didn’t cry nor did I scream. That’s because each one of them used an enormous amount of Vaseline. What could I do at nine years old. I was sure they would get me if I told. They stole my innocence and this is true. I didn’t even tell Mommy but now I’m telling you. If this happened to you, what would you do? I have to forgive, so I can begin to live. Forgiving is necessary today. I can’t let this stand in my way. I’m successful and I’m forgiving. To forgive each one is a sign a sign that I have the victory and victory is mine. I pray that they too will forgive themselves one day and not let what they did to me stand in their way.

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TERRICKA WILLIAMS

A SEARCH I search, I search, I seek to find a life greater than mine. When I think of the road I left behind, I wonder where I belong now, feeling weak but leaning strong searchin’ to find somewhere to get my shine on. All day and all night, my focus is taken flight, I’ve been makin’ music my whole life. Twenty-one years plus ten I’ve been rollin’ these dice since then. Try and hit it big, I search, I search for more than what I ever had and I end up on my ass. Was I moving too fast, is that why my God took my foot off the gas, cuz my mind searches for a way out of everything. Perseverance is how I play, so dreamin’ on my dream search, wide awake on my feet runnin’ from sleep, motivated and ambitious, this is one search that has never did me wrong. But a money search, love search, friend search, all can also hurt, maybe even have me placed under dirt, so I will never end my search.

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Y WE BASH  N T MRKJCB (NAME BRANDS) Brands stand longer than our hearts fatigued from the start. Blind our feelings by marked-down prices while the maker of Marc Jacob’s lifestyle is tailored by our ignorance. Love is a mist, a misunderstood mysterious hood, everyone stares but if the name brand isn’t there then no one is in the air. Equal signs, two parallel lines sittin’ side by side while the prices rise, prices rise. What we do to pop tags, we used to do for love and marriage. If you do materialize don’t fanaticize or ostracize Gucci, Prada, Louie V, Shnell, Findy or, Marc Jacob cause it’s a trick no treat. Love is deeper than what meets, I’m naked with a heart on my chest, with only love under my flesh.

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THE CHANGE The change I see is changing me but I don’t know the change I see I change the covers, I change the sheets this change is frightening me. I sleep most dayz away till gentle gusters of the sun’s rays kiss my face, the place where joy and sorrow lay. Now I must admit when I looked back there was a mirror with the vanity lights orange and crimson bright regenerating this way of life cuz when I get right this won’t be a life of suffering but a life of serenity and victory.

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SOMEHOW, SOMEWAY Somehow, someway, I realize I’m here today. Not that here, I’m present. But that here, in here and I can hardly stand it. I almost panicked when I scanned it surveyin’ my whereabouts. Somehow, someway I realize I’m here today, dark clouds arose my way, my mind is in total dismay, cast iron feeling couldn’t tefflon centers of gravity elaborate me on life and what should be. Somehow, someway, I realize I’m here today to pray away anything decay, because light can live in darkness but dark can’t live in day so I choose this day to make a new way.

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UNDINE WALKER

THE QUEEN Innocence never lost Wisdom never connived Slick tongue never had a chance to speak such violent wrath. Forever moving angles of motion like the dancers chasing the desired potions Favored for princesses whose fathers never reigned as king. And so inheriting the land is their mystifying wing And clever musical brass horns they echo the morning storm. Hail to the queen. Let victory ring through the ears and glisten the eyes of every saved child. For the queen is strong Forever long And yes...She has the magic potion to reign forever infinitely for the children. Hail to the queen Let she live forevermore And a sacred heart will save the evil doers morn.

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THE TELL-TALE HEART I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever. —EDGAR ALLEN POE This pale blue sphere of a vulture’s eye I liked though. For I had pondered how I could keep it from rotting while still not connected to the nerves that could feel and keep it from spoil. And so alas! I came up with a concoction. And the eye I kept in a small glass jar. But little I knew, for this eye had a dreadened soul of its own. And so it would look at me continuously for long minutes and hours. It would bleed tears. How haunted the blood of the old man’s eye! I could hear the sound of vultures pecking on raw meat, their prey. As I was soon to know that these vultures were swarming around my rooftop outside. And I was to be the prey. How could it be that old man’s eye was telepathically messaging these winged beasts with every bloody tear? Soon for me I felt, death was drawing near.

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UPLIFTING SPIRIT Uplifting spirit Vacates through me in the dawn Lifts my dreams into their fullest vision That vision includes you. Every step I take, your steps I follow in faith. But then there are mistakes And this makes my heart ache Because I want to be as only a pure soul as you. And a dream I had with you living in a sheer temple of blue Sapphires, rubies, emeralds and gems Malachite, graphite, crystals, and stems From the most beautiful of blooming petals Off the garden of Zen There lies the fountain of youth Where lovers speak the truths of ancient affairs and happy affairs. With turbulence and speed I take heed to these words that bleed from my rose-colored lips These lips that so painfully want you to kiss. I’ll wait in vain in the sheer temple of blue But waiting in vain . . .will you soon rescue?

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A C K N OW L E D G E M E N T S As a small, grassroots organization, NY Writers Coalition relies on the generous support of those dedicated to getting the voices of those who have been silenced heard. Many thanks go to our foundation, government, and corporate supporters, without whom this writing community and publication would not exist: Allianz GI, Amazon.com, the Kalliopeia Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the offices of New York City Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Corey Johnson. NYWC programming is also made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. We rely heavily on the support of individual NYWC members and attendees of our annual Write-A-Thon. In addition, members of our Board of Directors have kept this vital, rewarding work going year after year: Louise Crawford, Marian Fontana, Sandy Huang, Matthew Krejcarek, Lisa Smith, Jonathan Tasini, and NYWC Founder and Executive Director Aaron Zimmerman. We’d also like to thank the New York City Department of Correction, Assistant Commissioner Winette SaundersHalyard and Ms. Scudder, the NYCDOC Director of Program Development, for all their support. Many thanks to Officer Dawson in the Programs Corridor, who has helped spread the word about the writing workshop to inmates and given us enthusiastic support, and NYWC Program Director Nancy Weber. Finally, we can't express enough our appreciation for Deborah Clearman, NYWC’s volunteer workshop leader who was instrumental in making this book happen, and the dedicated contributors and workshop members at Rosie’s.

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A BOUT N Y W R I T E R S C OA L I T I O N NY Writers Coalition (NYWC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that creates opportunities for formerly voiceless members of society to be heard through the art of writing. One of the largest community-based writing organizations in the country, we provide free, unique, and powerful creative writing workshops throughout New York City for people from groups that have been historically deprived of voice in our society, including atrisk, disconnected, and LGBT youth, homeless and formerly homeless people, those who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, war veterans, people living with disabilities, cancer, and other major illnesses, immigrants, seniors, and many others. For more information about NYWC programs and NY Writers Coalition Press publications visit W W W . N Y W R I TE R SC OA L IT I O N . O R G

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THESE ARE HARD TIMES for

DREAMERS

WRITING FROM RIKERS ISLAND FEATURING Elena Sava Adams Kim Ayala Izzy Burgos CEE Deborah Clearman Robin Brownlee Daughtery Dee-Dee Leukar Encarnacion Christine Feliciano

Chelsea Grin Christina Lane Natalie Lopez Ashley Mote Nadezda Steele-Warrick Corali Ramos Valentin Karen Vella-Zarb Undine Walker Terricka Williams

NY Writers Coalition Press is proud to present THESE ARE HARD TIMES FOR DREAMERS: WRITING FROM RIKERS, a collection of poetry and prose written in NY Writers Coalition workshops for women at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island. For more information about NYWC creative writing programs and NYWC Press publications, visit WWW.NYWRITERSCOALITION.ORG.

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These Are Hard Times for Dreamers  

NY Writers Coalition Press is proud to present THESE ARE HARD TIMES FOR DREAMERS: WRITING FROM RIKERS, a collection of poetry and prose writ...

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