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prison poetry

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Steven Benarski

on 4 December 2012

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Transcript of prison poetry

Prison Poetry Jimmy Santiago Baca by Selin Petrosian and Steven Bednarczyk The U.S. Prison System born in 1952 near Santa Fe, New Mexico
abandoned by his parents at age 2
raised by a grandmother, but eventually wound up in an orphanage
fled orphanage at age 13 and spent years living on the streets
had no real outlet to express his pain
couldn't figure out his role in life or in this world
involved in gang lifestyle
picked up on drug charges and incarcerated at age 18 became bored with crime
wanted to learn to read and write
was promised the opportunity in exchange for good behavior by the prison's reclassification committee
spent months working, becoming model prisioner..... reclassification committee reneges on their deal
they considered his eagerness to learn to be threatening
Baca protests by refusing to work
for three years he was routinely beaten by guards and spent a lot of time in solitary confinement "accidentally" teaches himself transcendental meditation
teaches himself to read after recognizing some words in a book phonetically
continues to work on reading and eventually writing becomes infatuated with reading and writing poetry
eventually gets his first piece published while still behind bars
started writing poems on behalf of fellow inmates, eventually compiling them into a book, "Immigrants in Our Own Land" I APPLIED FOR THE BOARD
. . . a flight of fancy and breath of fresh air
Is worth all the declines in the world.
It was funny though when I strode into the Board
And presented myself before the Council
With my shaggy-haired satchel, awiry
With ends of shoestrings and guitar strings
Holding it together, brimming with poems.
I was ready for my first grand, eloquent,
Booming reading of a few of my poems—
When the soft, surprised eyes
Of the chairman looked at me and said no.
And his two colleagues sitting on each side of him,
Peered at me through bluemetal eyes like rifle scopes,
And I like a deer in the forest heard the fresh,
Crisp twig break under my cautious feet,
As they surrounded me with quiet questions,
Closing in with grim sour looks, until I heard
The final shot burst from their mouths
That I had not made it, and felt the warm blood
Gush forth in my breast, partly from the wound,
And partly from the joy that it was over. Jimmy Santiago Baca considers himself
a poet of the people. He conducts writing workshops
in schools, colleges, community centers, reservations, housing projects, correctional facilities and prisons throughout the United States. Today, there is a much more positive outlook for prisoners wishing to learn to read, write, and engage in creative work. writing poetry gives those impacted by incarceration a link with humanity and a positive vehicle for the emotions they experience. youthuprising.org “There are general feelings of hostility and hopelessness in prisons today and it is getting worse with overcrowding. . . Art workshops and similar programs help take us out of this atmosphere and we become like any other free person expressing our talents. Being in prison is the final ride downhill unless one can resist the things around him and learn to function in a society which he no longer has any contact with. Arts programs for many of us may be the final salvation of our minds from prison insanity. It’s contact with the best of the human race. It is something that says that we, too, are still valuable.”

- a prison inmate Youth Uprising‘s Poetry and Prison Project is a youth-led citizen journalism effort that uses poetry to speak about the effects of mass incarceration on young people in urban America. The project’s multimedia study, Poetry and Prison features videos of program participants reading their original poems and discussing how writing poetry impacts their lives. Participation in the artistic process significantly affects a person’s self-esteem and general outlook on the world.

Arts workshops can teach self-discipline, problem-solving, and concentration through creative projects.

Skills acquired can translate to other aspects of one’s life, satisfying one's need for creativity, self-expression, recognition, and self-respect. “For prisoners, writing is a life raft to save one from drowning in a prison swamp. I could not write a diary or a journal; I was a political prisoner. Everything I had was subject to investigation, invasion and confiscation. I was a censored person. In defiance, I turned to poetry, an art of speaking sparely, but flagrantly." http://freedomarchives.org/wildpoppies/mp3/wild_poppies_MB.mp3 "This CD is a poetry jam in space — created across and despite razor wire, prison bars and censored phone lines. It is a gathering of poets to celebrate the work of sister poet Marilyn Buck, who has spent more than 20 years in US prisons for her anti-imperialist politics and actions."
-The Freedom Archives Marilyn Buck Autobiographi

Post-war 1947
born on the white
side of the tracks
Texas segregation
civil rights preacher's child
fled Texas with honor's diploma
for UC Berkeley and free speech
though I did not know then
that's why I left

Vietnam war 1965
what war
are you fighting for
make love not war
college books tossed into a trunk in some room
I've never seen since
fires of internationalism called me
a girl
to enlist
in the anti-war
war against Amerikka
my own women's liberation on the line war in Amerikka
war against the warmakers
white-skinned haters
capitalist consumers of human lives
following the tradition
Nat Turner John Brown
Wobblies subversives
resistance in the belly of the beast

clandestine war 1973
captured by the killers
spirit killers nationkillers
a political prisoner
enemy of the state
terrorist and traitor
white woman dangerous
to white Amerika
condemned to years
and years of absence
a lifetime
wait for its prisoners to die
or go crazy
or simply wither away into insignificance

I rest, a grain of sand
significant on the beach head that meets the sea
to face the storm
I wage resistance
to stay alive
I learn to search out freedom in the breath
my cells send out dendrites
to absorb the world and its offerings
I offer back
and occasional grains of sand
mixed into clay and fired
into sturdiness December 13, 1947 – August 3, 2010 Gone

there are days when I'm gone
I do not know where I went
but I wasn't here

that's true for me too ...
sometimes I'm so gone
that maybe I wasn't ever really here

chill you two
you don't even know where gone is

I know, I've been gone so long
that here is only a state of mind
a play on words

Did you hear that?

No, I'm outta here!
Full transcript